I got this quote in an email from a fellow MIA member yesterday morning, and I haven’t been able to pry it from my brain: “I bargained with life for a penny…only to learn dismayed, that any wage I would have asked of life, life would have paid.” The author, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948), was a poet, literary critic, and compiler of anthologies. She was also the only female founding member of the Poetry Society of America, and she worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times for ten years in the early 1900s, as well.
I know it sounds crazy, but I feel immense pride when I think about women who were writing, publishing, and professionally employed in journalism before my grandmother was born. I know that Jessie Rittenhouse was a pioneer. She got her degree, went to work, and became well-respected in a male-dominated, intellectual field in a time when what she was doing was the exception rather than the rule. I am impressed by her gumption and wonder what might have made her choose such a non-traditional life for herself. After all, she didn’t bother getting married until she was 55, and she never had children.
I have a feeling that perhaps she did not so much intentionally choose that path as her talent and drive chose it for her and along the way she merely continued to raise the bar for herself. I examine the excerpt from her poem and I think that she clearly understood that she was the architect of her destiny. Her successes, taken within the context of the time period in which they were accomplished, were a direct result of her asking more of her life than her contemporaries were likely asking of theirs. While her college classmates were keeping house, she was hanging out with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and reviewing their poetry.
I think the reason that I am so affected by Ms. Rittenhouse’s poetic words, however, is because they embody the entire reason I started this Moms Into Adventure group. I realized it was time for me to ask more from life. I started down a different path than I originally had mapped out for myself and for a while I felt lost, but then I realized that my slight shift in direction didn’t have to mean that I had necessarily sacrificed all my dreams for myself. I still had those dreams. I still wanted those things. I was just traveling a back road to reach them.
When I think about what I want out of my life before it’s all said and done, it goes beyond having family. I know. I know. Having my beautiful and precious family should be enough for me; our culture indoctrinates us early with this idea, and I feel a tad bit uncomfortable knowing that I need more. I’ve always been a bit on the greedy side, though. I have perpetually asked life for more than a penny’s worth and now can say in all honesty that I am happy with who I am. When I ask more from myself, I rise to the occasion. When I want something, I find a means to get it because I am nothing but absolutely determined to have my way. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I somehow find a way to pull myself out of the chasm. I refuse to believe that I can’t have what I want. It might take me longer than anticipated to get it, but I will get there. I know it. When it comes to my dreams and goals, I have patience and perseverance.
You can gain none of life’s prizes without being brave and perhaps ruffling some feathers along the way. You know Ms. Rittenhouse’s mother was constantly railing on her: “You’re an old maid. Why don’t you settle down? Get married and give me some grandchildren already.” But her determination to walk her own path and ask for more than a penny’s worth made her powerful. Asking life for what we want is always a worthwhile venture, even if it means we encounter some opposition. I’ve long said my greatest fear is getting to the end of my life and realizing I’ve lived someone else’s. So, I’m going to continue asking for the things I want from life. I’m betting I’ll get them, so I’m going to be bold, up the ante, and enjoy taking home the whole pot.
I often harass my kids about not using their better judgment…you know the old, “Well, if Ben jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” thing. Today, though, I need to have that conversation with myself. Last night I went a bit overboard while entertaining some friends. It’s one thing to be sick because you’ve picked up an icky virus. But, it’s ludicrous when you’re sick because you refused to listen to your own body telling you to knock it the heck off.
Medically speaking, I am not really supposed to eat and drink whatever I want because I had my gallbladder removed in 2002 when my first son was not quite 9 months old. My body cannot process high fat foods as well as it once did. The surgery was a medical necessity because, as an ER doctor so eloquently put it, my gallbladder was a “useless, completely filled beanbag.” I was having severe attacks that would leave me doubled over in pain for 4-10 hours at a time, and the attacks were becoming more frequent. Multiple doctors assured me that my beanbag gallbladder was damaged enough to become infected and potentially burst.
