Monday, October 8, 2012

What defines you?

My amazingly gifted friend at How I Learned to Wear a Dress is at it again.  Making me think about where I am in my life.  Making me think about how I got here, whether I am okay with it, what, if anything I intend to do about it.

She wrote this post yesterday, and asked for reader responses.  I knew immediately that a few sentences was never going to be enough, so here we are.

This is probably one of the most emotionally loaded questions that anyone could ask me, particularly at this moment in my life.

I've often found myself singing the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads, wondering how exactly I really did get here.

Some of my how is easy for me to write about.  Some of it is hard.  Some of it is excruciating, and some of it I flat refuse to write about at all.  Maybe someday.

Some of it, I'm not sure that I've entirely figured out yet.

I am nowhere near the person, the woman, that I anticipated being at this point in my life.  I had endless ambitions.  I have dream and goals that had nothing to do with husbands and children and laundry and volunteering at school.  I had a plan, and man...was it a good one.

I was going to be amazing.

Most women who go to law school don't put themselves through that kind of hell intending never to practice. I certainly didn't.  I thought that no matter what happened, nothing could derail my plans.

I knew that eventually I would have kids, but I didn't ever think that they would become the focus of my life.  I figured they would come along when I scheduled for them to, and that they'd fit into whatever tiny little box I needed them to in order to fulfill every other aspect of my life.

I would still be me.  I would still have dreams and ambitions and hopes that extended outside my inner circle.  I would.

Then, through a series of events that happened over the course of a few months, everything changed.  I was literally just talking to a dear friend about it this morning.  Every single thing in my life changed because of two sentences.

The first, spoken to my husband by an impatient surgeon who lacked any semblance of bedside manner, "You have cancer."

The second, spoken to me in hushed words in a dark room illuminated by a screen that wasn't flickering, "Your baby has died, there is no heartbeat."

Three months apart from one another, those two sentences did more to change my life than anything else probably ever could have.

I wish I'd had the good sense to stop chasing my ambitions then, to give up on the career I had so desperately wanted.  I didn't want it anymore and I already knew it.  I just refused to let myself down so much.  So I stayed in school and mourned my baby.  I knew that I was kidding myself with it all.  I knew then that the only thing I truly wanted in the world was to be a mother.

Three days after I graduated, I became one.

I kept half heartedly chasing my ambitions for almost 8 years.  Through two more children, two different degree programs and a cross country move, I refused to let it go.  I rationalized it all in my head.  I had to be a good example to my kids, to my daughters especially.  I had to keep chasing this dream for them, so I told myself.  Knowing that I was lying.

I was a fraud.  A sham.

I was disappointed in myself for wasting it all.  I couldn't let it go.

In refusing to let it go, I was also refusing to let myself really live in either world.  I couldn't just be a mom in my head because I felt like that would never be enough.  I couldn't embrace it. I envied the women who could.

I couldn't be climbing ladders and shattering ceilings, either, certainly not when I spent most days frazzled and exhausted with caring for so many kids.  I never let myself just be a mom.  I always thought I had to be more in order to look myself in the mirror.

Then, for no particular reason, one day I faced it.

I knew that in order to really embrace my life, to find my happiness with my children and this different version of things, I had to let go of the past.  I had to let go of who I thought I was supposed to be.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

At this point especially, where I am in my life right now, there are days that I still feel as if I've done myself a great disservice.  I sold myself short.  I gave up too much.

But I had to.  For myself.  I had to redefine who I am.  Who I want to be.

And more than I want anything else, I want to be a mother to my children.

Since letting go of who I thought I should be, I've found new passions.  Writing, primarily.

Maybe someday this can be the career that I dreamt of, maybe it will go no further than this.  Maybe I'm okay either way.

I think that I am.

I've learned that we are often, if not always, harder on ourselves than anyone else ever is.  That we are unfair to ourselves.  That we judge our choices, that we second guess, that we need to stop.  There are no do-overs in life.  We can choose to be bitter over what could have been or we can choose to learn from the past, reevaluate our choices and move forward.

I choose to move forward.  And evolve.

I suppose that is how I define myself the most.  I'm evolving.

Sometimes that evolution is by choice, sometimes it is forced, sometimes we simply must do it in order to survive.  But we do it.  And we, as women, are survivors.

I am a survivor.

As a result, I'm also a writer.

Thank you, Kelly, for this question you asked.  As hard as it is to answer, we all need to know what makes us who we are.  xoxo


  1. What an amazing piece of self-assessment you've written. Thoughtful, heartbreaking, and hopeful. The only thing I disagree with is how hard you are on yourself for not making a smooth transition from one ambition to the next. Sometimes we can't let go of things, not because of any character flaw, but simply because we're not ready. Nothing wrong with that.

    1. True. I held on for a long time, and I still find myself explaining why I let go to those who mean well. It's a hard place to be.

  2. Kelly, thank you is hardly an adequate response for what you have written, but thank you nonetheless. If you don't mind, I'd like to link back to your response from my blog.

    I've been surprised by the way my simple (or so I thought) question has hit people. We women are so much more than we give ourselves credit for and for so many reasons we all feel a need to apologize for not being enough.

    1. Of course. Thank you for asking the question.

  3. I just want to say that you ARE amazing. Right now. You are already amazing. It happened when you weren't looking.

  4. Learning from life and moving on is the best we can all hope to do. I think you have found that peace and balance and should be proud of that. Most people can't do that.

  5. I love this post. I love your honesty and your ability to admit that you have struggled with identity, with having it all, and with personal tragedies. I, too, have heard a doctor tell me in deadpan that someone I loved had cancer. It changes you forever and makes you re-evaluate everything you thought you wanted. Thank you for finding me on Twitter. I'm anxious to read more of your posts. xo

  6. I'm so glad you wrote this. I know how hard something of this emotional depth can be to write, it's even harder to simply carry it around. I feel very privileged to read this view into your soul.


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