If you’ve noticed a change in my tone and focus and viewpoint since we moved to Manitoba, you would be very right. Here’s what it is:
You know how you spend all of your life imagining what life will be like? When you’re a kid you imagine what you will “be” when you grow up — what job you’ll have, what your spouse will look like, where you’ll live, how many kids you’ll have? And you spend a good chunk of your mental energy in the future, planning and just imagining it all — like you aren’t quite living until you get to that undetermined point in the future when everything falls into place? But then at some point it hits you that all those years spent thinking about the future were living years, too. You don’t start your life when you’ve got it all figured out. You’ll never live if you think of it like that. And maybe that’s why it kind of feels like I’ve been living for the first time since we moved here.
You see, I grew up with extremely giving parents. They were always giving of their time and money and energy for other people. Somehow their example of giving ended up making me think that unless you were doing something for others, what you were doing was not important. (Now, this is not to say that my parents were neglectful of their family. Not in the least! I just took it all a little far in my head.)
I felt like I had a purpose all through university. I was studying and falling in love with Marc, and watching all of the things I’d always imagined fall right into place. I felt like I had purpose when I had Madeline. She was this new little person whom I could teach everything to. I loved the “teaching” part of parenting the best.
And then Luke came along. And second children always make things a lot more complicated. And at about that time Marc and I went through a major paradigm shift regarding our faith. And slowly, slowly I began to realize that all of those things that I had thought I needed and all of the things that I thought I needed to be didn’t really matter. I could just be me. I didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t have to have it all together. I didn’t have to the smartest most well-behaved kids on the block.
It was very liberating. But it also made me swing to the other extreme.
I no longer needed to be perfect or have it all together or have the best kids on the block, so why bother? Why bother? What’s the point? Why should I care what I look like? Why should I bother making an effort with meals? Why should I bother taking the kids out to different places? Why should I bother pursuing friendships? Basically everything became pointless and I took very little pleasure in almost everything.
All around me I saw people having hobbies and enjoying the basic things of life and all I could think of was “What a waste of time!” They weren’t “working towards” anything. They weren’t overtly helping others. They were just living. And, for me, there has always been a very fine line between “taking care of yourself” and “being completely self-absorbed”. You gotta spend your time helping others, pursuing world peace, and feeding the hungry. If you’re not, what you’re doing is a waste of time.
I had no sense of balance. I was either doing the “good” things by giving to others, or everything was pointless. And, since life is so much about every day living (especially when you have to worry about the every day lives of a family of five), pretty much everything was pointless. I was no longer working toward any personal goal or a solution to third world debt, I was just living. And I was miserable.
But ever so slowly over the past eight months, I’ve been figuring out that there is worth in the every day. I don’t need to constantly hurry and panic. I don’t need to be a martyr. I just need to be me. Life doesn’t need to be a mad rush. Life is not best when it is a mad rush. Having my mind overwhelmed with needs and regrets and duties has no benefit to my life. Making every day things pointless in order to give “the rest of life” worth does just the opposite.
I’ve always thought about that when I used to imagine single-handedly solving world peace. After I’ve created world peace, then what? Don’t we all just keep living our every day lives? When you send money across the world to help the poor, doesn’t it get spent on rice or medicine to allow them to live another day? Isn’t every day life all there is in the end? Twenty-four hours to sleep and eat and work and love. And if world peace was ever to happen, wouldn’t it happen by simply valuing the little bits of love that happen every day?
So, now that we’re starting a new chapter in our lives — having pared down our possessions and our obligations and our finances — I feel like I can see clearly how I should live. That it is okay to take two hours a week to visit at the mom’s group, to take the kids to swimming lessons and music lessons, to bake and cook and eat and drink and clean and rest. I used to feel almost breathless with the pointlessness of it all. And now I find myself breathless with how beautiful and simple and meaningful living is. And that’s what it is.