Is there anything worse than feeling trapped? Having to write a difficult exam because you have to be in school. Having to fulfill an obligation you hastily said “yes” to. Having to work at a job you don’t like because the bills have to be paid. This feeling has come and gone in me over the past several years, but I can undoubtedly say that nothing has ever made me feel more trapped than motherhood.
Sometimes it hits me that I cannot get out of this thing of mothering. (Or at least I cannot get out of this thing without causing enormous pain and years of counselling on these little children of mine.) And I don’t think it’s necessarily because I had my kids when I was young and “lost” my twenties to diapers and laundry and time-outs. No, it usually hits me on days when I’d really like to sleep in, days when I know there is a world spinning around me and yet the four walls of my house are the world that I’m going to know that day (that week, that year, that decade). The world is at my doorstep, but I can’t get out the door without the money to pay a babysitter who happens to be free at the time I want to go.
And it’s not just about being able to go out. It’s about forever having in my life these little people to care for. Sometimes thinking about just that makes me tired and really scared. I hardly even remember what it was like to only have to think about myself. For some reason it often feels like if I just had myself to look after I’d feel less trapped.
But I really don’t think that’s the truth.
What really makes me feel trapped is the feeling that in life we just continually mess up, hurt others, and get hurt back. This is played out in such an exaggerated manner looking after three little kids all day long that sometimes it makes me feel hopeless. Why can’t people just get along? Why do we have to be bossy and watch out for our things? Why can’t we share and be kind and love?
And yet, what I also see lived out in the kids is absolute, unwavering, unconditional love and forgiveness. And even that makes me feel trapped. Like I really don’t want anyone to love and forgive me unconditionally because that means they’ll have to know about all of the parts of me that I don’t want exposed.
Maybe if I could just isolate myself away from all of the hurt and all of the love, I wouldn’t be plagued with this fear. But that doesn’t make any sense at all! Fear would only increase. There would be the constant fear of bumping into others, into life. You would become immobilized. And you would fear even more.
Marc and I watched The Hours last night. Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, and my favourite line from the movie (though many are fantastically quotable) is when she says: “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”
And that’s it, isn’t it? We spend our time dreaming about how things could be, could’ve been, should be. We feel trapped in whatever circumstance we’re in. But the truth is that the could and the should don’t matter. The circumstances don’t matter. Those aren’t the things that trap us. It is the love and freedom which we allow (or don’t allow) for ourselves in those circumstances which traps us.
In so many ways I’ve got the “ideal” life. Yet, I’ve created this wonderful, seemingly inescapable, web of self-doubt, self-loathing, and guilt, that the “ideal” life is not ideal at all. And it’s only when I allow myself to love and be loved, allow myself the freedom to make mistakes and live and commune with others fully, that the “ideal life” will be achieved.
The “ideal life” comes when our thinking changes. When those things — demands, obligations, fears — that used to trap us and rob us of what we really wanted are, instead, viewed as the perfect places to live out our love. My kids and all of their demands and inconveniences are not preventing me from experiencing life, they are the gateway to a better kind of life than I could possibly imagine or have ever hoped for. The thing that trapped me the most can set me free.