I run from the gym at my school often. I change beside the young, firm 20-year-olds. I lace up my sneakers, don my earphones, take a quick glance at the mirror on my way out. Sometimes I see no one but myself, the person I’ve always been, but sometimes I see what I wonder if they see. Old. Not that I am old, but at 29 with a wedding band on my hand and faded stretch marks on my abdomen, I imagine that to them, my life is over.
As a young girl, I longed for the day when I would be a mom. I asked my mom to teach me to fold clothes, to make beds, to iron, to cook, to bake. I hoarded these lessons for the day when I would need them. I wanted to be a mom, I was going to be a perfect mom. But as time went on and adolescence reared its nasty head, my world changed. Or I changed. And through heart break and rejection, I put up these walls and told myself I’d never love, never marry, never have children. I convinced myself I didn’t want children. I scorned young women pushing strollers, driving their kids to soccer and hockey and chasing after them with snotty tissues. I watched them in their running groups, smiling and chatting. Never, I thought, I’ll never be them.
As it has a way of doing, Life took all those angry thoughts, baked them into a nice serving of Humble Pie and shoved them down my throat. By 23 I was in love. By 24 I was pregnant. And by 25 I was married.
I struggled with my self-image for a while, a young married mother. None of my friends had kids (or were even in serious relationships). I had become what I swore I never would.
My focus remained: I will have a career. I will not forsake all of my dreams for my child. So, away I went to work, everyday for nine hours. Leila had cold after cold after cold. On Saturdays while I was working, Steve and her would spend the day together. My heart broke. I missed her desperately. I was pregnant again, I was exhausted, I was sick all the time. And then, one day, it occurred to me. Motherhood and marriage hadn’t put my life on hold, I wasn’t waiting for the day to come that things would resume, the path laid out as it had been before. They were my path.
Things changed after that. I cut back my hours at work to 24 hours a week, happily spending the rest of my time at home. After Alena was born, I stayed at home with them for 15 months when I decided to take a Certificate at a local university, part time.
And now I am indeed both what I swore I’d never be and what I’ve always wanted to be. I chase after my kids with snotty kleenex and drive back and forth to play dates. I cook dinner each night and play dollies and puppies and school with my kids. And sure, I’m not perfect, and I yell at them and grumble about the mind-boggling amounts of laundry and put them to bed early because I’m too tired to deal with them sometimes, but oh. This life I have? Sometimes it feels like a secret I’ve stumbled upon. One that has no reasons why, no explanations.
When I was busy wasting my energy judging other people, it never once occurred to me that those women were happy. But now I see, now I understand. It isn’t about what the 20-year-olds think when they see you running. It isn’t about the dreams you used to have. It’s about inhaling your blessings, finding new (or at least revised) dreams. It’s about love and happiness and sincerity and compassion.