The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.
-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
That week after I defended my Master’s thesis, the day where my armpits ringed with the sweat that rolled across my burgeoning belly, I welcomed life. That week, the college and graduate degrees didn’t seem to matter, my life was now devoted and given over to this child, this creature that brought as much joy as he brought confusion and boredom and exhilaration and terror.
The next seventeen years held the birthing and raising of growing people, in the early days their needs and wants and hopes all pinned upon what we, their parents, could do for them. Their developing bodies and minds requiring the guidance and protection necessary for each stage they moved across, some stages more welcome than others. I stared at the ceiling, awake many nights, wondering if I did enough, wondering if I was enough, as their mother.
As mom, I’m not needed like I was. I recognize the importance of my presence, for those decisive conversations and events. I understand the place parents hold in accountability, determining their children are safe and protected and making decent choices. I know all of this. I believe all of this, but it does not negate the hours of the day that lie before me. I’m not complaining, it’s just time to start figuring out who I am – not as mother, not as wife, but me, as Jen, a woman, a lover and contributor to the world.
Last night we sat around the table with new friends, exploring the potential future venture we get to embark upon together. Questions were raised and answers were wondered. This endeavor may be some of the most wonderful work I do outside of my marriage and keeping these kids alive. In our time together, it was made very clear that we each, on this future team, need to know ourselves. We need to know our giftedness, we need to know our strengths and we better damn well know what our weaknesses are. I nodded, agreed, and admitted, “Guys, to be honest, I’ve been doing this mom thing so long, and before that I was a good girl, and before that, I can’t remember. I don’t know who I am. I don’t want to mess this up.”
The road to deconstruction is long and windy, fraught with doubt and awe. The deconstruction of my faith, of what I thought was true has been brave and gut-wrenching. Moving from this place of should to desire is not for the fainthearted. How do I separate who I should be with who I want to be? How do I separate how I should act with how I really want to act? How do I separate what I should want with what I truly want?
These answers do not come without blood and fear and angst. Sometimes accomplishment of the should makes me happier, more relieved at the day’s end, because I did what I didn’t want to do. I overcame.
Should’s ugly demons can wrap their tendrils around my soul’s core if I let them, especially when I’m feeling extra doses of vulnerability and less-than. The heinous siren song sings the melody of exhaustive effort that earns bowls of ice cream and TV, that earns heads on pillows and dreamless slumber. The chorus chants accomplishment and earning over being and resting, a never-ending refrain on repeat.
For some reason, want can seem dangerous, sinful, greedy, lustful, lazy. Selfish. Somehow we became distant from ourselves. Somehow we forgot how to trust our insides. Somehow in all the obligation and the work and the busy, we lost our desire, we lost who we are and what we love.
Sometimes we have to do hard things, but is it possible to desire the hard things?
Is it possible to not be motivated by some relentless guilt, and instead be motivated by want?
And can that want be good?
I am discovering who I am, knowing more about me than I care to admit or want to see. I’m grateful for trusted friends and family, people who love me, who know me and will cheer me toward fullness in this one delicious life I’m given. But ultimately, I have to believe who I am. I have to love who I am. I have to accept who I am. Enough.
Who am I? First and foremost I want to be someone that carries my curiosity and desires, that holds my wonder and questions, that reminds me of my humanity and my need to give and receive abundant grace, generous mercy, and boatloads of love with room for imperfection and a lifetime of learning.
This next adventure beckons as I stand atop the precipice contemplating my leap. Casting caution to the wind, the calling whispers and I respond. Will I know myself completely before I take that jump?
Probably not, but I’m willing to learn as I fly.