This morning, I went out early to water the garden, feed the chickens, and check to see if the laundry on the line was dry.
I took a few pictures, still trying to learn the ins and outs of my new camera. I have a lot to learn about photography, but that’s true of pretty much everything. I’m 41 but I still have so many things I need to practice and develop and study. Life’s way too short.
I read Barbara Pym’s very good novel “Excellent Women” last night– it’s been on my to-read shelf for years but I finally got in the right mood to read it. It’s a meditation on being single and growing older, really, and it’s all of a piece with Pym’s autobiographical book of letters and diary entries, “A Very Private Eye.” Pym’s lifelong question was how to make sense of a life that didn’t include marriage and children and all the accomplishments that society has always expected of women.
My life, of course, has been led in search of the answer to the opposite question– how does one make one’s life meaningful when all one has seemed to accomplish is to bear and raise children?
It’s not something that can easily be answered. My generation was really the first where we were expected to go and “make something of ourselves” beyond just being housewives. It didn’t help that I was one of those precocious children that seems to hold such promise for the future yet still somehow underperforms. It burdens you with this lifelong sense that you’ve failed by not being as amazing as everyone thought you’d be when you were six.
You can’t blame your parents for having high hopes, of course. We’ve all held our secret little dreams that our children will succeed beyond any reasonable expectations. Some parents, in what I think is a misguided focus, spend all their time and money and energy trying to ensure that their children will be the very best possible version of themselves. It’s not a fun life for the children, and I think it puts too much focus on the results, as if our parenting is a contest and we’re only to be adjudged successful if our children are millionaire stockbrokers or Pulitzer prize-winning authors or lauded scientific minds.
I’ve always been definite that my success or failure is to be judged according to my own accomplishments (or lack thereof.) There have been complications in my life that have kept me from reaching my own goals. And there have been obstacles that I am only slowly starting to overcome. You’d be amazed how much a very basic and simple problem with “how one should eat” can cause tons of collateral damage in your life. But I am learning, daily, how to be a person. I am hoping that I will become, in time, a really good one.
I didn’t even know, as a child, that being a good person was really the important goal I needed to chase. Curing cancer, sure, but being able to tolerate other people’s faults without being irritable or rude or mean to them? It didn’t seem nearly as important. Of course, now as a 40-something person, I can see it’s infinitely harder to be truly kind and good than it is to ace a test or write an A-rated essay.
The reason, however, that I do all of this is for the love . . . the love of God, of my family, and even for the wretched human wrecks that populate the world. It’s the reason my daughter’s autism is such a struggle for me: she is still, no matter how disabled, that baby I carried for 42 weeks, the child I had such hopes and dreams for, the girl who I loved despite her oddities and problems. I love her. Sometimes I want to defenestrate her, sure, but what mother doesn’t occasionally want to throw her 20 year old daughter out a window, at least once or twice? The people you love can be maddening in their behaviors even among “normal” people.
Love is the reason. And love is part of the pain. It hurts to watch someone you love suffer, and no one can tell me that my daughter experiences her autism as a positive thing. She has too many actual physical scars from her obsessive skin-picking and her destructive habits. She’s lost too much.
My life’s accomplishments, such as they are, can only be measured by the impact I make on the lives of those around me. What use is it if my children are astrophysicists if they remember nothing but my stringent expectations and my tense insistence that they make it to practice on time and finish their physics homework? I’d rather they remember my love and the things we did together for fun.
I still have some time, I hope, for more accomplishments. I’d like to do a lot more things. Some of them aren’t big and fancy– I’d like to take a good family portrait of us, for one, and finish organizing the game room. Some of them are more ambitious (and prone to never getting done.) But the accomplishment I do have is that I’ve made it this far and learned enough to know that I still have far to go.