It was another whirlwind weekend. I write that to you as Sunday closes but I wonder, is there ever a weekend that isn't a whirlwind? What would a light breeze of weekend look like on my calendar, in our hours?
This is the pace of our life, a life we set with such intention, and if at times the execution requires both strategy and endurance, still it's with gratitude that I realize at the close of each night that this frenetic concatenation of five social lives at the behest of one home and two drivers is the alchemy of such happiness. Three kids in bed, each happy to have played and ice-creamed and visited and wild rumpused through the park, their sleep now the first stillness of their day, and well earned. Max and I, we each finished a novel this weekend, each spent some time in housework, in errands, and in conversation with friends, we had the quiet satisfactions of adulthood, and the parental satisfactions, included, of making our kids' day-sized dreams come true.
So all is well with my soul, as they say, and yet I'm not ready for bed. I'm stuck in thought.
I had just Eleni with me in the last portion of this afternoon. We had a date to meet her friend Annie, along with Annie's mom. Annie and Eleni went to preschool together, but as the big seven-year-olds that they are, those days feel distant. They're in different schools but love each other and we make the effort to provide for the continuation of their friendship.
Annie's an only child and her parents have separated and maintain their own homes. Annie shuffles back and forth. It hasn't been an easy year for Annie as she's had to reconcile this arrangement that she never expected or wanted, and I'm proud to say that my Eleni has been a steady friend through Annie's turmoil. I say lightheartedly but with a solid undercurrent of truth that there are so many of my own kids traipsing through my house at any moment that I never mind a friend or two or six to come over, as well, and Annie's always found a friendly haven amid my wild throng.
Annie's mother offered to pick up Eleni and drop her off; she offered twice, almost insistent: "I know what my to-do list looks like; I can't even imagine yours." But I made the time to go with them because I wanted to be there. To-dos get done and can stay to-be-done, but a mama-daughter double date is a special opportunity, not to be forsaken for laundry and grocery runs, even though we've run out of both the kids' vitamins and the fish's food.
We were sitting at the cafe table, the girls chatting and giggling in the secret language of old friends, and Annie's mom brought it up again. I asked about the new house. After she left Annie's dad she had moved into an apartment, but this fall she bought a little row house. She spoke in apologies: "I don't know why we haven't had you over yet. I don't know why I can't get the house together. I don't know why I can't get anything done. I just have one kid and I have whole weekends without her. I don't know how you do it."
There it is, Victoria: I don't know how you do it. You, my friend, you must receive this line, yes? And it's what has me thinking near midnight instead of crawling beneath the covers. I am a superwoman, yes, but no more so than you or my neighbor or the stranger walking down the street.
I think we all rise to the number of expectations upon us. I think there are days we fail or succeed by degrees, but we do however much needs to be done. We are not special, not for this. I have days of shortcomings and don't want on those days to crumble from anyone's pedestal. I just want us to believe in ourselves, so we can eliminate that nervous need to compare.
I said to Annie's mom, "whenever you're ready, we'd love to come visit." I've known Annie's mom for seven years, now, and I can't help her believe in herself. I can't stop her from drawing comparisons. All I can do is gently reject the validity of those comparisons - for her, for Annie and my Eleni, for myself. For all of us, you and my neighbor and the stranger walking down the street, I want to say "just be you, and call us when you're ready so we can be us in your company."
I love my family and all its wild ways but I understand that from the outside it might look impossibly much. And I wonder, sweet friend with the even larger family, tell me: how do you face the inevitable comparisons? How do you say to yourself and the women you care about, "you do your best and worst and I'll do mine and let's not feel the need to compare, let's just continue to meet around this cafe table and spill our hearts out to each other?"
How do you say, "see me for me, not for some virtue you've ascribed to me that I may not even deserve?" How do you say, "your wonder at me is misplaced, and makes me uncomfortable?"
How do you say, my sweet Victoria whose heart is filled with wisdom and these same experiences, "I'm just me and I want you to see me, not through the labels that reflect more about you than me, but just me?"
I hope you're well, friend, and I know I will find the perfect perspective in your response, which is why I await it so eagerly.
Have I ever told you how much I adore you for your unashamed honesty? Remember the day of our first meeting at your house, how you called (or was it texted?) when I was close and informed me that your air conditioner had broken? ... In July? I sat at an intersection waiting for the light to turn and couldn't help but laugh. I'd been perspiring already even with the cold air blasting from the vents in my van, wondering what you'd think of my outfit, of how I dealt with my baby, if you'd like me in person. And here you were informing me as only you can that your air was out but the get-together was still on, if I'd have it, and I'm so glad I did. The ease in your... you-ness was hinted at in that exchange, and the meeting only confirmed it. You are fantastically unique, wildly, enviously present in the moment. I admire your intellect, your aesthetic taste, and your parenting style. But most of all? I like how your company spurs me to embrace my me-ness without restraint.
And that brings me to the subject of your letter, for I am a chronic apologizer. I am forever offering apologies for the dust on my stairs, the strange smell coming from my untidy kitchen, and that my two-year-old is running around like a tiny, naked Amazonian in the dining room. Does this mean I subconsciously believe my life should resemble a mixture of a magazine photo spread and family sitcom? It does, I suppose. A handful of years ago I went through an awful season where I jogged around the house on Sunday mornings like a mad woman, barking at my husband and the kids to don freshly-ironed outfits and for goodness sake, not mess up their hair. I wanted to be sure we arrived at church looking put together, for all those friends who questioned how I could do it, as I kept bearing children. Pressed creases mean we're put together, right?
And now I flash to a few months ago, when we were home in the States temporarily awaiting the birth of our fifth child, and my third was insistent that he be allowed to wear a superhero costume to the store. Hugely pregnant, uncomfortable, and overwhelmingly aware that we were quite a sight without superhero costumes, I argued with him about it until we had a crisp, brief moment of silence and clarity: he looked into my eyes hopefully, his own glistening with pure sweetness and innocent heroics, and I thought: What the heck. Pull that costume on and just be you, kid.
My large family elicits all sorts of verbalized expectations from people we come into contact with: most of them unrequested, many from individuals we don't know personally. I've had the bad habit of tucking those expectations into an uncomfortable, too-small pocket of my psyche where they poke and annoy me, bubbling with the lie that I am not what I should be. It's a mode of being I work hard to keep my children from operating in, a tight skin of perception glossy with strain and devoid of authenticity. I want them to wear the superhero costumes.
And I want the people with expectations to know that those things they marvel at about my mode of being... well, thank you for that. But here is what I am most proud of: that moment when my kids are asleep and slightly sweating beneath a thick comforter, when I creep in, through the maze of their toy collection, and kiss their temples and whisper into their dreams that they are spectacular and I love them; that I made myself walk back up the stairs the other day and offer a 'Sorry' to my husband because I bit his head off for something completely irrational; that I set a crazy, wild goal for myself and it's all for me and it seems impossible, but I'm going for it anyway. These are the messy, unpressed, totally normal details of my days that I hold close to my heart as I drift off to sleep. I am not a robot checking items--one expectation after another--off a list. I'm a disaster, sometimes. But I'm trying to embrace humility throughout it all, to love without restraint, to reach-reach-reach because I believe I serve best and love best when I'm chasing something that draws me closer to God.
The best friends I've made in my womanhood have been those, like you, who can lay their messes and dreams and expectations for themselves and heaped upon them by others, out on the table between us. Without judgment we sift through it all, laughing and seething and weeping. We come away resolute in our us-ness. We say: No air? The party's still on. And we dance.
Twirling (and I know you are too),