After I finished writing yesterday I still felt fairly conflicted. I couldn’t decide what to do. I felt like I wanted to commit to writing more seriously, but I really have no idea what that really means or how to do it.
I thought about sitting down and making a list of all of things I’ve consciously held back from writing about, and making today’s post “Day Ninety-Four: I’m Not Holding Back Anymore,” and then I decided that might not be the healthiest approach, and it certainly wouldn’t make sense to anyone else.
The very fact that I have that urge at all speaks to a serious internal struggle concerning boundaries. I know, or at least I think I know, that establishing and maintaining boundaries is an important thing, but I have a fairly deep desire to live without them, and I’m not sure how to open up and also maintain boundaries. I have two settings, walls up or walls down, and there isn’t much in between. I know it’s a process, it certainly was with HW, but I think it’s hard to live in the middle long-term. Every professional I’ve ever spoken to and every book insists on the importance of boundaries, and I have learned the dangers of living without them on more than one occasion, but it’s difficult to fight against something that feels instinctual, especially when I’ve learned the importance of trusting those instincts in my life as a mother.
I also know, from personal experience, that focusing on what not to do isn’t always as effective as focusing on what to do.
I like to start with what I know. I know committing to writing means, for me, as I wrote yesterday, that I need to stop holding back, or to put it in positive terms, I need to start opening up. So that’s where I started. I called HW, told him we were going shopping, and I bought a dress to wear to the cocktail reception. And it wasn’t the normal kind of extremely simple, black or neutral colored dress. It might look like a conservative dress to some people, but I have never worn a short, pouffy dress, and certainly not one with orange and purple on it. Also, you can’t see it, but the neck line is a deep V down to the middle of my chest. If I had breasts to speak of, it would be scandalous.
I wore my new dress, with one of my four pairs of fancy shoes (one of the pairs I have only ever worn the day HW bought them for me more than three years ago), and I went to a cocktail reception with my husband, where we were social and made friends and had a great time, and then we went out on a real date. Just the two of us. It was glorious.
The cocktail reception was such a nice surprise. Everyone was nice, and smart, and interesting. We haven’t been involved long enough to say for sure, but it seems like a really great school community, and I’m so happy and thankful we are part of it. I did not feel out of place at the reception, and really only felt a pang of anxiety when we first walked in. As the night progressed, I actively tried to be myself,* or some calmer, more open version of myself. I approached and talked with a woman I have seen before, and whom I had, unfairly, prejudged as a snobby and demanding pain in the ass.
I paused for a moment, aware that we don’t know anyone, and we are definitely the youngest, and almost definitely the least financially secure, but I reasoned my way through (who cares about any of that at a cocktail party?) and did it anyway, and I’m so glad I did. As I said, every person we spoke to was kind and interesting, and no one seemed to hold our inexperience against us. People were interested in talking about our children, and the school, and how to make the world a better place. I could tell HW enjoyed it too, because we both laughed and smiled, and I haven’t seen him be that charming in a long time. It was a great experience, and while I’m not sure any of these people will end up being lifelong besties, I’m not sure they won’t, and I am looking forward to seeing them at the next function.
HW and I rarely ever have a date night, but we decided last night was a good time to do it. The kids were asleep anyway, and we already had a babysitter, so we left the cocktail party a little early and found a great place to have a quiet dinner. We had dinner outside, under the stars and strings of lights, to the sound of music that was set to just the right volume, and voices that were far enough away not to be a distraction. We ate our food, talked, laughed, and enjoyed each other, sitting on a little couch under a giant tree. It was glorious.
All of that is to say I’m glad I bought and wore a dress, even though I almost didn’t wear it.
After I bought the dress, but before I put it on, I started to panic. I told HW I thought maybe I would just return the dress and wear my jeans. I said something like, “Dressing up like this, that’s not really me. People might get the wrong idea about who I am, or they have the right idea who I am, and will think I’m pretending to be something else.” He was, as always, extremely understanding and supportive, and reminded me that being able to dress up once in a while, is also part of who I am. There is nothing fake about wanting to put on a dress once in a while. I like to dress up. Maybe not every day, or even every week, but sometimes. I also love my pajama shorts and t-shirt I happen to be wearing as I write this. I can like more than one thing. I can be more than one thing. I know this, because I have done it. Now I just need to remember it.
I can be mother,** wife, Catholic, feminist, writer, lawyer. I don’t have to be less of one thing to be better at another. I have to prioritize, certainly, because there are only so many hours in a day, but I think doing one thing well might actually enable me to do a better job on the others. If I put in the effort to be a better writer, I will feel more satisfied, and will feel happier, and that always makes me a better mother and wife, and probably Catholic and feminist. The lawyer piece will have to wait for now, but I’ll get to it when I’m ready.
I woke up this morning and felt great. I was so excited to spend the day with my family. We drove to a local park, where they were hosting a walk to benefit ALS. The kids were thrilled, because they thought it was a party at 8 am, which for them is the best kind of party. We explored the park and found an outdoor yoga session, a great playground, and a local market. We came home and made a giant salad with celery, mandarin oranges, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar, and red beans and rice, and now everyone (including HW) is sleeping peacefully.
I live in paradise with my healthy, beautiful family. The biggest writing challenge should be the fact that I can only write so many posts about how much I love my husband and children and how beautifully blue the water is.
So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to worry less. It’s true that one of my friends who is a writer had a terrible experience with a men’s rights group (yes, there is such a thing, and no, I am not joking), and I am a fanatic about the safety of my children, but I don’t have to give away my social security number or home address to share that I live in the state of Florida, and the chances that anyone is going to care are extremely slim. Still, don’t expect a post comparing a certain terrible person I will have to deal with for the rest of my life to Hitler anytime soon. Opening up does not have to mean ranting and raving and carrying on every time something doesn’t go my way or every time a hypocritical lying liar makes a stupid, selfish decision.
I have lived with my fists clenched, braced for the next crashing wave, for too long. I can’t continue to do that, and also expect to do everything else as well as I would like to, so it’s time to let it go (I will do us both a favor and not post the video to that song, although I bet it’s already playing in your head). I want to live palms open, arms open, or at least with my arms open enough to comfortable hug my children without smothering them, and my fists open unless I am gripping a favorite toy (or a set of keys) to save it from clogging the toilet.
I am not responsible for everyone else. I am responsible for my life, and for my children, and even then, I can’t control everything. I’m going to do the best I can and enjoy every possible second.***
When I do something, I’m going to take the time to do it well. That means there will probably be a few shorter posts between now and Day One Hundred, and after that, there may not be posts every single day, but I think, and I hope, my writing will improve. Rather than rushing to fill a self-imposed deadline, I’m going to take the time to enjoy writing a little bit more. Instead of rushing through thirty things I want to do now that I’m thirty, I’m going to focus on doing three main things: Slowing Down, Opening Up, and Smelling the Gardenias (roses are overrated). SOS.
Speaking of SOS, as long as our children are sleeping, I’m going to see if I can persuade HW to wake up so we can have some time together.
*I think I have already written about how ridiculous that phrase is. I am always being myself, because whatever I am at any given moment, is myself. It would be impossible to be anything that was not my true self, because that is the only possible thing I can ever be.
**Being a mother is actually great practice, because it requires being so many different things at once. Holding a baby in one arm, stirring a pot with another, nudging the dog with one foot, holding the phone to my ear with one shoulder, smiling at the baby while explaining to a customer service representative that it’s time to get a supervisor now (please), all while reading over an older child’s homework and explaining how to build the next Lego project to another, hoping the fourth child doesn’t fall off of the toilet. We’ve all been there.
***Paddle boarding is back on the list.