“I hate self-reflection,” someone told me the other day. I pushed her to give me details, to figure out where the discomfort lay. As someone who has never been able to avoid self-reflection, no matter how hard I try, I was fascinated.
It seems to me that thinking about who we are, why we do what we do, and processing experiences is just a part of being human. The word “self” in front of anything can feel like navel-gazing, and I can’t deny that this is a pitfall for me. But to do without debriefing life? This seems rather empty.
Because reflection has always been second nature, I knew something was wrong when I stopped remembering. What did we have for dinner last night? I made plans for this afternoon? Along with this forgetfulness came my inability to verbalize what was wrong. Gabe’s patience is legendary, and I tried to tell him what was going on, but for the first time in a long time, I just didn’t know.
I asked for a copy of The Sacred Ordinary Planner for Christmas. As the world demands attention, other things have been neglected. God has not shouted at me, but he has been whispering, and nothing points me back to Him more than my insufficiencies. It is not judgment I feel — although, perhaps at times I should — but more God quietly reminding me that I am finite.
There are many ways that this finitude has come to light. Multiple times a week, I need to remind myself that I cannot heal other people’s relationships, that I cannot be the best (or favorite) teacher of every student, and that not sticking to a budget 100% does not make me a weak person. The most glaring of these though, is the daily work of mothering. I never knew I had a strong imagination; as a little girl, I longed to have dreamworlds like L. M. Montgomery’s characters, castles in the sky I could escape to when I was lonely. I didn’t know that my imagination just took me elsewhere: to a farm with rolling orchards and familial partnership, to writing and publishing books someday, to singing opera in a sparkly navy gown (before I even really knew what opera was).
Likewise, I didn’t know that I have imagined what kind of mother I would be long before I became one. Not in some tangible, obvious way. Becoming a mother felt so far off for awhile that I forgot it was a possibility. It’s more that I imagined This Other Me who would suddenly appear, with patience and creativity and endless joy. I imagined easily floating through days where my children learned, where I created, and where we all grew in a bond of mutual admiration and respect.
This is not to say that these things never happen. Evangeline is without question a delightful child. Her weaknesses are beginning to show; her humanity is peeking through her demands, through her longing to connect. It is more that I am still me, and I struggle with being at the beck and call of anyone, let alone a little girl under three feet tall. I remember that attachment is healthy, that flour flying all over the floor and counter is worth Evangeline feeling the thrill of baking, of being a helper. I remember these things, and I seek connection with others who feel the same way. There is no other way for me to be, so how to refine the way I am?
When I sit down to write in my planner, I don’t yet know quite how to use it. Do I make lists? Set goals? Describe whatever inner landscape I’m experiencing that day? I keep missing days, and the amount of reflection that is required at the beginning of each week feels impossible: Reflect On This Week — Reset Next Week.
How can I do this when each week feels daunting?
How can I devote energy to reflection when all my energy has been sucked up by work and by others and by my own exhausting cyclical thinking?
When rest feels unattainable, and 5:30AM comes too soon?
I turn 32 today. An unremarkable number, although prettier than 31, I would argue. As I read the lectionary yesterday morning with the book resting on my belly, the little life inside me kicked against it. I won’t read into the action — as tempting as it may be — but I will reflect on the burgeoning of new life even within the body of an aging one. God speaks in many ways, and maybe one of those ways is a tiny baby’s movements, the rolling of a growing belly.
Every morning, the first thing Evangeline does when I pick her up her from her crib is bend down and kiss my belly.
“Baby kiss!” she says gleefully.
To distill her joy and make it available to everyone. To bottle it up and save it for myself on rainy days when tears come and problems feel unsolvable. I know she will eventually encounter life. She will meet people who hurt her — I will hurt her — and she will begin to feel the more complex emotions of adolescence and adulthood. But a little part of me wonders if perhaps one of her greatest gifts will always be her joy, and if that is what she will use to change her world.
I turn 32 today. We will eat takeout, reminisce about the past year, and dream towards the future, towards spring, towards new life. It will be hard for me to turn off my work brain and turn on my home brain. We will be exhausted by a little voice that repeats, by a little body that wants to be near, by refusal to eat dinner and demands for “Chocolate!” But I know that I will look up at Gabe across the room and smile, because the things in our life that take the most work are the things that are worth it.