Pregnancy revealed me to be a terrible patient. I have a high threshold for pain, so I listened to my doctor’s strict prohibitions at about 40% volume–then arrogantly went about my day pretty much as usual, only to crash and burn spectacularly, much like the Wright Brothers’ third or fourth prototype, in a pile of exhausted rubble.
My hubris notwithstanding, I made it through those prepartum months by the hormonal hairs of my chinny-chin-chin, fully expecting to be admitted to the hospital to have our under-cooked baby plucked from my poorly performing uterus and tenderly festooned in a knot of tubes and wires in the NICU. Miraculously, Thia rallied until the bitter end and hurled herself into this world after three hours and three minutes of labor only two days before her due date. With the fourth trimester now behind us, I’ve almost forgotten the excruciating, unplanned pain of “natural” childbirth (my threshold has its limits, and Thia’s 95th percentile head exceeded them) and can gaze upon our sweet, small creature with clear, albeit sleepy, eyes. My, but she’s beautiful.
The end of the newborn stage has also emboldened me to shower daily, wear real pants, and peer with trepidation around the corner at Tomorrow. That this new chapter coincides with the new year is probably life’s way of italicizing and capitalizing what I’m told should be obvious: BE BOLD. GO FOR YOUR DREAMS. LIVE YOUR BEST LI—
Wait. Is this real life, or the January issue of O: The Oprah Magazine? The bright-eyed optimist in me wants to make 2017 the year that I finally make good on the goals that launched this blog precisely one year ago (oh, kismet): (1) Write. (2) Keep small human(s) alive. (3) Write some more. The cynic in me, however, wants to retrieve my unwashed yoga pants from the hamper and resign myself to mindless scrolling through usajobs.gov.
Last week, I asked one of those annoyingly precocious small humans to carry his backpack inside upon returning home from school. A tiny Hot Wheel clenched in each fist, Simon protested, “But Mama, I can’t! I have full hams.” Later that night, in unwashed yoga pants, I sat on the toilet lid in our bathroom and closed my eyes. The wee-hoo, wee-hoo, wee-hoo of my breast pump punctuated the darkness and I silently began to cry. Big, fat, shameful tears–because in that vulnerable and admittedly pathetic moment I realized that I am no different from my imprudent toddler: fettered by self-imposed limitations. My son’s misguided priorities are somewhat excusable. He’s three, and character development naturally takes a backseat to a two-inch Chevrolet Camaro. I, on the other hand, have had ample time to develop my prefrontal cortex and can only blame my immobility on fear–of professional failure, of financial stress, of disappointing others, of disappointing myself. So, still sitting on the toilet lid at 2 am, still wearing my decidedly unerotic hands-free pumping bra, I did what any sleep-deprived, awkwardly diffident, cynical optimist would do and Googled, “Oprah advice live your best life.”
After recovering from my visceral annoyance with “expert” Nate Berkus’ Motivation Monday listicles and the thinly-veiled suggestion that my Best Life requires Oprah’s Favorite Things (a cake shaped like a potted poinsettia, gluten-free face wash, $222 bamboo pajamas), I accepted what I knew even before I turned to the Internet for counsel: I really truly do have everything I need to live my best life (even if my pajamas are 10% polyester) and I really truly do need to let go of my Chevrolet Camaro. There’s a reason Oprah’s trite advice is universally featured in dentist waiting room art emblazoned with dolphins and sailboats: IT’S ALL TRUE. In one video segment, Dr. Maya Angelou tells Oprah viewers to, “Pick up the battle. Take it up. Just do right.” Roll your eyes all you want, I thought, But until you let go–of fear, your own capricious expectations, one too many tiny race cars–you legitimately can’t pick up the battle, and there you’ll stay: crying in the dark on the toilet. I fell asleep angry at myself.
The next morning, as rested as a new baby permits, I cut myself some slack. Risk-taking has to adjust for circumstance, and eight consecutive months of pregnancy vomiting didn’t do me any favors. I’m not good at forgiving myself, but first light and brewed caffeine acquitted me of temporarily abandoning my ambitions. And I’ve accepted that I’m not going to write The (Next) Great American Novel during the thick of the early childhood years. My physical burdens behind me, however, and with a full night of sleep so close I can taste it, I believe the queen of daytime television when she says that our best life is no chimera. It’s right there, just past the fear. Take it up, and just do right.