"Each suburban wife struggles with it alone: 'Is this all?'" -- Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
The morning after the recent lunar eclipse, I experienced one of those idyllic moments that mothers dream of. My husband was away on a business trip, so I let my 8-year-old daughter climb into our bed after she had called out for me. I had promised she could have a sleepover with me during his absence, which coincided with her spring break. OK, it was 3 a.m., but I had neglected to bring her in when I went to bed after indulging in a few, luxurious glasses of Riesling and staying up late to watch the Blood Moon's slow-moving transformation in our backyard. Once in bed, she fell back to sleep quickly, as did I. At 5:30, my 5-year-old son came wandering in as he does nearly every morning. But instead of being his rowdy, loud self and waking his sleep-needy sister, he slid in on the other side of me and fell asleep.
I couldn't move, and I didn't want to, their legs and arms sprawled on me. I marveled at the exquisite silence and warmth of being snuggled in close, surrounded by both of them -- no fighting, no refereeing, just the absolute peace and calm of the morning. The only sounds were their breath and those adorable mouth noises little children make in their sleep. Then, the magic: My son began giggling in his sleep. A bit later, my daughter giggled in hers. They kept sleeping, and I reveled in love and awe, grateful for their health and happiness in slumber.
For the last eight years, I have measured my success in my kids' giggles, in my handling of their storms. In my imperfect-yet-always-honest attempts to be a "good enough" mother, I put my growing career aside. Oh yes, against Sheryl Sandberg's advice, I "leaned out" -- way, way out. And believe me, CEO of Bumwiping.com (while still important) is an under-celebrated and underpaid role.
But lately, that hasn't been enough for me (not nearly enough). As feminist icon Betty Friedan pointed out in 1963, as renowned Bad Mother author, novelist and mom of four Ayelet Waldman realized while pushing her firstborn on a playground swing and as do women who wrestle with the balance of mothering and self, I've reached my "Is this all?" phase and had my "No, this can't be all!" moment.
This past summer, I began to undergo a radical physical and personal transformation following a medically-necessary surgery. With my kids and husband gone for two weeks to let me recover, I thought about what had happened to the vibrant, connected journalist and writer I once was.
Over the last nine months -- the same amount of time as the human gestation period -- I have shed more than 35 pounds and uncovered parts of myself that have lain dormant since my 20s, the spark and chutzpah that propelled my early career. As part of my self-liberation, I chose to have my tubes tied in the fall. (No more kids! Better sex!) But it turns out, nine months after this transformation began, I am fertile in new ways and have given birth again -- this time to my true self, to the writer in me.
So now what? I am redefining success in my life by redefining myself.
I am redefining myself as a writer in a media landscape that has changed dramatically over the last decade -- in which self-revelation is nearly almost the rule rather than strictly taboo -- and dealing with the challenges of "leaning back in" after an eight-year career hiatus.
I am redefining myself as a mother by my happiness quotient. I have come to appreciate the notion of "happy mom." If I am not happy, then no one wins. Though it may mean more time away from them, refereeing less and letting them work out their own storms more and more, I believe I serve my kids best by choosing happiness and creative and personal fulfillment -- as well as family responsibilities. I hope they will, too, as teens, adults, parents -- when they are role models themselves.
I am redefining success in my life in the measurement of my kids' giggles and my own.