While browsing through a fashion magazine recently, I came across a call to writers. This mag was looking for new contributors and in order to drum them up posed a question:
In 500 words, write about a relationship that is important to you.
Though I knew I’d never meet the word count, I thought it would be an interesting exercise.
And then I read the question again and again and tried desperately to conjure up a different response within myself than the one that kept floating to the top of the pile. I wanted to write about my mum, her immeasurable influence on my life and my aspiration to see the world through her infectious positivity. Or my dad. And how his hippie-greenpeace-sage-Neil-Young-wisdom has always rescued me from the emotional Titanics I seem so prone to in this life.
But the truth is, however meaningful those relationships are, they are not centre stage at this point in my life. And though it mortifies me to say out loud, the relationship that means the most to me right now, is the one I have (or more poignantly, don’t have) with myself. Suffice to say, the self-indulgence of this admission makes me want to climb beneath the rock of shame and never emerge. How, after over three decades of life, does one feel so separated from a sense of self? Surely a crisis of Eat, Pray, Love proportions must be imminent.
Or maybe not. Somewhere beneath all the self-loathing, I have this niggling sensation that this might actually be normal? Maybe it’s just that the struggles of a somewhat-normal-30-something-woman-morphing-into-a-parent hardly breaks the internet like an Ellen selfie.
At this point, all I can say for certain is that the old ways of identifying who I am aren’t working anymore. I am no longer a competent student. Or a stand-out athlete. Or a meandering wanderlust blown about by whims and fancies making one questionable decision after another. I am now a wife. A mother. An aspiring writer who lives in a house (well, a part of a house…its London) and has to cook dinner and fold a million pairs of tiny underpants. And this transformation seems to have happened so quickly and with such intensity that the mental image I have of who I am has yet to catch up. I have spent the last three years so sleep deprived and utterly consumed with keeping my boat afloat the stormy seas of motherhood that I have forgotten all else. The lighthouse of Self has failed me and I am officially lost at sea.
Most days it feels like my imaginary 24-year-old single-creative-prolific-artist-self has been trapped inside the body of an uptight, super-stressed and often angry mum that wags her finger at little boys, complains at every opportunity and is confrontational on London public transport. Like the poster child for cognitive dissonance, my internal and external selves are worlds apart. And the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz of contradiction is driving me mad.
So, I got a nanny. Two mornings a week another person looks after my tiny humans for me. Its nice to have the break and I have enjoyed being able to go to a yoga class that isn’t at 9pm or buy toiletries without ten spiderman toothbrushes being launched into my basket. High standards, I know. The thing is…its not as satisfying as I thought it would be…having time to myself. Sometimes I just wander aimlessly around. I pop into this shop or that shop like a zombie when I should be freaking Dick-Van-Dyke-ing my way through the streets of London, hopping from curb to curb and spinning ‘round light posts as I sing about how great it is to be alive. But I’m not. Most of the time, I just don’t know what to do with myself.
Because I think I have forgotten how to be happy.
I can hear the gasps of horror from those out there that swear that their greatest happiness began the moment a tiny person emerged from their lady parts. Gasp away, everyone. I love my children no less. But the truth is, I have struggled to find personal happiness in my life as a parent. And I have struggled even more to maintain the connection to what made me tick before having children. Some days I fantasise about putting a hoop in my nose piercing or tattooing something in a desperate attempt to snake charm my former self to the surface. And then exactly ONE second later, I am buying decorative pillows for my mid-century modern couch that say “HERE AND NOW” as a reminder of the preciousness of the present moment. I’m pendulum swinging like some sort of high flying circus act. Its dizzying and utterly disorientating. Like a blindfolded five-year-old swinging a baseball bat for a piñata at a birthday party, I am recklessly flailing around trying to find the sweet spot.
And maybe that is okay. Maybe flailing is the only place to start.
Maybe the act of swinging is the only thing that really matters.
Relationships (even ones with yourself) require nurturing and attention. Like any other living, breathing thing, they grow and flourish when you pay attention to them. I have paid attention to my unhappiness for quite some time now. I have moaned about it. I have agonised over it. But moaning and agonising haven’t gotten me anywhere but here. And now, I’m not even sure where exactly I am, but my dad’s sage wisdom of “wherever you go, there you are” has never been more true. Its not the place that is the problem…it’s me.
The brass tax of the situation is that I am not the girl of my own imagining. The picture I have of my TRUE self as an artistic-laid-back-creative-free-bird is a mirage. It’s not real. And its also not who I actually want to be anymore. I long for some of the flexibility of my old life, yes; but it was not without its failings. And I love my current life and its quirky charms but somedays wiping noses and vacuuming floors falls significantly short of satisfying. I know I sound like freaking Goldilocks here, but my life porridge thus far has been either too hot or too cold. And I am looking for juuuuuuuuuust right.
Aren’t we all?
But juuuuuuust right is all about timing. Had Goldie tried Baby Bear’s porridge one minute later it would surely have been too cold. One minute earlier, too hot. And maybe that juuuuuust right moment was made that much sweeter because she had learned from her mistakes.
She knew what she wanted when she tasted it.
And what if its that simple? What if life is all about trying and failing and trying and succeeding…over and over and over again. So much so that the result becomes less important than the trying. And what if that means that I don’t need to make huge changes to my life at all? Maybe, like Goldie, all I need to do is scoot over and try something a little bit different. And then do that enough times until I begin to feel more comfortable with this person that I am becoming.
And maybe even like her.