I was a different mother before my daughter arrived. Having been blessed with three sons, I became used to the "mother of boys" role. My job was simple -- make sure they didn't end up in the ER daily, feed them endlessly, and love them to bits. Submerged in the busy world of mothering small children, keeping house, and trying to keep up with my career responsibilities, I had, over time, become a somewhat duller version of myself. Without realizing it, I slid into the unfortunate position of last on the list and stayed there for many years. The boys didn't seem to notice. In their minds, everything I did was wonderful. In their eyes, I always looked beautiful, even if my share of the laundry was a short stack of black yoga pants and T-shirts that were never worn for their intended use. They of course cared about what I was feeling on any given day. But my life was not examined by them in the same way it has since been by my daughter.
She watches me. She pays attention to my everyday choices and lifelong decisions. She has asked me, "How come you make the food for everyone but you never sit and eat it?" She beams with satisfaction when she sees me dressed up and feeling good about myself. She notices when I'm overwhelmed and questions why I don't ask for help. And it was an occurrence of her watchful eye and innocent encouragement that helped me make the choice to follow my dreams and live a fuller life.
For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to be a writer. Despite my hectic life, the urge has grown stronger as my life experiences have grown richer. "Don't forget about me," the little dream that could would whisper to me from high atop the shelf where I had placed it. "Not now, there isn't time," I would answer while rinsing sippy cups and retrieving rogue Cheerios from under cabinets.
One day, when my daughter Caroline was around 3, she brought me an orange striped shell that she had found in one of our memory boxes. "Where is this from?" she asked in awe. "Well," I said, sitting down next to her, "one morning on our Cape trip last spring, Mommy was out for a run on the beach. I was running along beside the waves when I spotted this bright shell in the water. It was so beautiful that I decided to stop, take off my socks and sneakers, and brave the icy April waters to grab it. Once it almost got away from me, but when the next wave rushed in, there it was at my feet. I snatched it up and brought it home to keep forever." She gazed at the shell in her hand with wonder. "Because you know," I added, "some things in life are worth the extra effort. They are worth stopping in your tracks to go after them. It would make a good story, wouldn't it?" She nodded her head and smiled. I patted her soft brown curls and returned to busying myself with the household chores I rushed to complete before her brothers returned from school.
Some time later, as I sat on the couch folding towels, an outstretched chubby hand placed a stack of paper and a pencil on my lap. "What's this for?" I asked her curiously. "For your story," she replied with resolution, "write it."
It's that simple, really, when you think about it. Her mind has yet to be cluttered with obligations both real and self-manufactured, motherly guilt, or fears of failure. But those are all obstacles that can be overcome. I decided she was right. After all, the story I had told her was about doing that very thing. I made the time, put pen to paper, and the stories flowed out of me like the rushing streams in spring after the snow has thawed. And they permeated all aspects of my life. I felt energized and more alive than I had in a long time. The feeling encouraged me to do other things that I had wanted to do and had been putting off or shying away from. I started yoga. I learned how to crochet. I got some jaggedly short hipster bangs to go with my age-induced reading glasses. Simple things, really. But they were my own.
My daughter noticed the difference. She asked me one day, "How come you look sparklier than you used to?" It made me smile. I should have been paying attention to taking care of myself for my boys, too. I am also a role model to them, even if they are not as expressive about it. And I want them to encourage the women in their lives someday to live their best life. It's easy to forget in the daily grind of motherhood that the life your children watch you live is just as important as the life you give.
She watches me -- and for that I am forever grateful. It's about time I started taking care of myself, living my dreams, and creating a life worth watching.