Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Family Matters

Last Monday morning, with no swim lessons, no babysitter and no playdate plans, I got the girls dressed and loaded into the car to go – anywhere. Certainty of our journey's necessity came from longtime experience with late morning bickering and shoving matches between my bored and restless girls. The hour felt late, even though we had no deadline and it was not yet ten.

I pulled the hybrid out of the garage and suddenly realized -- it does not matter where we go. It was a thought with the potential for both empty despair and the fullness of boundless potential.

Empty Despair? Here’s the kind of thinking that sends me down that pitted road: A wealth of choices can stifle the desire to do much of anything but lie on the couch. What’s that proverb about idle hands? And I know from experience that some of the overfull calendars that today’s moms are accused of creating may be frantic structures built to create purpose and worth -- scaffolding across the void.

But Monday was a beautiful July day, with humidity still days away. I had a feeling we were headed down the Boundless Potential path. I knew wherever our road led we would most likely find some simple fun and air and sun and maybe some conversation with new friends. And we did.

(A patch of oak savanna, a historically significant jungle gym and a playmate with Nora’s name whose mom worked for In Style magazine – seriously, we just lucked into all this.)

Where we went that day did not matter. What did matter? That we were together and that the needs of the girls – for the outdoors, for plenty of runaround activity, for some new venue in the company of familiar loved ones -- came first.

I’m really struggling these days with what used to matter before I was a mom and now doesn't matter, what didn't and now does. It’s a variation on the motherly theme of sacrifice. On “don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s the shifting of priorities that motherhood asks of you. It’s the sense that our stories matter less when we have children. Not because we are diminished as their parents, but because now their stories matter too.

All this hit home last weekend when our little family of four joined a crowd of other families at a shared lakehouse. There were ten kids running around, ranging in age from fifteen down to two. Potty training was in full swing; meals had to be made and cleaned up; a boat and jet ski needed wrangling. My little fits of pique had no place there. Did that keep me from sinking into a mood over Randy skewering the mushrooms, over his joke at my expense? What do you think?

As a mom, you sometimes reject and sometime embrace being sucked into the great mass of humanity – a kind of communism, in a way – that moves you away from the cult of the individual.

Your own neuroses, habits, demands, navel-gazing? It does not matter.

The kids fed and rested, slathered with sunscreen and suited up with lifejackets, watched constantly to keep them from throwing rocks at each other or from falling into the lake? Matters.

Truth is, I love chasing them around. I love multiple versions of Itsy Bitsy and his buds, the Great Big Hairy and the Fast and Tickly Spiders.

And truth is, no one can completely disappear into her role as mother. Maybe Meryl Streep. I’m not that good an actress. I will still sneak away (like today, to write this) to take little journeys of my own.

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