However, I was a young mother, sleep-deprived, and not really paying attention as the doctor rattled off post-surgical behaviors I would need to adhere to. He told me that I should be able to lead a normal life, but I would need to watch my fat intake to avoid digestive issues. In my brain, that meant that provided I didn’t try to eat a cheeseburger, fries, a shake, and a piece of cheesecake in the same sitting, I shouldn’t have any trouble. I’m a relatively healthy eater, so that menu seemed highly improbable anyway. And, any concern I had about what the surgery meant for my future went into a jar with my diseased organ. It was gone, and I was done with the stomach pain.
Or so I thought until the first time I really overdid it while eating. I hadn’t been paying attention to what I was consuming. And, that night I fell asleep feeling not quite right. I woke up just an hour later feeling truly sick. I started to think maybe I’d gotten a stomach bug or perhaps food poisoning. Nope. Turns out my body was working furiously trying to process all the junk I had eaten. After a sleepless, nauseous, and very uncomfortable night, you would think I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Last night is a case in point. I still will occasionally forget that I should not eat whatever I want. And, since there isn’t a meter in my body that lets me know when I am reaching DEFCON 5 with regard to the amount of fat I’ve consumed, sometimes it sneaks past me one bite at a time until I am positively miserable.
As I was awake for hours last night, praying my food would digest faster and riding waves of cold sweat and nausea, I kept returning to this one thought: “Why do I do this to myself?” Certainly, I know better. This has happened to me more times than I should admit. But, it’s easy for me to ignore my body because it should simply do whatever my brain believes it should be able to do, right? And I need it to do a lot.
I think women do this quite often. We ignore our health because we are busy and don’t have time to deal with it. We push ourselves when we need to back off because we’re the mom and we have to keep things running. This is how last fall I let a cold become a sinus infection and eventually become bronchitis. It’s how I shoveled my way to 5 weeks’ worth of bed rest when I was pregnant with our second child. My employers don’t tolerate sick days or slackers, so I neglect my health and soldier on.
It’s wrong, though, how I’ve learned not to pay attention to what my body needs. I only have this one vessel and if I disregard it and it falls into disrepair, what then? Who will run my vast empire of laundry, dirty dishes, and dusty ceiling fans? Who will take care of my two small bosses in my absence? I need to remember that sleep is imperative, healthy food choice is crucial, and water consumption is compulsory. I need to use my better judgment. After all, just because everyone else is eating cheesecake and chocolate doesn’t mean I need to too…although I’ll definitely want to.
I have this small plaque on my kitchen wall that reads, “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” No. Seriously. Explain it to me. Some days I honestly wonder how I got here…and by “here” I mean “mother of two boys.” Okay. Okay. I know how it happened technically speaking. I just mean that I never imagined myself here. I’m sure many women envision growing up, getting married, and starting a family. I just never did. But five years after we got married, hubby and I found ourselves saying, “This is great, but now what?” Apparently our next great adventure after getting married, buying a home, and caring for two dogs just in case we decided to have kids, was actually having children.
I can’t believe I thought that becoming a parent would make my life dull. My life hasn’t had a dull (read: “quiet”) moment since the boys arrived. Raising them has been incredibly interesting. Remember before you had kids when you were worried about changing diapers and sleep deprivation? As if those were going to be your biggest concerns? HA. I giggle now when I think about it. It never occurred to me that there might be actual issues with my boys. I never imagined that they might have trouble with growth and development. It never crossed my mind that one of them might be ADHD. I certainly didn’t foresee my son feeling socially awkward or having a hard time making friends. Nor did I imagine how I would handle it when I found my six year old tying Barbie to trees or my eight year old researching “skinny dipping” on Google. Why is it that I have a million books on raising children, and not one of them tells me what I should do about my son with the killer gag reflex who vomits at least once during every dental appointment.
