OK, that’s not completely true. I’m also thinking about how I’m going to prepare a nursery in 12 hours (why did my husband leave his dirty jeans all over the baby’s floor?), do five loads of laundry, hand off my son to my parents (will they find the right soccer field?), send all the emails I want to send, delete about 839 photos on my phone so I actually have room to take new ones and make sure to buy stool softener at CVS. (Trust me. It comes in handy after a C-section.) Oh, and I need razors, so my doctor doesn’t think he’s delivering a family of hyenas.
But this child comes at a fortuitous juncture. During these holidays, it’s a time to pause and reflect, to contemplate our relationship with the world and to move forward with a fresh start. And there’s nothing like a tiny human being who pees and eats all the time to force you to slow down.
I’ve always been the type of person to do as much as possible, to say “yes” to everything, to keep busy and productive and “on.” Letting go of that, even for a little while, is like untethering myself from a parachute and jumping into an abyss. Who am I, if I’m not working from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. and a little bit on the weekends too? Who am I, if I’m not making social plans for Saturday on Tuesday? Who am I, if I’m not meticulously following social media and checking in with friends and ticking items off my to-do list, like the good Type A quasi-extrovert I am?
I don’t totally remember. When I had my first son, I got right back into the swing of daily life. Looking back, I should have taken a bit more time to pause, to slow down, to sit quietly, to watch bad TV or read trashy magazines or take a nap. But somehow, that felt like giving in, like retreating. What was I afraid of? That my colleagues would forget me? That my friends wouldn’t be there if I declined a couple of invites? In my heart, I knew this wasn’t true, but I also didn’t want to take chances. For me, holding on to my “normal” schedule was a way of coping, a way of saying, “Hey, look, I might be a mom now, but I haven’t changed!”
But six years later, I have changed. I’m older. I feel the goodwill of the world a little bit more. I’m more willing to set some boundaries because I’ve worked hard and tried hard and maybe even earned it. Just this week, I turned down a couple of juicy assignments because I just couldn’t pull them off (unless I wanted to bring my laptop into the OR, something that’s probably frowned upon). Of course, I work for myself, so if I don’t keep working I also don’t make money, so there’s an element of necessity. But really, in the past, I’ve always been driven more by fear: What if I say no? What will happen? Will someone get mad at me? And, more to the point: What will happen if I’m completely alone with myself and my own priorities, with nothing to distract me? What will become of me during those quiet, unstructured, untethered moments?
I’m not sure about that yet (I’ll find out in the coming weeks, I’m sure). But as for the getting mad/letting people down thing: The truth is, even the people I’ve said “no” to, anyone with an obligation I’ve had to push aside, has been completely nice. Understanding. Excited for me. Nothing bad happened when I set those boundaries. The editor with the assignment I couldn’t take told me how happy she was for me. The friend whose baby shower I couldn’t attend completely understood. Nothing awful occurred when I put myself and my peace of mind first. People got it.
And look, I know I’m not that important. Life will go on even if I’m luxuriating in fleece pants on the couch at 3 a.m. feeding a hungry kid, unable to show up someplace or to return a phone call the next day. But I think so many of us forget that. We pinball here and there, frantically trying to do more, to be more, to show up more, to be “on.” But there’s also a season and a time for contemplation and retreat. My new son is forcing me to realize that, but it’s a valuable lesson whether you’re changing diapers or just feeling burnt out. No one’s going to hate you for putting yourself first. During a time of year when we ask for forgiveness, my son (who isn’t even here yet!) has taught me something important: It’s OK to put yourself at the top of that “forgiveness” list.