“She was born to be free, let her run wild in her own way and you will never lose her.”
~ Nikki Rowe
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It has been a hard road, learning how to care for myself, in the new-and-continually-evolving role of motherhood. It wasn’t until after marriage and children that I understood that a) I am a Free Spirit and b) I have commitment issues. Fortunately, those issues have been mostly harmless in my life due to the powerful internal compass I possess in relation to what I believe is right and wrong. Because of this, the only commitments I have ever promised are to my husband and my children: to be the best partner and mother to them that I can be.
During the first few years of becoming a mother, I lost myself. I didn’t know how to balance my own needs with those of my baby, or those of my husband. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, but it was also my first time out of the workforce. That meant that for the first time in my adult life, I was dependent on someone else for financial support. That was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. Even now, almost thirteen years later, financial dependence is still not a situation I have fully adjusted to. It helped me, that at some point, my husband expressed his full support for whatever I wanted to do – whether it was staying home, going back to work (in which case we would need to hire a nanny), or going to school. He was all-in with whatever decision I wanted to make. He has always been supportive and loving toward me, but it was unsettling for him to witness the dark periods I experienced after becoming a mother: the tremendous worthlessness that I felt while wandering around our house; so lonely in what seemed – on paper, at least – to be a beautiful life. The light-hearted, open, and expressive woman he had married was absent. In her place was a depressed and unfulfilled shell.
At J’s request, I begrudgingly joined him for marriage counseling. We unearthed some unpleasant feelings, so I chose to begin individual counseling as well. The last time I went, I returned home unsatisfied. I cried in my car until my tears dried up – the evidence of my aching heart no longer visible. I did not know why I was so unhappy; therefore, I didn’t know how to fix it. By the time J and I went to bed that night, I was beside myself with anger and resentment at the situation in which I had put myself. Lying in bed, I yelled into the darkness that my soul was dying and he didn’t even care. I had always been joyful and optimistic, yet there I was, defeated and resigned to misery. I didn’t recognize myself, even on a good day. A few silent minutes after I yelled, J suggested it might be time for me to consider seeing a psychiatrist. All of the fight drained out of me. I said “okay.”
That was it: okay.
How could I expect him to understand me when I couldn’t understand myself? Our room was incredibly silent: full of tension, sorrow, and the realization of dreams lost. Minutes later, J startled me with his own yell into the darkness. “Holy f—, Angel! You don’t need a psychiatrist, you need a creative outlet!” Yes, my husband said those exact words. I remember time and space sliding into their respective spots; my heart and soul filling up with the kind of relief that can only come when someone, who has felt invisible, is finally seen. The metaphorical wall I’d been banging my head against for my entire life dissolved. I turned my body toward J and barely whispered, as I allowed myself to fall into exhausted sleep, “For the first time, ever, I finally feel like somebody gets me. Thank you.”
Since that night, nine or ten years ago, we both have put in the effort to ensure that I not only have time for myself, but that my Free Spirit is allowed to thrive. J has learned to appreciate, rather than fear, my need for whimsy and change. I told him once that the tighter he holds on, the less I will want to stick around. He no longer gets annoyed with my aimless road trips; he never questions me when I tell him I need time by myself; and he celebrates and encourages my friendships. The few times a year when I tell him it’s time for me to go to the ocean (it’s far less than I would like, but it’s a balance), he accommodates me by working from home, so he can pick the kids up from school while I have a day by the water. I’ve started using my tub as a resource: when I need to be near water, but I can’t head for the ocean, I sit in the bath. If I can, I sit in there as long as I need to, to feel centered; to think; to work out whatever burdens weigh on my mind. J’s engineering skills have helped me to create gorgeous invitations;
I’ve taken drawing and painting classes at night, and he has worked with my schedule as much as possible while I work toward a Writing degree (although somehow, he’s always traveling during Finals. With three young children, that’s been an interesting time-management challenge!). J is very logical and structured, but he now understands that when I walk away from a project, it is not because I am leaving it unfinished, but rather, I have entered a phase of contemplation.
I am not perfect at maintaining my life-balance, but I am working on it. I now recognize that when I feel frustrated or unhappy, I have probably been neglecting my own needs and wants. Mom-guilt is a real thing, but I know from experience that I am much happier and a much better parent when I take time for me. Sometimes, it’s just sitting at the local bakery with a good book; other times, it’s a drive to the ocean; and still others, it’s painting at four in the morning (hopefully, not on school nights!). J has helped me to find ways to incorporate my uniquely-shaped self into a square, suburban box. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I am an artist with an artist’s temperament. I used to feel awkward about that, but now I look forward to discovering where it will lead.
* * * * *
As a young romantic, I fell in love with the poem “somewhere I have never travelled,” by e.e. cummings. There was something achingly beautiful about it that resonated with me. I hadn’t read it in years, but I recently revisited it. One particular stanza stood out to me, and my feelings about it are relevant to share, here:
Or if your wish be to close me, I and my life
Will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
As when the heart of this flower imagines
The snow carefully everywhere descending
In my youth, I was incredibly shy and I always felt out-of-place and as though some part of me was missing. I think I must have always been “an artist,” but my lack of confidence and insecurity within myself interfered with that personal development. I look back at my relationship experiences and I recognize that I did change myself to accommodate those around me; that if those people I spent my time with wished “to close me, I and my life [would] shut very beautifully, suddenly.” For all of the challenges I have experienced in new motherhood, it has also made me a better person for myself. Yes, I have experienced the unparalleled joy of feeling unconditional love towards another (three “anothers,” to be exact), but motherhood has also allowed me to see myself wholly; to appreciate my uniqueness; and to believe in my value to this universe. Something clicked, and I realized that I only get to be me once. I am forty-five years old, and I expect that I have at least as many years in front of me as I have behind me. I believe that the only barriers I have are those that are in my own mind. My goals include destroying those barriers so I can see the world differently and develop what I once closed.
Fittingly, Miss Lopez recently tweeted a video speaking to exactly that! Thanks for the encouragement, JLo. Listen and be inspired!
© Angel Jameson 2018
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.
“Jennifer Lopez’s Guide To Reinventing Yourself.” YouTube, uploaded by InStyle 31 October 2018. https://youtu.be/ppr0Qaqzjq4