Through my time with my children, however, I have learned more than I did in 6 years of college and graduate study. What I couldn’t get in “book smarts” from college, I learn in hands-on lessons in real life. With my boys, I truly do learn something new every day. Granted, maybe I didn’t need to know that there is a gecko in Namibia that survives the deadly desert temperatures by using its large webbed feet to burrow deep beneath the sand it traverses during the day. I also probably didn’t need to know that baby powder, when completely emptied unceremoniously from its container, would take weeks to remove completely from the walls, carpet, and baseboards of a bedroom. I know I didn’t want to know that boogers are virtually impossible to pry from heavily textured walls or that you can pick up a so-called permanent tooth that has been knocked out and shove it back into its socket in the mouth, hold it there, and probably save it.
For each thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to know, though, I have also learned something about myself. I pick my battles more carefully these days. I understand that sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses and that doing so doesn’t have to imply failure. I’ve become much better at problem solving and much more adept at improvising. I’ve learned that worrying about things doesn’t affect their outcome. I now know that sometimes even when things don’t work out as I’ve planned they have still worked out just fine. I’ve also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.
Parenting has been my life’s greatest adventure so far. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it’s been infinitely educational. Please remind me of that the next time Luke pukes in the dentist’s chair all over himself, me, and the floor, and I’m looking around as if I have no idea whose child this is. Please remind me that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life. And then remind me that Spray ‘n Wash will remove regurgitated chocolate milk from a khaki sweatshirt if you catch it quickly enough.
A couple years ago after years of virtually non-stop time with my small bosses, I needed a break. Being the infinitely good sport that he is, my husband agreed it was a good idea. So, I booked a ticket to the city where I was born, Buffalo, New York. Hubby was surprised that I would pick Buffalo as my private vacation destination, but I told him that it wasn’t getting away if it didn’t involve two flights’ distance between us.
So, on Friday, June 12th, 2009 (yes…the date is engraved in my memory), I started my first solo adventure in 8 years. Sure. I’d traveled during those 8 years, but not entirely on my own just for the purpose of fun and relaxation. This was a HUGE deal. I was actually going to be free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted for three full days. My mind was dizzy with possibilities. Aside from my luggage, I had no baggage. I felt lighter than I’ve felt in years.
Although I’d made plans to see friends and family during my visit, I made sure to allow myself one 24-hour day of complete solitude. So, on my first full-day in New York I made a promise to myself: I would do only what I felt like doing, even if that meant staying in bed in my hotel all day and reading. I had no obligations, and I was going to suck up every minute of that freedom.
That day was my personal heaven. I had no specific plans. I would go where the spirit led me. I planned to check things off my to-do list that I didn’t even know were on my to-do list. I ran the track at a local high school because I had to see what living at altitude would do for my running game at sea level. (It didn’t help as much as I imagined it would.) After that, I purchased an enormous vanilla latte, which I leisurely enjoyed while getting ready for the rest of my day. Uninterrupted, ridiculously long, hot shower? Check.
Around 11, I grabbed a bottle of Classic Coke (no Diet Coke…this was serious), my iPod with its portable speaker, and some snacks and hopped into the rental car. I love to drive, but I perpetually have a destination. I was so excited to just drive and see what I would find. About an hour south of Buffalo, I saw a sign for Lake Erie State Park. How could I pass that up? It was cool and overcast, but I could not resist the opportunity to walk on some sand, sit by the lake, listen to the waves, and just be. I sighed just now thinking about it.
After lunch at the lake, I got back in the car and found myself in idyllic Chautauqua watching the sailboats glide effortlessly while I snarfed down my favorite salty snack, Bugles, with another Coke. (Yes. I was living life on the edge.) Then, just for giggles, I fired up Facebook on my iPhone and updated my status to “Having my best day EVER.” Hubby loved that.
