The other day I watched Thea bustle down the sidewalk in front of me, pulling her soft blue blanket as if it were a delicate animal on a leash. It was unremarkable. I was unremarkable, she was too. But a thought so distinctly flashed through my mind that the idea seared on my heart. The thought was simple, obvious and forgotten. It said, “This is it. This is what you’ve wanted. You are in the middle of it.”
I imagine this phrase will be relevant in a hundred different ways over my lifetime, but it seemed particularly poignant because sometimes I’m too quick to cast my sights beyond these years when my children are young, when I am coming into myself as a parent, and as a spiritual being.
Living in the heart of silicon valley on the campus of a prestigious university, I’ve often found myself on the defensive about my current life. I’ve wanted to wear a sign that says, “I got my degrees! I plan to work full-time again someday! I work part-time from home! I write! I choose to be home with my children!” We live in family student housing, which is a utopia of tiny homes that all face inward toward a common grassy courtyard and playground. It is idyllic, safe and peaceful. Sometimes I come downstairs in the morning to friends my son has invited over for breakfast and neither of my children realize that there is a world that can be harsh.
Yet even in the idyllic, there is always more behind the curtains of roses and greenery. Loneliness, shame and guilt are wiley creatures can hardly be kept out of even the most pristine scenery. There have been many afternoons sitting under the shade of the tree by the playground full of wistfulness and planning for beyond these years on my part. I’ve tried to shove shame behind me while it tries desperately to peek around when I see other women in my courtyard coming home from work or school at 5 p.m.. When we talk while pushing our kids in the swings, I casually mention that I already got a master’s degree and I write from home, just so they know, not because they care. My life does not look like full-time work right now. It looks like part-time teaching, part-time working on books and projects and mostly, being a mother. This is not a piece defending ‘stay at home moms’. We are all tired of both the defense and the praise. I don’t wave the flag of right or wrong, for me or my children, this is simply my life and I am lucky for it. Your life may simply be something else. We all have our own space full of light and shadows that were are trying to make sense of.
I realized one day, soon after my original fleeting inspiration as I walked behind Thea, that I was daily walking a path I had not recognized. If you’re a Mormon, the tree of life, and all its components is inherent. I, like so many, attended the youth activity as a teen where you’re blindfolded and sent on a journey through the chapel with people trying to trick you at every turn. I knew the symbols and had drawn the pictures of the iron rod, the mists of darkness, the building and the fruit. I believed the voices of the great and spacious building to be evil, to be drunk or gruff with a smoker’s lung, I never expected that someday they might be my own.
Since being a mother, particularly in a place where it doesn’t seem the most admirable job, the voices I hear calling to me are not evil, but rather a tone not unlike my own, a voice in my head that tells me I should be embarrassed, that I’m not enough, that everyone is looking at me and feeling sorry for my life because it’s not what theirs is. But no person can dictate the joy of another. No person has access to the intricacies of reason, intuition and the spirit that captains the life of someone else. We do not owe it to the world to explain our reasons.
I’m not knocking ambitions, I’ve got plenty of them. I am working with them currently, but I also recognize that there are times when the ambitions I think I need to have cloud my view of what I currently have. I have two children who look to me to understand the world. I am in possession of great joy most of the time and the holy and complicated hours with these two souls are nothing short of majestic when I stop to let it all sink in. Not all women need to or will be mothers of small children, but motherhood specifically is not my point here, it is the experience I know to draw from. Whatever it is we are doing with our lives is not perfect, but there is likely great and even hidden pockets of meaning and beauty.
In a week I must walk a hundred times to the tree in my courtyard. Since that moment with my little girl, I have found something more at that tree than simply not being good enough. I have found God’s love, glimpses of it filtering down through the crisp autumn light, and again in the blue winter light, through the full blossoms of spring and into the lazy pink light of summer. I have found greater strength and courage in my walk across the great and spacious field of my backyard because the voices from the great and spacious building that are calling desperately to remind me I’m not enough, are muffled by the fact that I am doing what I feel is right. I am holding to a rod of iron which turns out is really just a hope and a bundle of faith. And though the fruit is not quite as obvious as I imagined it to be from all my years of reading 2nd Nephi, it is there, swaying quietly in the breeze while my children play beneath it. When I pick it and bite in, I again here that voice say, “This is it. This is what you’ve wanted. You are in the middle of it.”