A Year of the Most Singular Work

Today, sweet Thea is one.

In the past year, I have loved more deeply than any depth I could have imagined. I have been more tired and more hungry–that includes running 70 miles a week back in the old days. I have felt more pure joy, more intense responsibility, more gut-wrenching fear. I have cared less about how my stomach looks in a bathing suit or how fast I ran my long run than I ever could have imagined was possible. I have also felt both more profoundly connected to other women, specifically to my own mom, and more lonely for female friendship than I ever have before.

Navigating friendships post-parenthood isn’t just difficult because time is trickier to manage and priorities have shifted, but because I am not the same person I was before. Every other major change I’ve gone through–graduating from college, starting my first job, changing careers, even getting married–has just felt like the culmination of what I’d been building toward, if not forever, for a long, deliberate time.

There are moments when I’m moved to tears by the memory of the hug the lactation consultant gave me when we had to start supplementing. Or by the mom in line behind me at Stop and Shop who offered with only gentle kindness to pour formula into our bottle while I paid so Thea could eat just a few seconds sooner. And, of course, by the realization of the love that my own mom has always had for me. But between these kindnesses of strangers and the central, important relationship with my mom is this vast gulf where I imagined I’d easily find friendship.

But there are times when I feel like I’m standing on the other side of a gulf from women I’ve known for years. I don’t want to be anywhere other than my side of the gulf but I miss my friends. I still care deeply about education and writing and reading and running and bleeding-heart politics. I know that no one–a mother or not–wants dinner conversation to be a litany of milestones another person’s child has accomplished. But, among some friends, especially those who don’t want kids, and with whom I can remember rolling my eyes at “those kind of parents,” I feel hamstrung. Self-conscious of sharing more than a sentence or two about the most important part of my life, I’m uncharacteristically withdrawn or resort to reminiscing (which always seems like the sign that a friendship is in its twilight).

I didn’t expect making new friends to be so hard. I thought I’d naturally get along with someone at the library story time or the new mom group. But, at the story time, I want to make sure Thea isn’t eating the books and I don’t want to complain about how hard it is to be a mom. I love being a mom, even the hard parts. I know I am lucky that I can be with her as many hours a day as I am. I don’t want to read books called Go the F— to Sleep or take pictures of my daughter crying and post them with sarcastic hashtags on social media.

Maybe the core of it is that I’ve never been much of a joiner.The only team sports I’ve ever done are cross country and track. And, of course, what distance running is all about is feeling compelled to push yourself beyond your own limits for the sake of the common goal you share with your teammates rather than about communicating mid-game for a strategic play (had to think for awhile about what the thing is called when teams move in a certain way in order to get the ball to a certain place…).

The tension is perhaps that now I feel so intuitively that I can no longer be an individual just doing her bit. I’m part of a family. And I’m part of this much bigger group–of women, of mothers. It’s the most intensely personal connection I’ve ever felt to a group of people, but at the same time the work of motherhood is so specific and so singular to my family.

And who does not know these touching old gentelmen?

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I’d gotten a PhD in English. I catch myself daydreaming about scholarly alcoves and steaming cups of tea and a life of the mind.

But then, I remember that I’m not really suited for academia, beyond a fondness for sweaters and caffeine.

I’m laughing alone in the kitchen while Thea naps. The translation of Jung I’m reading for an essay in the works is [unintentionally, I think?] hilarious: “All comparisons are lame, but this simile is at least not lamer than others…” and “who does not know these touching old gentlemen who must always warm up the flame of life only by reminiscences of their heroic youth….”

And then, Thea’s awake and the time I was going to spend trying to understand the collective unconscious has instead been spent marking up the book with “haha!”

Getting After It

Yesterday, I watched from across the internet as a woman I’ve never met in real life (though, we have shared tweets on topics ranging from Marilynne Robinson to supplementing with formula to racing half marathons) went after an ambitious goal. Just over a year after having a baby girl, Sarah trained for and then hit the Olympic Trials Marathon standard. She’d just missed the standard right before getting pregnant. A year later, she said she was barely running 15 miles a week.

Never in my wildest, most competitive running days of dreams has an Olympic Trials Marathon standard been on my radar. But.

When I read about Sarah’s finish time, which I did while kissing Thea on the cheek and trying to sneak a glance at my phone before she put it in her mouth, I cried. I thought about her sweet girl, just a few months older than mine, about how someday when her daughter is older, she’ll understand that her mom qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon.

CVkP17kVAAIfaYG.jpg-large

Later in the day, I saw a picture of Sarah’s face at the moment she realized she’d hit the standard and I cried again. The picture is so much bigger than running. It’s a visual that speaks viscerally to the pure joy from conquering a daunting, scary goal that at times must have seemed crazy, impossible, or futile.

So, now…

I’m sitting here at the kitchen counter writing for the first time in awhile. The essay I’d started back in October is a mess. (In part because I tried to get feedback on it before it was ready for that.) I’m out of writing shape because during the past several weeks, I’ve run or cleaned or done Christmas things or end-of-the-season coaching paperwork when Thea napped, and at the end of each day the essay feels a little less urgent and it’s a little more tempting to move it to my mental trash folder. Didn’t work out, move on, no further action required. 

It is so easy to make excuses not to write. Or chase any big, scary dream. Writing is hard. It’s messy. Some essays or chapters or entire book-length drafts do get thrown out, and some that feel ready and fully formed will never be published. But, I am going to put myself out there, on the starting line in the rain. I owe that to Thea.

She is my light and my joy.

(I think credit for the photo above goes to Sarah Lesko, Oiselle’s Head of Corporate Development)