The humidity’s been insane lately. The air feels like a damp blanket, or a giant sauna. I usually hate limp, boneless days like this — and the bugs and b.o. that seems to thrive in the moistness — but the barista at my local downtown cafe told me she thinks of it like a giant embrace from the world, so I’m trying that on. A sweaty, stinky embrace, but a loving one nevertheless.
I’m impatient for fall. Fall is my spiritual new year, full of endeavor and purpose. My nerdy self always loved the annual rituals of school supplies and clothes shopping –picking out new folders, notebooks, pens, and later in college, choosing classes and perusing class reading lists. The start of a new fall was a mental starting line for a race tpropelling me to the end of the year gliding on various projects, goals and accomplishments.
This year, though, I’m trying to scale back expectations. As a new parent of a energetic, curious, sometimes irascible baby whose routines and habits border on occasional anarchy, I simply can’t do as much as I used to. At least, the things I used to do before, which were often creative and solitary in nature: reading, writing, watching movies, designing, wandering. I am busy, but it’s the mundane, mind-numbing yet sometimes cozy stuff of parenting: nursing, changing diapers, reading baby books, taking walks and lately preparing food. Baby is now “mam-mam”-ing “big people food” and honestly and surprisingly, I really enjoy this part of parenting. It’s fun to introduce him to new tastes and flavors. But it’s a lot of work. All of it is.
I struggled often at the beginning with the shift in balance between baby tasks and me-time. I knew it would be tough, but I underestimated just how much me-time made me feel like me until I had so little of it.
And I suffered: I felt acutely that loss of identity, and experienced it as constricting and even suffocating on my worst post-partum depression days. I’d find myself breaking down, feeling a sharp, desperate pressure in my chest wanting to rip itself out into the world, hot and steaming and soaked in tears.
It took me awhile to name this feeling — grief — and realized how much I missed my old, unencumbered self, even if I loved my baby more and more every day. One feeling doesn’t negate the other; they both sit uneasily side by side, sometimes arm-wrestling to figure out who gets to dominate in any given moment.
Lately, though, I’ve kind of just surrendered. Parenting is basically one of the biggest ego-deaths you can experience: it can take away all the surface-level “things” and “activities” that you thought were “you,” leaving you wondering just who the hell “you” are anymore.
And it’s natural to miss this “you,” this ego-self. Ego-self is fun, cool, stylish, confident. Ego-self is personality, the part of you that loves to hang out — the part of you that lets you take up space in the world and fill it with color.
The truth is that we need a sturdy ego — not a big one, mind you — to succeed in the world, to feel “entitled” to be heard, seen and understood. The problem, though, is that often we’re encouraged to focus on these ego-strengths at the expense of deeper, finer things.
A big part of my ego-self was caught up in getting shit done, accomplishing things, being creative and finishing ambitious projects. I staked a lot of my feeling of me-ness on this for a very long time; what’s more, I was rewarded by many people and institutions for these ego superpowers.
But now — ha, I’m lucky if I get to shower at the end of the day. I’m lucky to finish rewriting a chapter of a long-neglected manuscript or draft. All my ego-playthings have fallen to the wayside. And who I felt myself to be fell aside as well, which can be hard in a culture where doing is much more valued than being.
This depressed me for awhile, but now I realize other parts of me are coming to the fore: tenderness, devotion, loving-kindness, generosity, patience. (Patience is the hardest!) I’m also realizing you don’t need to be everything all at once; there will be a future season for creative powerhousing, and accomplishing, and making work and making beauty and communicating ideas and insights. I’m still doing little things — revising old writing, outlining new projects — and I hope these tiny things add up.
What I am learning, now, is that fine art of prioritizing that everyone talks about. And yes, I’m learning patience and a slow, steady tenacity. And how sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself and even be surprised by yourself. (When I was little I never imagined that being a grown-up would involve so much change and surprise and growth still!)
And so this will be a slow, steady September, a quiet fall, where I hope to introduce my little one to the autumn winds, the changing colors of the leaves, and the pleasures of lying on a blanket and staring up at the clouds in the shade of a oak tree. To the taste of apples and cinnamon, the delicious pleasure of wearing flannel and sweaters, the quiet of library afternoons, and of course the fun of Halloween. And soon the humidity will drift away to a brisk snap of chill in the air, and though it seems sometimes life doesn’t move at all, onward it goes….