Saturday, March 9, 2019

We Get to Be Enough

So, there's this scene in "A Star is Born" when Lady Gaga as aspiring singer Ally steps onto the stage for the first time to perform with Bradley Cooper, playing rockstar Jackson Maine. As Ally starts singing the song she wrote, her eyes light up. As if a flame's been lit inside her. As if she's arriving into herself. And then when she hits the chorus the second time, she's this woman possessed. Her wings outstretched. As if she becomes a phoenix owning her own magnificence. 

That's the moment I want. That right there. You know? That's the moment we all want, I think. To enter into our most realized selves and to own it in whatever form it takes. 

Am I asking for too much? Please don't answer that question. Let's pretend it was rhetorical.

The opportunity for phoenix-rising moments seem few and far between in my day-to-day life. So, you know, I attempt to embrace my more modest existence.

I had this thought the other day while doing yet another round of dishes: The job I do here at home is important. My role matters. 

I actually said it out loud midway through rinsing out a cereal bowl. "What I do here matters."

It felt silly to say it. And it feels really silly to write it. Because of course it's important. OF COURSE it is, right? 

Preparing meals for my family is important. Maintaining a comfortable, clean place for us to live in is important. Showing up for them at the end of the day is important. Just being present. That's important.

Still, I'm always finding ways to be dismissive of my life and my time.

I tell myself things like it's more important that Brad gets a full night's sleep because he's the one who has to get up and go to work every day. That I can squeeze the things I need- sleep or quiet time or time for creativity- into the corners of my life. That the contents of my day is always less interesting than the contents of Brad's or the girls. That the stuff I do here- taking care of the girls, cleaning, cooking, etc.– is secondary to the work people do outside of the home. 

I spend a lot of time worrying.

I worry about whether I'm going to ever contribute anything important. Anything of significance. I worry I will never do that one the thing I'm meant to do. Whatever that is. I worry that I'm not doing enough to ensure my children grow into confident, well-rounded, kind people. 

I worry about the example I'm setting for the girls. With me as a role model (at least for the time being). Are the girls going to have big enough dreams for themselves? 

Or am I limiting their vision to motherhood and homemaking? 

And see, there I go again. Minimizing this role that I know has helped mold me into a better person (at the very least a more humble person- cut to a flashback of me cleaning chunky spit-up out of my hair). 

Am I the only mom who does this?

When I ask about the future, Lily says she wants to be an astronaut. And a veterinarian. And a farmer. 

Jovie's less committal. Maybe she'll be an artist or a pop star. Or a teacher and a mom. 

They seem to understand they can be many things in life. Which is encouraging, right?

Maybe I worry too much. That's a side effect of motherhood. Of womanhood even. That constant questioning, anxiety, second-guessing. Always doubtful. Never quite feeling like my legs are under me.

Maybe that's why I have to give myself pep talks while doing the dishes. There's not really anyone else around here to do it, is there? When I worked at the newspaper I'd get feedback from co-workers and my boss about how I was doing. At home? Who the hell knows? Some days I feel like the only measure of my performance is the amount of fur and hair in the vacuum canister and how well the kids cleaned their plates at dinner.

Growing up, I always looked at my dad- dressed in his suit, working late, going on business trips, talking about briefings or current affairs at the dinner table and thought what he did must be so important. That he must be so important. I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him. I saw him– and still see him– as being an authority on so much. Everything from international affairs to astrophysics to orchid care to car maintenance.

But it was different with Mom. Mom was always dressed in flannel and jeans spotted in bleach. She never wore makeup or did much to style her hair– not that she needed to do anything, she was always so adorable. Still is. Compared with Dad, Mom was always softer and more accessible. 

What I remember about her growing up was that she was always there. 

She was there to see us off to school in the morning and there when we got home. She was there vacuuming floors and dusting and washing windows. There baking bread and making spaghetti sauce (inevitably dusted in flour or splashed with tomatoes). She was there flipping through her Bon Appetits in search of recipes to try. There rifling through one of several junk drawers searching for lost glasses or keys or cash. There asking about school. There driving me to piano lessons and soccer practice and Sarah to dance class and Steve to whatever sport he was trying out at the time. 

When she wasn't there she was either at the grocery store (the woman was always at the grocery store) or at the hospital, where she worked as a nurse. 

Her laughter, her poking around the kitchen, her cooking smells– that was what made home, home.

But of course, there was more to Mom than just being the mom.

Terry Gross recently interviewed actress and comedian Pamela Adlon who created and stars in the FX show "Better Things" in which she plays a single mom raising three girls. In the interview, Gross made the observation that on the show Adlon's daughters have no curiosity about their mom's life. 

"You could be going through the most like extraordinary or excruciating thing and they don't even want to know about it," Gross says.

