I’m lost amidst a sea of uncertainty and there’s a storm brewing. It’s been a long time coming, but still I find myself adrift. I am unsure which direction to take, and so I remain immobile, waiting for the impending waves to swallow me whole. I am caught between my very own Scylla and Charybdis: a proverbial rock and a hard place. Whichever decision I make means losing something, or someone, so I choose to float aimlessly in the ocean of my thoughts and emotions a little while longer. Sorry to say, you might be marooned right along with me.
How’s that for theatrics? Let me explain.
I grew up in a broken home, and was raised for half my youth as an only child. Needless to say, I crave the unconditional love and beautiful chaos of a large, devoted family. I was the only kid I knew who watched movies like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and thought, Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a big family holiday like that? I was the eight-year-old Clark Griswold. My dolls always had siblings. Barbie was stricken over and over with quintuplets, which given her tiny frame could have been no easy feat. I was, at the time, convinced that 8 children was a perfectly reasonable goal. Oh heck, why not go for an even dozen?
Then life happened.
I had my first baby at 27 years old and my second at 30. Having eight kids was definitely not in the cards for this old-timer. But you know what I discovered after having those two, wonderful, spirited, little boys? Babies are HARD! They destroy your body on the way out, wreck your brain for the next six months, and break your heart every time you realize they’re growing up.
You are literally and figuratively never the same again. The woman you once were is a distant memory, and so are her waistline, social life, and hobbies. She is a ghost fated to haunt your dreams and star in your nightmares until the day comes when you have the time, energy, and inclination to forge a new identity for yourself. Until then, you are the nameless, faceless, purveyor of milk and kisses known only as “MOMMY”. You live to serve. You perform disgusting and dangerous tasks that no human would choose to endure (such as childbirth, potty training, and PTA meetings). You are one of the robots from Blade Runner.
Then your babies start to grow up. They learn to feed and clothe themselves. They even eventually learn to wipe their own butts, or so I’m told. Slowly, your sleep-deprived brain begins to awaken. You remember that there is a whole world around you that has carried on in your absence. There are still books being written even though you haven’t read one containing more than 100 words in four years. There are new restaurants opening even though you haven’t been out past dark since Valentines day…2011. Your friends, those without children, still have social lives even though you haven’t picked up the phone to call them in months.
You have stood still, surrounded by diapers, blinking toys, and tiny socks which pop up EVERYWHERE. Time ceased to have meaning; you marked your days based on numbers of bowel movements, length of naps, ounces of milk, and pounds of weight gained. They were the only units that matter. Then suddenly, the clocks started ticking again. The sun rises and the stars move across the sky. You have once again rejoined the real world.
Here I am. My baby will be one year old in a month. We have begun the process of weaning, and I expect to see him take his first steps any day now. He is growing up at warp speed. These last 11 months have felt like decades at times, particularly 3:00am, but also like the measure of a heartbeat. He arrived in a hurry and hasn’t slowed down since. I’m starting to see a light at the end of the deep dark tunnel of raising babies. My stint as an indentured servant is nearing its end. I caught myself making goals the other day: goals for ME that didn’t involve dinner plans. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are.
I started writing again just over three months ago, and it lit a fire under me. My ambitions, creativity, competitiveness, and longing were all suddenly returning with a vengeance to torment my every waking thought. A voice, once drowned out by the cries of my newborns, has started shouting in my ear again, THIS is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life! I want to write. And I want to publish that writing. I want to pour my heart and soul onto a page and hold it in my hands. Hopefully others will hold it too.
I want my life back.
I’m so close to freedom, I can taste it. But it’s not that simple. What happened to my big, chaotic, loving, crazy, devoted family? I never made a conscious decision to give up on that dream either. Rock, meet The Hard Place. I wanted four children, once I grew up and realized that eight might be biting off more than I could chew. I want a baby girl. I know I may end up with four boys, but am I really ready to give up on that possibility?
What about all the “firsts”? The first time I see the little flicker of a heartbeat on the ultrasound, the first time I (inevitably) see my son’s manhood on the 20-week ultrasound, the first time I hold him, the first time he reaches out for me. The firsts go on into eternity, like the children who experience them. I wasn’t planning on this baby being my last. Did I adequately appreciate each of those firsts? Would I have rocked him a little longer while he slept in my arms if I had known that it would be the last time I rocked one of my babies to sleep? My baby is fiercely independent now and insists on being put into his crib awake to settle himself to sleep. His rocking days are over. I’m fighting back the tears now as I write these words.
My heart is being dragged, kicking and screaming, along with my brain who is more than ready to move on.
What is the right answer? It seems to me, either side I choose is a loss that I will have to mourn. If we decide to have more children, will I be able to keep writing? I feel like I’m just getting started, and I can see so many wonderful possibilities ahead of me. Am I prepared to wait another three, four, or five years to write that novel that’s been burning a hole in my brain for three years already? If we decide to stop and be happy with our two wonderful boys, will I always wonder about the little faces and personalities I never brought into this world? Will I miss them?
My thoughts ebb and flow with the tides. Some days I am fully content with my family and ready to begin the next chapter of our lives, while others I am torn apart with desire for another baby. Both choices are awash with emotions and fear whose depth I’m only beginning to understand. I’m not sure what decision we will end up making. I fear there are still many waves of doubt and judgment to ride out before we can once again regain our course, whichever course that might be. Perhaps there is some third direction I haven’t even considered. That is the risk and the opportunity you create when floating out to sea; the wind can change at any moment and you never know where you’re going to end up.