Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Being a grownup is hard.


My life is easier than it has ever been.  I have all of the basics in my life: health insurance, a comfortable home, clothes that keep me warm in winter and clothes that keep me cool in summer.  I drive a reliable car (yay!).  I live in a safe neighborhood in a country where there is no war.  My refrigerator and cupboards are full.  I have a great job.  I have friends and family.  I have my health (thank you thank you thank you).  My daughter is healthy and happy.  I have a great education, and my daughter is being educated, too.

So, anything that I say now might come off as whining, and I know it.  Maybe all that I have is a case of first world problems and I ought to be quiet and just sit here counting my blessings.  Please know that I know how lucky I am, and that everything I say is within that context.

(Reminder: I had cancer, and then I got divorced, and a couple of years ago I spent a few months being unemployed.  I know what real problems look like, because I've experienced them.  I also work in an industry where I see people who are truly, deeply suffering in their lives, so I have that context.  Even at my lowest, I have been lucky.  I know.)

(end disclaimer)

Here's the thing: I keep being surprised at how hard it is to be a grownup.

Now that my life is more together than it has ever been, and now that I'm happier than I've ever been, I find myself startled that it's not always rainbows and unicorns.  I've been feeling guilty about it (see above), but I think that guilt is highly overrated so I'm trying to get past the guilt into something more.

I think that I'm hitting on a universal truth: that being a grownup is just really hard.  Really, really hard, actually.  Impossibly difficult.  And maybe it's that impossibility that I forgot about: perhaps it really is impossible to reach the GrownUpNess that I strive for, and that only in letting go of my vision of what it means to be a grownup can I be truly happy.

I want to live my life fully, deeply, to the utmost.  I want to squeeze every last drop from my life, feeling all of the joy, the hope, and the possibility of my life.  I want to learn all that I can from life.  I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it.  I want to parent my daughter in such a way that what I teach her will be a beautiful foundation upon which she can build her life (instead of finding out down the road that she needs to unlearn the harmful lessons of childhood).  I want to face my career with positive intention, rather than waking up every day dreading the drudgery.

And I want my laundry room to look like this, and my abs to look like that:
Image result for beautiful laundry roomImage result for flat abs women

My laundry room is in an unfinished part of the basement of my 1923 house, and also hosts the furnace, hot water heater, kitty litter, and stuff that has nowhere else to go.  It will never, ever, ever look like a Pinterest post.  My abs are not my best feature, and will never look like the "after" picture.  More like this:

Image result for basement laundry room before and afterImage result for woman's stomach

And of course, it's about much more important things than laundry rooms.  I want my finances to reflect 20% savings and 10% charity; I want my parenting to be yell-free (including this morning's "YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE AND WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING FASTER AND I'M TIRED OF GOING THROUGH THIS EVERY SINGLE MORNING!"); I want my career to be brilliant and consistent.  I want to eat healthy, home made food every single day.  I want to have enough, but not too much.  I want to be the kind of person who writes thank you cards every single time (because I believe in gratitude more than because it's good manners).  I want to read intellectually stimulating books every single evening.

I'm trying.  Really, I am.  I think, in the big picture, I'm actually doing a decent job.  I have a good life that I'm (mostly) proud of.

But dear readers, I struggle!  I mean, I really do.

My new job is wearing me out, and I find myself taking on the role of the rabbit from "The Tortoise and the Hare."  Some days I am all out, and putting in hours and making things happen and basically feeling brilliant, and then there are days like yesterday when it was all I could do to get back to people on email and I took an extra long lunch because I couldn't face my lack of strategy for the day.  Thinking about work all the time is overflowing into my personal life, too, and at the end of the day I've been watching Gilmore Girls reruns while Katherine plays on her iPad, and I find myself waking up on the sofa and shrieking "oh no I fell asleep!  you're supposed to have read for a half hour and be in bed with the lights out!" and scrambling to get us both to bed.

My finances are improving, but have a long way to go (I'm basically an American statistic about savings rates; it's pretty dismal).  I'm skiing on weekends, but my weekday lifestyle is sedentary.  I cook healthy meals when I cook, but all too often I rely upon Trader Joe's processed dinners, or we go out to grab a bite (good bye, budget).  Katherine got in her well child check up, but is overdue on the orthodontist.  My friendships are in great shape, but I'm not spending much time with extended family.

The list goes on, and on, and on.  My house is pretty tidy and uncluttered most of the time, but my yard is a wreck.  My bills are paid, but my savings rate is terrible.  I managed to have a decent divorce, but my ex hardly spends any time with our daughter (one night at his house since September or early October).

