Lao Tzu famously wrote that the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, which despite its face value, “yeah, no shit” philosophy, tells me that even the greatest achievements and distances are realized in the smallest of increments, and that paramount to all, is that there is a start. One must simply start, as small a step as it may be, in order to get from here to there, as great a distance as that may be.
I find myself at the precipice of the trip of a lifetime, but much different than any I’ve ever taken before. It is a path that the majority of the human race takes: one of marriage and even more shared, that of creating another human life.
Perhaps it is because I feel that I’ve seen enough of the world by now to finally settle down and stay in one place and my wandering, disquieted spirit has finally quieted enough to focus on the present moment. Perhaps it is because I’m with a partner who makes me want to step away from my customary flights of fancy and see how the other half lives.
I think in a combination of the two, he came along when I was ready. He makes settling down (though I must think of a better term for this) seem so worthwhile and even exciting, because he is genuinely excited to live life immersed in “the everyday.”
I was always out seeking that next great adventure to escape the mundane and add some perceived value to myself, forgetting that, as great as those adventures have been and might be, there was and always will be “the everyday” waiting for me at home. I don’t discount my travels and adventures for their escapism nature, but rather am proud of myself for the courage I had to do what I wanted at that time in my life. But what I am starting to realize, is that no matter how many times I dreamed and schemed of being an expat and living a life I considered to be one of high adventure and intrigue, there was a reason I never pulled the plug. I was always drawn home: to family, to connection, to where life really happens for me – because I always feel like life is on pause when I travel, and that’s one of the things I love about it. But the everyday lies in the realm of the here and now, and I’ve been trying to change my discontented way of thinking and live in the now for a solid two years. My fiance helps me keeps that goal at the forefront.
But let me tell you, I have these moments: even as I write this and talk about this new “life journey” I’m beginning, I get this overwhelming thought about how utterly common it all is and completely unextraordinary, and who the hell wants to read about this boring shit? And then I rail against my plans, and say to myself, “I want to live a life worth writing about!” Because it was so ingrained in me that getting married and raising a child is the end of one’s life, especially a woman’s life.
Can anyone relate? Am I crazy? Where did I get that idea? Have I simply been so utterly opposed to the classic roles handed us by our society and the boxes it puts people in, that I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, ignoring the parts that come naturally and might be fulfilling and good? Parts at which I might actually excel and a role in which I might thrive? Undoubtedly I have, and I’ve created such an identity around that discarding of traditional roles, that allowing myself to do anything that smells of “traditional” feels like facing a painful death.
Or maybe I just watched Indiana Jones and played Tomb Raider too many times.
I digress. Enlightened thinking comes and goes so easily, doesn’t it?
Getting married, although an odd feeling and very opposed to how I have viewed myself for so long, is not a frightening one, and I’ve acclimated to the idea easily, but yesterday I took the first step in a truly terrifying and most lengthy journey…
I had my IUD removed.
My whole life, I never wanted kids and I always said that if I ever want a kid as much as I want to travel and adventure, then sure, I’ll have a kid, but always with the underlying surety that such a thing would never happen. Because Christina Mitchell could never be a mother. Mothers are this and that and that, and I am none of those things, nor do I want to be. I wouldn’t recognize myself. But a year into being with Michael, I couldn’t stop daydreaming about having a kid with him. I felt so typical! What on earth could be special about me if I was a mom like just about every other woman on earth?! I had these insane ideas that a) I need to be “interesting” to have value (I still struggle there), and b) being a childless woman made me interesting, somehow (I’ve let that one go, I think).
These are the thoughts I was having. And it’s not like I’ve ever had a problem with mothers or looked down on them or thought that motherhood made them uninteresting. Some of the most interesting women I know are mothers, and some of the most uninteresting are also mothers: motherhood has nothing to do with whether someone is interesting.
And interesting doesn’t add value anyhow. All this insane in the membrane thinking was just my ego’s frantic clutching at something to convince me that I shouldn’t let my childless identity die. It was self preservation; the “self” being that part of my egoistic mind.
Suffice to say, I could barely admit to myself my new desire to have a baby, let alone admit it to Michael. The idea of saying it out loud was this ridiculous source of anxiety for me, knowing that to admit it, I was going against a lifetime of certainty about who I am and what kind of woman I am and blah blah blah.
All I can say is: identity be damned. It will take a lifetime, I am sure, but I’ve spent two years so far trying to shed my egoic mind: two years trying to slough off all the things with which I identify and see the intrinsic value in me that Hafiz and Rumi and Eckart Tolle and Mary Oliver and Brene Brown and Marshall Rosenberg all speak about. But still, I identify so strongly with “not wanting kids” that I am mortified to even write the sentence, “I want to have a child,” and then I shudder at that soft and feminine word “child” because it grates on my identity of being tough and unsentimental. Ridiculous.
But when I step out of that childless identity and just steep in the feeling that has come to me of wanting to have a kid, it feels really good and I feel excited the way I feel the night before any one of my adventures into the great unknown. I’ve always said: action is the antidote to fear, and to me, that is part of Lao Tzu’s famous quote as well – you take that first step and the fear begins to dissipate. There’s no more thinking and planning and getting anxiety about it: the journey has begun. I’d been dreading writing this article all month, because I knew what I had to write about for a journey-themed article, but as soon as I had the IUD removed, I wasn’t so afraid anymore.
Perhaps this journey I am on has nothing to do with marriage or getting pregnant, but in big picture thinking, is just another step along the way in listening to and responding to the rhythms of my life and becoming true to myself, no matter what self that turns out to be. It is a journey in truly believing deep down, that I have value no matter what my life looks like, and in that knowledge, setting down the beleaguering ways I try to make myself matter. Because I matter regardless, as do we all.
Artwork by Summer Mei Ling Lee, Pieta, 2018. Opposing projections of two artists, one in the role of Mary and the other as Jesus, cross each other in the installation space. In the center are four panels of fabric which catch both projections to form a Pietá. The panels are disturbed by a fan and passerby’s. Installation detail photo, courtesy of re.riddle.