Later, I wound my way carelessly back toward Buffalo on quiet highways through quaint towns that looked like they would have inspired Norman Rockwell. I stopped once to walk briefly around Ellicottville, but mostly I just drove and enjoyed the treed countryside and my unending iPod playlist. Finally, around 6 p.m. I landed back in Buffalo. I set my GPS to locate my all-time childhood favorite sub shop, John and Mary’s. I ordered my usual (ham and provolone with mayo, lettuce, and tomato) and drove back to my hotel room to enjoy it. It was warm. I temporarily freaked out. Had they given me the wrong sandwich? Nope. The bread was fresh from the oven. I nearly died.
Every woman should take one day a year just to be truly on her own, to remember who she is and what she likes to do, to relax and exist in her own skin…not as wife or mother but as human being. If you haven’t tried it in a while, you really should. Your family will survive a day without you. Who knows? In your absence, they might realize how much you are worth. Maybe we should make it a national holiday? We could call it Mother’s Day.
Maybe it’s the appalling lack of sleep I got last night due to relentless and excessive wind gusts, but today I feel myself oddly compelled to write about Star Wars. The Star Wars saga permeates our house. Action figures traverse the staircase. Countless Star Wars encyclopedias litter bookshelves and tables. A two-foot tall Imperial AT-AT Walker stands sentry in the family room. Our daily conversations are peppered with words from worlds that don’t exist, worlds like Tatooine, Naboo, Alderaan, and Geonosis. And, at least once a day I am sure I use the term “gunship.” I have no one to blame for this complete Star Wars infiltration but myself. I introduced my boys to it. And now, two years later, my 9 year old is as wrapped up in Star Wars as my male classmates were when I was 9.
As an adult, I admire the series because George Lucas is a genius. He just is. He created one of the biggest franchises ever. He has not only vision but the talent to turn his ideas into a reality. Even if I didn’t care for Star Wars as a story (which, by the way, I completely do), I would still admire George Lucas simply for his creativity, meticulous attention to detail, and skill at bringing his ideas to fruition. So, honestly, I don’t mind that my boys are completely addicted to Star Wars. I don’t even mind that every Friday night, without fail, I get hounded to let them stay up until 10 p.m. so they can watch a new Clone Wars episode as it airs. Because, at the end of the day, I know that through the series there are valuable lessons about life, loyalty, friendship, good and evil, and human nature.
What I like best about Star Wars, especially when thinking about my boys and their impressionability, is that the females kick ass. There. I said it. If you must, please forgive the profanity, but seriously…”kick booty” or “kick butt” just makes the characters seem weaker than they truly are. I get so depressed seeing females cast merely as the hot sidekicks in action flicks. Princess Leia has intelligence, determination, and attitude in spades. She may be tiny, but she’s not about to get relegated to the background. Jedi females Aayla Secura, Adi Gallia, and Luminara Unduli are wise and skillful in battle; they are considered equals by their male Jedi peers. And, the villainous females, like Asajj Ventress and Aurra Sing, truly personify the Shakespearean phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I love them all. But, what appeals to me the most is that my boys see them and recognize them as powerful in their own right.
Call me crazy, but that’s how I want my boys to see me too. That is one of the reasons that I take on these adventures and that I push myself to achieve. I don’t want them to see me merely as a means to obtain clean laundry and awesome chocolate chip cookies, although I am that as well. I want them to honor that I am capable in many ways. I want them to believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am intelligent, strong, determined, and powerful…a force to be reckoned with. If I do my job then perhaps by the end of my time with my sons, they won’t think of me as a strong woman but remember me instead as a strong person.
So, as I sit here today coming up with a loose training plan for the upcoming spring and summer months, I think of those Star Wars females. I envision applying my inner Jedi to achieve great personal successes this summer, no matter how difficult the challenge might be. I imagine using Jedi mind tricks to convince others to watch my children so I can spend hours in my bike saddle. And, I know that by the end of summer 2011 when I have achieved all my short-term goals, I will be even more powerful than I am today. Go forth with Jedi strength and kick ass, my friends. May the force be with you.