Every January I get swept up in this mindset but this January it had been weighing on me in particular. This January is different from past years. Lately, I have been working full-time. Well, short-term, full-time if that makes sense. There have been ample opportunities for me to substitute at my children's elementary school as several babies have been born over the past two years. As my last maternity leave was nearing a close everyone started to ask the question, SO....What will you do with ALL THAT TIME? I know it was a perfectly innocent question, one asked out of friendly curiosity. However, each time it was asked I felt stressed. I felt pressured. Surely now that I had managed a household of seven and worked full-time I would be able to solve the world's problems with ALL THAT TIME. The question of what I would do had never loomed heavier on my mind or my heart. I was becoming fearful of those empty days and hours.
I hadn't had very much time to adjust to life with all the kids in school. I sent my youngest child off to preschool only months before the first long-term sub job started. It seems I was just pondering my new life and it was gone before it started. Suddenly I found myself on the outside looking in. I was actually on the working woman side of the fence, peering in at this odd world. What do stay-at-home moms do all day, anyway? It is often asked with a bit of envy and a healthy dose of contempt. What had I done before I worked? Certainly moms with young children at home are given a pass so to speak. We can all understand the amount of time it takes to care for a tantrum-throwing, mess-making, attention-demanding toddler. But what happens when the kids all go to school? Not sure what other stay-at-home moms do but I can sum up my first month home in two words: NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Think I am being funny? Well, sort of.
I found myself waking up at 5:30 am hell bent on seizing the day (Dead Poets Society being one of my all time favorite movies, after all). I would breathlessly worry my way through the day always wondering if my priorities were precise and what I else I could, would, should be doing. By 10:30 pm, despite having crossed everything off my neatly- written to do list I collapsed in bed feeling like I had not accomplished enough. Was I productive enough? Was I creative enough? I was striving to be both and losing my sanity in the tension it caused. I think the word tension is key. In researching the definition I came across this line which stunned me by how well it summed up my month:
When things feel so tight they might snap, that's tension.
Then I found this quote by Calvin and Hobbes writer Bill Waterson which gave me a laugh:
“God put me on earth to accomplish certain things. Right now, I’m so far behind, I’ll never die.”
― Bill Watterson
Doesn't that sum up the mentality of the modern world? It feeds into the idea that if you are busy you are important. Your life matters. And busy means measurable results. Productivity. Beds made. Laundry folded.
I lived my January in response to an argument in my head. An argument with nameless, faceless working women. An argument with a voice I had encountered a few times then continued to replay in my head- You stay home. You are not important. I was living my life justifying it to everyone who ever made a snide comment about women who choose not to work for a time. I was living my life, making daily choices for every one else- EVERYONE ELSE, who I finally realized turned out to be no one- not even myself.
Now February has arrived. In college I had a Garfield cartoon on my bulletin board claiming February to be the "armpit of the year". I loved it then but now I couldn't disagree more. January is a fresh start which is too demanding in it's resolution, it's perfection, it's righting all the holiday wrongs. Heck, righting a lifetime of wrongs. That's just too much pressure for our feeble human nature. And then there's February. February is a kinder, gentler month. January is a sprint. February is the start of the long-distance run. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the wheat is separated from the chaff. What change can you really implement and live with? What change do you want to make for you alone, no matter what the world will think.
I am happy to have survived January with my sanity mostly in tact but I am also happy that it is now in the rear-view mirror. I am thankful it is February. I do, however, realize there is value in both. We need the hard slap in the face that is January. We need to be productive. We also need the humane dose of living within balance that February, and the months after, provide. Just as there is value in and need for both productivity and creativity. Work is necessary but production without creativity fueling it would turn us into robots, living to work. "Are we sent here to do chores and hold horses?" asks Thoreau. On the other hand, creativity- a real enthusiasm, inspiration and passion for something- without any production is useless. Dr. George Sheehan writes:
Otherwise, we are merely wishing, idle dreamers in the world of the flaccid spirit. We must want something and want it badly- want it with the zeal and passion and enthusiasm of a Don Quixote or a missionary. Then, we will suddenly find ourselves in motion, with a clear focus on our goal. Once moved, the spirit and the flesh are like a team of matched horses, each asking more of the other. Fused by the will for that brief and wonderful moment, the flesh and the spirit become one.
I am-just as you are-a unique, never-to-be-repeated event in this universe. Therefore, I have-just as you have- a unique, never-to-be-repeated role to play in this world. Mine is a personal drama for which I am at once author, actor, director, and producer.
With a hard-fought January behind me and many lessons learned, I am ready to write, act, direct and produce a wonderful February that just may last a lifetime.