I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of vacation. When things get rough, the idea of calling in to work/school and staying home to disappear into a Netflix binge always sounds appealing. Every once in a while, I indulge this desire. I put on my stretchy pants and sink into my dramatic “my life is so exhausting” persona.
So the idea of an eight-week maternity leave sounded amazing. I’d hate to admit it (but obviously not that much, since I’m blogging about it), but when the doctor told me I needed a C-section, one of my first thoughts was – I get two more weeks of maternity leave. Score.
(I was on a lot of painkillers. I’m still not quite sure if what I’m fully responsible for what I said/did/ thought while under the influence).
But I should’ve known better, especially because over the past year, those “mental health” days have been losing their charm. One minute I’m sitting there, enjoying my fifth straight episode of Pretty Little Liars – the next, my mind starts to wander. The rest that seemed so essential starts to feel unwarranted and wasteful. I think I’m starting to realize why. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “my mind rebels at stagnation”. Its just part of a larger realization that has been coiling itself around my mind for the past few years. Bear with me.
When I was younger, I had no choice but to dream about what my life would be when I had the power to control it. High school felt like a fenced-in launch pad. I had to be there; but I was restless. I paced back and forth, waiting for the chance to prove myself. I had a big mouth, a bad attitude, and a pair of weathered converse that were covered in movie quotes, because I would write on them in class. I tried to act hard and tough, but it was mostly an act. I had a wonderful home and was more likely to be home on a Friday night reading by the fireplace than at a party. The most rebellious thing I did was break into the country club pool to go night swimming (though there was that one time Amanda Cowie Jaynes convinced me to skinny dip…). I was scared of the dark and slept with Christmas lights above my bed, though I told myself they were only there because they were pretty.
So, high school ended. My chance to prove myself had finally come. Then fence was gone – and I was left standing there with my diploma, the world at my feet, and a thousand expectations. And I choked. Turns out – it’s easier to dream than to make those dreams come true. But that was okay, I told myself, because I was going to be different when I was older. I was going to travel. I was going to change the world. When I pictured my mid-twenties self, I pictured someone totally different. I would be put-together, I would be strong. Witty, experienced, intrepid. I would be the kind of person that had an organized closet and a clean car. The things that scared me would no longer scare me.
I expected a radical transformation. But you know what happened?
I fell in love, and I was still me.
I graduated college, and I was still me.
I kept waiting for this awesome me to arrive, the action hero I had pictured. It was going to be all right, because after I changed, my life would change.
Then I got married, and I was still me. I remember standing there, looking up at Ross at the altar, thinking – this is so surreal. It was a big moment, a moment that should have been reserved for the me that I was sure was on her way. That me was proficient in Krav Maga, fluent in Spanish, and had arms like Jessica Biel. While I felt blessed and excited that I was marrying my best friend, I could not help but feel slightly confused that awesome me had missed it. Real-life me had been at that altar, unable to stop thinking about that scene from The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl get married. (I don’t know why I was thinking of that, but I was. I figure it’s okay, because Ross says he was worried he would have to pee halfway through the ceremony and everyone would think he was backing out of the wedding. So we’re even).
There was a nagging feeling at the back of my mind, and it gave me that ever-present sense that something was off. I would catch reflections and echoes of what was wrong in the most unlikely of places.
There is a scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love when Julianne Moore’s character says, “We got married when we were seventeen, Cal. And now I’m forty-four. I’m so much older than I thought I’d be.” I felt that way. I’m so much older than I thought I would be. It pulled at my heart, dragging me to the place in my mind where I would have no choice but to look the problem straight in the face.
But nothing makes you realize the ugly, lacking, gaping parts of yourself like the New Testament (and I say that as a Christian that realizes the importance of spiritual triage). When I read the parable of the talents, I sympathized with the last servant. I saw my life in that parable, and I understood. I understood him, because I was him. Maybe he buried his talents because he was waiting, too. It was the easiest thing to do, and I had been doing it for years.
I buried my talents because I was waiting for someone more worthy to arrive to take care of them.
I buried my talents and did not realize I would have to work to make them grow. I did not see the dangerous gap in my thinking that threatened to leave me spending my life in dreams, wishes, goals, and “one day”s.
I buried my talents and sat, watching the patch of damp soil that covered the precious time Christ gave me.
I thought my future self would arrive one night and just slip into my skin. I thought I would wake up and be different. Sixteen year-old me did not see the space between what I was and what I wanted to be, or that the space was full of struggle, work, sweat, tears, and failure. There is no way to go around it. You either sit and wait, guarding your talents as they rust in the dirt, or you roll up your sleeves and push through.
So when I got pregnant, something in me clicked. I was carrying a child as well as all my old baggage. I finally accepted that my awesome future self was not going to simply show up. I have to dig her out.
Before I started the total overhaul/rewrite of the novel, I came across a quote that I had once loved but forgotten: “Never grow a wishbone where your backbone ought to be”, and it gave me the push to start over. I would never be the author I saw in my future without putting in the hundreds of hours of writing it would take to write the book. Now that it’s done, I’m one step closer to being the version of myself that would make sixteen year-old me proud. I’m still afraid of the dark and my car is still a mess, but I’m one step closer.
So that’s why I hate vacations, and that is why this time off has been difficult. For the first time in my life I don’t want time off. That has never happened before. (I mean that literally. In high school, I was taking so many “mental health days” that my mom and I had to have a lovely meeting with the Sheriff and a truancy officer). I don’t want to let another milestone pass while waiting to be the person I was meant to be.
I’m tired of leaving my life buried in the ground, and I’m tired of being someone who is dangerously close to being a “could’ve been”. Which is why, despite the fact that I’ve been given eight weeks to rest, I’m not tired at all.