One mother asked how we were doing with mothering and life outside the family. How did we feel about all the other things besides mothering - work, namely.
"Sometimes I feel like I am not challenging myself enough," I said.
"Is that coming from inside or outside?" she asked.
"Outside," I replied quickly. Instantly, I wasn't sure if myself. Maybe it was a voice from within. Or, maybe not.
Regardless, I hold myself up to others. I know that. I know that very well. We talked about feeling sad, looking at others' Facebook posts and wondering what we are doing, or not doing.
I look at others' trips, families, newborns, businesses, musings. I wonder about my own life.
Am I spending enough time enriching myself? I hardly began that correspondence course I bought last spring. Of the half dozen books we bought online over the past few months, Jared's read all of them. I've read just a few pages. I hardly have time to pack a pint jar with dehydrated cornsilk, and about that pile of marigolds, withered and hanging on our cookbook collection… where does my time go? Am I spending it well?
I recently saw a young mother in the Wegman's selecting produce while her infant sleeps soundly in the Baby Bjorn on her chest. "Oh how sweet," a woman says to the mother. "How old?" "Three weeks," she says. She seems totally together. She appears totally alone except for her baby and a bulging plastic bag of apples. No spouse, no grandmother. Alone.
Three weeks? At three weeks, I was still hobbling around, hardly leaving the house and hardly wanting to, except it was the holidays and I "had" to leave the house to share my newborn with the world. You might wonder why I'd be concerned about what a mother of an infant is doing when my child is nearly three. I still look back at childbirth and very early infancy as some of the most difficult times of my life.
I look and reflect on myself, my bravery, my failings. It's so helpful to have friends. It's so helpful to feel like I can land in a nest made of my friends' stories. Looking closely, I can see that each blade of grass in the nest is a bit bent or worn, very real, and not at all edited for social media.
Because it's real, I can take to heart the mother's mantra that we repeated this morning over coffee, It goes by so fast. The days are long, but it goes by so fast. Enjoy it, it goes by so fast.
And so, because Beren was such a peach during my hours long coffee break, I took him to the park. I wondered if I'd regret it. It was lunchtime, not playground time, but making choices for reasons other than fear was another topic of over coffee.
Beren pedaled to the playground on his tricycle. We ran up the steps and down the slide. We played garbage truck. We watched a train go by, so loud I couldn't hear myself shouting into Beren's ear. So loud, I could hardly hear him say, "oil tanker" again and again. I pushed Beren on a swing and ran around the playground. We made Norway maple wings. And finally, made an easy transition back to the car.
At home, we ate chicken soup leftovers for lunch. We made sure there was no more cat poop in the sandbox. We cut a few lengths of wood to build a sandbox lid sometime soon. I bundled Beren in a blanket, and we read stories on the porch. We made dinner until we agreed we were tired of being in the kitchen. We visited the garden, ate partially ripe (mostly unripe) everbearing strawberries and tough-skinned cherry tomatoes. We watched a beat up mantis climb the arugula.
I pushed Beren in his big, plastic black truck and we crashed into the recycling bucket a couple dozen times. We tossed a ball around, and Beren played his trick of throwing it into the tall wildflowers and disappearing into them to find the ball. His attention for catching the ball was much longer than last time we played this game. He tossed the ball to me, kicking at the same time. He lay on his back, hands over his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut. I curled up into a ball. "I'm in my den," he told me.
It seemed as though we laughed all afternoon long. We walked down the road to visit the mockernut hickory, whose autumn color is my favorite, whose autumn color I missed except for the crinkled leaves scattered at the gravel road's edges. It seemed we laughed all afternoon long, and we greeted Jared on his way home from work in our rickety old pickup truck.
We ate dinner. Jared and Beren bathed. I tidied the house and lit the smiling jack-o-lantern they carved on Monday. They read stories, and I sat down to write until I was called in for nummies time.
Today came from the inside. I wasn't challenging myself, but I was working hard. And, it was such a pleasure.