Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I was thinking about "transitions" today on the Bart on the way to work. Something about transportation--being on a plane or a train in particular--often takes my mind to thematic places...! Transitioning. Segueing from one period to the next. How our world and our memories get divided up into before and after. The friends we knew "before we were married"; the things we do on the weekends "after we had kids." I just started back at work and on Sunday we attended my son's preschool's "Family Fun Day", both of which may explain why transitions were on my mind (stay tuned for more on Family Fun Day) --but really, I was thinking more in general about why so many people--myself included-- have so much difficulty with them.

More and more, as I think about these liminal periods, I see that they can be points of reinvention. I remember the summer before college, when the orientation packet arrived in the mail and I signed up for the Outdoor Orientation Program--7 days of hiking in the Catskills. I had never been hiking before and I bought my "hiking boots" at Thom McCann, the store in the mall that sold generic Keds and fake Converse. I knew I wasn't a hiker...but I was starting a new chapter! It's my transition I can be a hiker if I want to (be a hiker if I want to, be a hiker if I want would be a hiker too if it happened to youuuuuu....). I was, by far, the most ill-prepared hiker on the whole trip. Thinking "hiking" really was "just walking," I had rated myself a Level 9 hiker. Out of 10. I found myself rappelling down mountains in my cheap fashion hiking boots, and 40 pounds of gear on my back that--when I first saw it, in the big lawn, on the eve of the trip--I truly, truly thought was a prop to make the whole thing feel like more of an "experience." I ended the trip exhausted, dirty, humbled...and changed. If I didn't have the transition in front of me--the beginning of college--I never would have gone camping for 7 days (or 1). But something about the forced demarcation of time--the threshold quality of entering a new chapter in life--made it seem possible, attainable, desirable and beneficial.

Motherhood, at least at this point--early in the game--magnifies and amplifies this opportunity for reinvention. Every day is a transition. Every day is a new chance to be the exact person, and the exact mother you want to be.

Think about it. Say you start reading to your kid every day, even though you never did before; or say you start cooking dinner every night even though you have never been a "cooking person". Say you start becoming more active in politics. Do you think your child is going to be all, "Mom, what's gotten into you, you've never been like this before?" Judge you for not reading, cooking, politicking before? Act personally offended that you have "changed"? Of course not. To our kids, we just are. Everything we do--it just is.

I think about this all the time. Who do I want to be to my children? How can I reinvent or better myself? For reasons not entirely known to me, I often come back to the word "soulful." I don't know exactly how to define the word or even exactly what I mean when I use it. It's the feeling I get when I hear "Patti Smith," absolutely anything by "The National", that new "Pearl Jam" cover of the old Wayne Cochran song "Last Kiss." Or the bone-deep sensation of truly forgiving somebody. This intrinsic sense of understanding, of perspective. A widening of the eyes in face of a light that makes you want to squint. More than reinventing myself as The Perfect Preschool Mom, or the Woman Who Juggles It All, I would like to work towards embodying this feeling and surrounding my children in it. Being an example of humor, steadfastness, rootedness and levity, no matter what the circumstances. Yes those terms are vague and yes they may contradict each other. Yes, embodying such fuzzy characteristics is harder than it sounds and it involves doing things without built-in reward or acknowledgment. But it's empowering and it's worth it and it changes who we are. And we are lucky to have the opportunity to do it! We get the chance on a daily basis to don the cape of reinvention. And we can be whatever we decide to be--in the eyes of our kids.
SP said...

I like this! I like the spin that we, as mothers, are allowed to change and that our children will love us for it. Makes you think why other people judge when children don't.

Mira said...

I am falling in love with this blog! (I love "The National" and not many people I know have heard of them).

Soren said...

I like your idea that liminal moments constantly offer themselves, and that we define and redefine ourselves according to how we respond. I'm reminded of a Danish philosopher who played on the literal meaning of the Danish word for "moment [ojeblick]," namely "eyeblink." He suggests our life is a series of discrete "eye blinks," between each of which we must reconstitute our identities. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, we always already choose again who we are.

MEENA said...

This made me think about how I have viewed people who have tried to make changes in their life. Nobody wants to be judgmental and I think I have been judgmental when I didn't mean to be. Interesting.

Jaime said...

love the reminds me of a time when i was a little girl and my mom and i were sitting on the kitchen table and we were both reading. i asked my mom what she was doing and she said homework for her english class. i asked her why she was taking classes on how to speak english and she just looked at me and said, "if i don't, how am i going to help you with your homework?" i remember i just smiled and went back to my reading. i love the idea of reinvention, regardless of the motivation.

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