what it’s like

moving forward. looking back.

The other morning, Chris and I were sitting at the table, having a bit of coffee together before the kids woke up. I was fine. Fresh. Ready to start the day. And then Chris said, “Oh, yeah. You need to listen to this.”

He handed me his phone, on which there was a message from my mom. (My mom calls Chris’s phone to get ahold of us because he does things like answers his phone and checks his messages.)

“Hi, Maria and Chris. I ran into so-and-so downtown and he said to tell you they miss you. And I took a walk past your old house: the willow tree has gotten so big! And here is what the weather is like today.”

It wasn’t an unusual message.  We get them on a semi-regular basis. Sweet, nostalgic, yet upbeat. But, for some reason, it totally threw me off my game. I couldn’t look at my husband and went to sit on my cushion and started to cry.

We’ve been in California for over a year now. I like it here. I don’t think we’ll move back to Kansas, or anywhere else, in the near future. But I still miss Kansas. More specifically, Lawrence. More specifically, our home and friends and family there. And even more specifically, the reason for the tears the other morning, I miss the me that I used to be before we moved even though I like the me now even better. My mind doesn’t do well with holding simultaneous, seemingly contradictory thoughts. It doesn’t do well with ambiguity.

I don’t regret moving. I appreciate the ways it’s helped me develop: emotionally, psychologically, intellectually. I wouldn’t go back. But, I also grieve what I gave up to move. I miss the me that didn’t know the things I know now from this move, things that have changed who I am on a deep, fundamental level.

You know what it’s like? It’s like becoming a parent. My guess is non-parents are sick of parents going on about what a big deal it is to have kids, especially because we often talk about how important and great it is, yet we look so tired, pinched up, and angry all the time. A few years ago, I had a friend who was thinking about not having a kids ask me to describe what’s so great about it. I hemmed and hawed for a while and finally said I couldn’t really explain it. (She pointed out that, since this is what I write about, I should try a little harder.)

It’s just one of those things, right? One of those life-things that doesn’t make sense. One of those cultural things we’re not really supposed to talk about. Like, that, maybe if we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t travel that road, except that’s really impossible because, once we’ve traveled it, we know there are deeps truths we didn’t know about before and we couldn’t, wouldn’t ever go back to the way things were. It happens in all kinds of circumstances: falling in love, moving away from home, becoming a parent.

The closest I ever got to saying these things out loud was with another friend who said that, before she had kids, her own mother reminded her that she didn’t have to become a mother. That there may be some advantages for her life not to. My friend said that she was hurt by this, to hear it from her own mom, specifically. Because of the implications, you know?

It was only after becoming a mother herself, understanding what the experience means by living it, did she know what her mother had meant. Her voice through this conversation, like mine, sounded a little sad, and then we stopped talking about it because one of our children ran up and interrupted: they needed us.

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16 thoughts on “what it’s like

  1. It’s complicated, isn’t it? It’s true that when you know something, you can’t go back and unknow it. You can develop further or rework your conclusions, but once it’s there, it’s there. That’s growth. Or scar tissue. Or both. It makes things interesting.

    I miss the you that was here, and I’d love to spend some time with the you you’re becoming. Kansas has lost something, and California has gained it, but since we’re all in this together, it’ll work out. Love…

  2. Before I became a bodyworker, I was involved in government policy work. As I read about the upcoming election and the hefty issues before our world these days, the thought keeps passing through my mind — “Shouldn’t I be working on one of those issues to improve the world?” I keep wondering about the other paths, the ones I didn’t live.

    But the desire for the other path is only partial; my commitment to, and my desire to be in, my current life prevail strongly. I like being a mom; I like my caretaking professional work. This is so much more fun, less draining and stressful (even though it is draining and stressful), and fulfilling.

    Why? In advance of our second child’s arrival, my husband and I were excited in a really different way than with the first. This time around, we knew what we were getting — not just an infant who’s adorable and snuggable, but a person who would be with us for the rest of our lives. My four-year-old is delightful and surprising and joyful and energetic. She sees the world through imaginative eyes. Sometimes, she makes me view the world entirely differently than I was, and other times, I illuminate the world for her and see awareness, knowledge, and understanding dawn in her eyes.