I heard this and thought about sitting at the dinner table and listening to the girls buzz about their day and Brad unloading about his and me feeling as if there wasn't a whole lot to say and the girls really not caring too much about it anyway.

And then I thought of my own mom. Was I ever curious about her? Did I ever ask about her day and listen? Like, really listen? Did I ever try to get to know her? Probably not. Ugh. Definitely not. I was the quintessential self-absorbed adolescent. 

And really, it wasn't until I became a mom a whopping eight years ago that I found myself wondering about her more. Wanting to know more about how she survived having six children with her sense of humor in tact. 

Each day, each milestone, each headache sparks more questions. 

Adlon reflects on being surrounded by her own kids and their chattering and describes this feeling of being alone within the chaos.

I wonder how often Mom felt that way. Alone within the chaos.

I feel that way sometimes. Spending the daylight hours being the lone adult can feel so isolating.

The thing is, Mom was always doing extraordinary things on top of being an extraordinary mom. She prepared extraordinary food. Cultivated extraordinary gardens. Offered her patients extraordinary care. Showed extraordinary kindness to whoever she came across- friends and strangers alike. 

Not that I recognized any of that when I was living with her. More often I'd roll my eyes at her forgetfulness and sigh heavily each time she called me over to help her with the computer. 

I'm ashamed to say her absent-mindedness always clouded her intelligence in my teenaged mind. But she's a smart lady. And passionate and persistent.  

When I was in high school, Mom went back to school to get her Bachelor's in nursing. She had to take a math class or two. These classes were not easy for her. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table covered in sheets of notebook paper each containing a single problem which she worked through again and again until she figured it out. She's the model of perseverance. 

And her brain never stops churning. She's always reading- especially nonfiction about healthcare- and then sending me suggestions of books I should read- usually exposés on Big Pharma or celebrations of gut bacteria or ruminations on end-of-life planning. She's an ardent advocate of reforming the medical-industrial complex.

To this day she wakes before the sun rises and, fueled by coffee and more coffee, doesn't stop moving until she dons her cotton nightgowns and collapses in bed by 8. 

She is Wonder Woman, clad in flannel, her nose dusted in flour, her reading glasses? Who knows where?

Whether I saw it or not as a kid, Mom was this whole, rounded-out person. She wasn't just the person who washed the windows or chauffeured me around to the soundtrack of Celine Dion and John Denver.

I see this now. 

I've been rolling this all around in my head. The work we do in the home matters. Whether it's carried out by a mother or father or both. It matters. If all the constructs of modern civilization were to just disappear tomorrow and humans were left in the dust to eek out our existence- what would we need? Food and shelter. Companionship. A fire to gather around and share stories at the end of the day. These are the things that sustain our body and soul. 

So why then does it feel as if the domesticity is this afterthought? Cancel that. It's certainly not an afterthought for everyone carrying it out. It's the stuff we do no matter what the rest of the day throws at us. But it's not valued really. It's not like society has any great respect for the person cleaning the sheets, folding the laundry, making the lunch, wiping the toothpaste out of the sink, mowing the lawn, mopping the floor. 

We're all that person doing these jobs on any given day. Not just the moms. 

It's just right now I'm the mom and this is what I do the most. I'm subjective. I'm not trying to be defensive. This (very obvious) idea that the tending of our most basic needs is a worthy use of my time was an epiphany to me. Come by honestly at a sink full of dishes, not while listening to über-conservative evangelicals fuss about family values and gender roles or while reading a stack of Martha Steward Livings. I consider myself a feminist and am not suggesting working moms be shooed back into their slippers and house coats to save the children. 

No, I'm just noting that it feels like our society places more emphasis, more value on the stuff that happens outside our doorsteps. We are starstruck by the advice and dreams and counsel of CEOs, celebrities, athletes, those folks on the TED Talk circuits and even politicians more than our own mothers and fathers. 

I'm just as guilty. I mean, how much respect did I have for my own mother who worked 12-hour, overnight shifts as a nurse on weekends after carrying the weight of an eight-person family on her back all week? The answer is not nearly enough.

Maybe it doesn't matter so much what the girls see me doing day to day. Maybe it matters more that they see me owning my life and taking pride in and celebrating myself. No matter what shape that takes. 

So that's, that I suppose. I apologize (as always) for the rambling and the whining. I don't mean to grouse. Or sound as if I feel unappreciated. It's all OK. I'm as always sorting things out.

It's just, I had this thought that this needed to be said today: 

If you do nothing more in your day than tend to the quiet, ceaseless needs of your body and the needs of those you love, well that's enough. And it's a worthy way to spend your days. Even better if you do these things alongside the things that make your soul surge. That make you rise up like a phoenix, owning your magnificence. 

Even better still if you can just own your magnificence. Exactly as you are. 




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