There wouldn't be a movie if the main character didn't want something so badly she'd sacrifice anything (including a substantial hunk of her children's lives) in order to get it, but I'm always in awe of women who have such singularity of vision, a concrete goal, the confidence to devote years of their lives to its advancement--and sha-ZAM--a win.
Then the children arrive to tell their mother how proud they are that she followed her dream, rather than staying home to make them puddings and attend their school plays. All of her sacrifices and absences were worth it, because… Mom's on TV holding a trophy.
I've been thinking lately about how I spend my time as the primary caregiver to my children. My continuous presence is required at home--but that does not necessarily entail my continuous occupation. A lot of my necessary work is cut out for me and made easier by technology, hence, I have free time. Throw a load of laundry in, wait for it to be done. Assign reading to my homeschooler, wait for it to be done. Start dinner, wait for it to cook.
I make a gazillion short term goals a day--and sha-Zam! I reach them. Yet there are limitations to "higher" levels of achievement because I am not free to come and go. I have to maintain a standard of interruptibility and readiness for service that isn't always required of me.
So, I've written this blog for two years, a little here, a little there. I flipped through the archives recently, and discovered that there are roughly four-hundred posts on this node, which is, of course, a book--or it would be a book, if I'd had some unifying theme and were working diligently during those years towards a long-term goal, rather than piecemeal reflections. But it always seemed better to keep flexing my muscles in whatever capacity I could rather than risk not writing at all.
I've been reading a book lately by Gail Godwin called "Unfinished Desires," about wealthy girls at a prestigious Catholic High School in the fifties, run by an exuberant nun. It's not a book that requires a highlighter, but this excerpt jumped out at me:
"It's the whole life of school. I feel like I've been held back to repeat what I already know how to do. It's like you've learned to swim really well, and now you're ready to cross a huge body of water and see what's on the other side, and then someone tells you, No, no dear, you have to stay in this pool and tread water until--until I don't know what. Whatever comes next. I wish I could get to it!"
This feeling arises almost cyclically, with the question of whether or not another baby will enter our lives. Will we go back into infant mode? Or will we keep plugging along towards whatever's next--and if so--what's that going to be like? Sometimes I'm worried that I will have to singularize my vision a little more--set a bigger goal, quit treading water and develop some ambition. I look forward to it, and I also fear it.
And sometimes I think, "If only I had singularized my vision years ago, I could be frying bigger fish right now," which is, of course, a lie. I have never had it in me to cut off my availability to my kids for the deep, long-term, dedication and concentration novel writing requires. I can do it for hours--even for a few consecutive days--but not for years.
This morning, at a play group, a friend of mine who is pregnant with her sixth child, poignantly noted that "nothing releases you from yourself like motherhood." She had relayed a story about how four members of her family approached her to ask for help with things, and not one of them registered that she was currently bent over the toilet with morning sickness. It takes serious self transcendence to care for others in the midst of such literal and figurative self-emptying.
But nothing releases you like motherhood, which is why, if my singular long-range goal is to go to Heaven, staying home with these babies has been the best path for me. I could put all my resources towards achieving one big dream or I could be expunged of a thousand little dreams each day and be emptied and ready, even if it feels like I'm treading water and waiting for whatever comes next.
It's such a beautiful and rare thing to approach someone you love, and find them ready and waiting for you.
"By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,/ in quiet and in trust your strength lies. (Is 30:15b)