Needless to say, I haven't figured out romance AT ALL.

When I look at my life, I'm trying to see where I'm getting it right, just as much as where I have room to improve.  I'm trying to be gentle with myself, at the same time that I try to make progress in the right direction.

I think that maybe the key is to just acknowledge that this stuff is really, really, really hard.  That while I may be capable of running a marathon, being a fantastic Executive Director, volunteering in my community, aiming at Mother of the Year, sending hand written notes daily, keeping my house clean, growing my own vegetables, and writing a novel, thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and much, much, much more, I just can't do it all at once.  I want to do all of those things, and I can....I just can't do them all right now.

I'm kind of resentful about the Pinterest/Real Simple/Shape Magazine pictures that imply that we're all aiming at perfection.  I know people with nice laundry rooms, but I do not know one single person who keeps a vase of flowers in their laundry room and keeps that room clutter free.  I see pictures of beautiful abs every day of my life, but I know very few women who would ever consent to show me their abs (let alone flaunt them in public) because even among the thin and fit, my 40-something year old friends aren't aiming at the perfection of a 20 year old's fitness.  I'm proud of my career growth and the work that I do, but I just have to accept that this means I don't get to go on all of the middle school field trips.  Perfection isn't the goal.  I will never have that laundry room, or those abs, and saying so isn't giving up or letting my life fall apart.  

Maybe acknowledging that I will never reach perfection is one more step on the way to a perfect life, the way I define it.  Because in my perfect life vision, I fall asleep each night knowing that I've done what I can, that I've helped more than harmed, that I'm still growing and learning.

I need to make the orthodontist appointment.  I need to watch less Gilmore Girls and read more.  I can do those things...I think.  At nine in the morning, they seem doable, but when 8pm rolls around and I'm tired, I feel much less certain.  So, every day, I try again.  I keep hoping for that day when I have exercised (with the dog), prepared healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner and refrained from snacking, my house is clean with the laundry put away, my thank you notes are caught up, the yard is tidy, I've spent an hour writing and an hour volunteering, I landed the new sponsor and moved the strategy forward with key volunteers, I played a board game with my daughter, I stopped to enjoy the sunset, I called my mom, and I did it all under budget, and got to bed on time (with a kiss on Katherine's cheek before we each go to our rooms to read, knowing that we'll talk about what we read at the breakfast table).

I don't think that day is coming.  I get pieces of that day every day, but I don't get it all....ever.

Maybe the hardest part is pushing forward to be my best self at the same time that I relax about ever getting to that mythical place where it's all in order.  Perhaps we're already doing a good job, and we need to smile at our efforts more often, instead of berating ourselves for our flaws.

Maybe it's okay to vege with Gilmore Girls, to have the messy laundry room, to have abs that aren't airbrushed.  Maybe it's about the big picture - a happy child, a life that strives for overall balance, purpose and intention - more than the little bits and pieces that aren't quite right.

Being a grownup is really hard, and I know I'm not doing it all "right."  But maybe one step towards getting it right is letting go of some of the smaller details, and looking at the big picture.  Maybe it's okay to aim at an A without getting 100%.

I'm heading out into my day, and that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to try to get an A as a grownup, but if I miss a few points I'm going to try to let it go.  I'm not sure who's grading me, anyway (and I'm certainly not inviting anyone in to my laundry room to evaluate me).  Maybe accepting that is one step closer to actually feeling like a grownup.


A poem on that subject that has spoken to me for years, but which I clearly haven't fully absorbed, is The Ponds by Mary Oliver.  I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing.

The Ponds
Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

1 comment:

  1. I struggle with this. I know I could be a better mom. When I think of my own mother, I know I could never come close to what she accomplished (and made look so easy) every day. She raised five kids, not much help from my dad (traditional roles were played), cooked three balanced meals a day for everyone, cleaned the house and did the laundry and cleaned the kitchen every night after dinner, etc. As a kid I had no idea the work that must have involved. Now as an adult with 2 kids, my mind is boggled. I know I'll never be like her, especially since I hate cleaning and I'm not a very good cook, but I struggle with the idea that even though I can't be exactly like her, I could still be better at it than I am now. Even without comparisons to other people we know or don't know, we still can fail against our own aspirations. But I guess, if we didn't have goals for ourselves, we wouldn't do very much striving at all. At least I know I wouldn't. Being human is complicated, but I suppose desire keeps us from becoming complacent and stagnant. Desire for change keeps us growing.