Out With the Old, In With the Shadow

I have another entry that I thought was going to be my next post here, all about beer, and a sense of place, and where you call home. And given that new year’s coincides this year with a new moon, there is part of me that wants to write about the reckoning of time, and the way, judging by social media, the Gregorian calendar holds so much power for something invented wholly by man…but I’m going to be cliche, and reflect on what 2013 meant for me.

If not to the day then to the week, I spent the first half of 2013 pregnant, and the second half as a new mom (and the last quarter as a working mom), so I have probably lived more in the moment this year than any other year I can remember. Or rather, I’ve spent the year trying to catch up to the moment, and feeling perpetually like I am falling behind. I haven’t had much of a goal to speak of other than: keep myself healthy so I can have a healthy baby, followed by trying to keep this tiny, perfect little person I was somehow deemed worthy of alive. Most days I considered a success if I managed to make myself dinner. 

But here at the end of the year, I think the lesson for me has been learning to accept my faults. I haven’t–not by a long shot. But this year has put me in a place where I’m ready to start trying.

I’ve had this idea of who I’m supposed to be for such a long time, and I find a great deal of my stress comes from when I deviate from that ideal. I feel as though I am supposed to be altruistic, patient, compassionate, empathetic. One who yields with grace and exudes a gentleness that can influence those around me. Somebody who accepts things as they come–water that moves around the rocks and keeps going, on a new path if necessary, without comment. 

And the truth is, I’m not.

I feel. Passionately. Loudly. And frequently without grace. I have high highs, and low lows. I can be very short-tempered, and I can be very selfish. I may move quietly through some obstacles, but others I splash against and make my interruption known.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be all those other things as well. Maybe I’m not as gentle as the picture I hope to paint, but…maybe I don’t need to be. 

I have this thing I consider to be the “white mage rule.” It’s the same notion as putting your own oxygen mask on if an airplane loses cabin pressure before helping anyone else put theirs on. And it’s hard. But it’s the basic idea that if you’re the one somebody else is relying on to do something, you can’t completely neglect your own needs. I used to think this was awful. I admired any story of great acts of selflessness, and hoped that if tested, I would prove to do what I considered to be the right thing. But motherhood is helping me come to terms with the realities of this.

For example: Thursday night I got hit with a stomach virus. I left work early Friday morning, which meant I would be home the rest of the day, and told Billy we didn’t need to take Kairi to his parents’ that afternoon while he was at work after all. Billy disagreed. He thought if I was sick it was a good idea to take advantage of prearranged childcare so I could get some rest, since if she stayed home I’d be occupied with taking care of her. I argued him on it. What kind of mother was I, to make that decision? It wasn’t fair to his parents or to Kairi for me to stay at home without her. But ultimately he won, largely because I was so dizzy I was worried it wasn’t safe for me to carry her around and try to play with her. I slept the whole time he was at work, and then went to bed as soon as she did that night. And the result? On Saturday I was, while not completely fine, well enough to properly care for her. And I might have been anyway. But without taking a few hours to just sleep, I might not have been.

It felt like the wrong decision, because it felt like the selfless, motherly thing to do was to put my own health aside. But putting my own health aside was potentially endangering her. Taking a small amount of time for myself allowed me to be a better mother for the rest of the weekend, instead of stretching myself so thin in the name of altruism that the only thing I ended up serving was my own idea of selflessness, and not the people I was supposedly giving myself away to take care of.

It’s a hard lesson. And I feel most of the time like I’m making excuses for why I’m not helping someone. But I think that’s what 2013 was trying to teach me. Not that I don’t need to be those ideal qualities anymore, but that I still can be those things even if I do overreact, get angry, and put my own needs first some of the time.

Because I’m now a role model 100% of the time. There’s been a lot of talk over the internet about the way mothers influence body image, and that elementary school girls worry they are fat because they see their mothers constantly critiquing themselves and it teaches them to focus on the way they look. But there’s also the healthy modeling of emotions. I don’t want Kairi to grow up unable to process negative emotions because I try so hard to deny that I have any. Being unable to ask why she got angry, when she sees anger as something she should be ashamed of.

It’s not a free pass to behave any way that I want–but it is an invitation to accept that I am not always calm. I do not always feel peace. That passion and open emotions can be as much a strength as patience and grace. I’ve always been able to accept that some people see compassion as a weakness–if I can use other people’s weaknesses as my own strengths, why can’t I see the strength in my own perceived weakness? 

So if 2013 was leading me towards admitting that I have flaws, I’m hoping 2014 is coming to terms with what they are, and that there’s no such thing as a true good and bad trait (other than the ones that deliberately hurt others, of course). Learning to accept all of my qualities and use them for what they are. Because as long as we’re on a taoist metaphor, it’s the disturbances in the water as it moves around the obstacle that alerts river travelers to any dangers.

Published by Whimsy & Wilderness Photography

I am a photographer and writer based in Chattanooga, TN, and adventuring around the southeastern United States with my husband and two children.

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