    But most of all, she radiates love, warmth, and excitement. A few mornings ago, after several days of intermittent conflict between us, she woke up, immediately reached for me, pulled me into a long hug, and earnestly declared, “Mama, I love you so much!” She truly feels love wholeheartedly and unconditionally. This is the intensely positive feeling and presence that most people are searching for in their intimate relationships with partners, parents, and friends. These little ones are born knowing it, and if we listen, they draw it back out of us.

    Which, I think, is the real reason becoming a parent is something we desire — it makes us better. Not in a holier-than-thou better way, but in a I-am-learning-to-be-a-kinder-more-patient-more-loving-person-which-then-makes-me-happier way. Obviously, being a parent doesn’t necessarily mean that you pursue becoming more loving, but it does force the issue. And there are many moments when I’m not as patient, kind, and loving as I would like to be. But her warmth and love make me want to be a better person. And she gives really good hugs.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Holly. One of the (many) surprises (this word is such an understatement) with my first pregnancy was the reality that these “babies” were, actually, “people,” permanently in my life. Our culture puts so much emphasis on the “having”; the accumulation, rather than the long-term care. (This is an idea I gleaned from Daphne deMarneffe.) I’ll admit, even with the third child, the realty of her inevitable growth catches me off-guard.

      Children definitely teach us selfless in some ways, yet I’ve mulled over the idea that, in other ways, we become (at least temporarily) selfish. I’m sure I’ll go there in another post, at some point.

  3. This moved me in a way that, like having children, it’s hard to explain. I love how you’re so attuned with your feelings to know why you’re sad. What a beautiful soul you have. Children are glorius work. Knowing how juggle being a mom and yourself can be hard and life altering. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Well put Maria, “I miss the me that didn’t know the things I know now.” You’ve got me crying now thinking about the me before we moved from Idaho to Cali. The naive me who used to believe staying put in one spot was the only best way to raise my kids. The old me who was very content with the simple life. Like you, I can’t go back and don’t want to, but think I’ll continue my good cry with ya;-)

  5. Perfect moment for me to read your words. I just got back from a family “vacation” that was both amazing and horrible. Moments of holyhushed “thank you God” all over the place, mingling with quietfrantic “God get me out of here”. It is exhausting to feel so much at such ends of ourselves. As an educator, I know that cognitive dissonance is required for growth and development. Sometimes, the dissonance isn’t limited to the coginitive, but has farther reaching implications and shadows. I still trust that it is growing and forming me nearer and nearer to the Place that is intended. Thanks for your words Maria. Appreciate your sincerity.

  6. Love this Maria. I have those tears for that place often. For me though, unfortunately, the version I left there was a better version – gentler and happier. I think my biggest lesson to learn here is how to regain some of that person and be able to keep her with me anywhere even with the things I’ve learned here and can’t unlearn. Maybe once I learn that I can go home again….(just call me Dorothy!). I love reading your stuff, I don’t tell you that often enough, but it’s true, you amazing writer, you. Miss you.

  7. I’m the type of person that saves all my e-mail correspondence. Though recently, I became aware of the need to clean some of it out. Some messages, several years old, caught my attention. They were from people whom I was once friends with and have since drifted apart. How close we were and how different a person I was caused this terrible, dull ache. I don’t regret the person I turned into or the decisions that I’ve made, but catching a glimpse of the past was almost too much to bear. And the thing was, they were good memories, some of the best.

    You pick some good topics to write about. Everybody seems to experience them in their own way, but rarely have the courage to verbalize them, let alone commit them to writing and allow others to comment on them publicly. Disregard any of my previous suggestions that would send you under covers. That wasn’t my intent, and I am truly sorry for making you feel that way.

    • Andy, so sorry to be late replying to this. Yes, your experience with old emails is very much the type of thing I have in mind. I’ve attempted to understand how much of our sense of self is connected with memory, but the correlation is so bright for me, I have to turn my eyes, like it’s the sun.

      The reason I was running for the covers was just that I realized with your comment on my previous post that, “Oh, shit. Some people read what I write and think I know what I’m talking about.”

      I just want to take that perceived responsibility seriously, that’s all. Glad to have you reading and give input, as always!

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