Mid-Life Fantasies (& Stop Signs)

Today, I caught myself in what must be a “mid-life” moment.

It’s hard for me to accept that I’m old enough or pathetic enough to fit this stereotype, but there I was chauffeuring my kids around town, while daydreaming about my neighbor.

The crazy thing is that I’m not particularly attracted to the guy; I’m just bored and forty– wiped out from a decade of mothering and the complacency of a stable, happy marriage (not to mention wide hormonal fluctuations.)

Why is that man holding up a stop sign, Mommy?”

An inquiry from the back seat puts me behind the wheel of the mini-van again. I press on the brake while internally chastising myself for the whole imagined affair.

How did I become so cliché? I can’t be one of those desperate housewives having mid-life fantasies (it’s bad enough that I AM a housewife.) I used to be so cool, so original. I went to college in London, backpacked through Europe, ran a restaurant at twenty. What’s happened?

It’s a rainy day and a Monday at that, so the boys and I have head out early for our “Mommy and Me” dance class downtown. I’d been waiting for years for my youngest to be old enough to enroll in this highlight of the parental week. Stopping for the road crew in West Brattleboro ate up some of the extra time so I didn’t even complain when a utility truck passed us, knocking over a traffic cone, and delaying our passage even further.

The construction worker holding up the sign in question assessed the situation without a moment’s hesitation– jogged across the wet road to the fallen cone, kicked it into the air, and with one fell swoop of his work boot, set it back into place. Just like that!

What style! I thought, as he returned to his post. What self-assuredness! Before he could turn his sign to “Slow,” I was off on another fantasy, hoping that as I drove past, there was actually a decent looking younger man under all that bright yellow gear.

Mommy, why did that man kick the cone in the air?” comes the question from the backseat, derailing another imaginary affair.

Although I truly adore my husband, what I miss most in him is the type of competency and confidence At every turn, I am greeted by his fumbling… buying a used lawnmower that only works once; taken by surprise by meetings, appointments, and events that he writes on little pieces of paper and never looks at again; unable to open the refrigerator and come up with something for dinner– beyond ordering pizza.

I know that I should be perfectly pleased with a man who loves me and who helps with the kids and the home, but I still want the cool, smooth stuff. Is that too much to ask– at my age?

When I really think about it, I used to see my husband like that, only he wasn’t a husband or father then, he was just a guy, like the cone kicker.

I can picture him the morning he arrived at the staff orientation, almost eighteen years ago, and smiled at me, his new boss, across the span of a banquet table filled with new waiters and waitresses.

How he, just shy of twenty, carefully balanced confidence with humility, charm with sincerity, flirtation with tenderness– and thus was the first, in a long line of hopefuls, who knew how to take on my fierce independence– allowing the little girl inside to soak up his love and attention.

Only last night, with a child wedged between us, my cool guy brushed his clunky foot against my shin in a romantic goodnight gesture gone awry– scratching my knee with his jagged toe nail in the process.

Yuck!” I thought. “Disgusting!” and as I turned away to drift off to sleep, I knew it was definitely over.  In one fell swoop of neglected hygiene, I wanted to wash my hands of him forever.

In the morning, when I awoke to a fresh cup of mint tea and his goodbye kiss, I was a bit more rational. I remembered our days in the restaurant, how he carried a tray full of drinks with ease, and how he handled all of his customers (and now me and the kids) with such kindness and flair.

I think I’ll try plugging him into my fantasies today.

(Want to read more honest writing on the topic of marriage? Head to the Marriage Journey, my new blog that travels  from “I do” to “ever after.” )

The Motherhood Lobotomy

by Kelly Salasin

Circling the grocery store parking lot for the third time, I see a bumper sticker that sums it all up:

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? “

Though my husband threatened lobotomy for years, it wasn’t until the birth of our first child that I knew what it was not to think. Days and nights passed postpartumly without any occupation for my mind. And although it continued to operate on auto pilot, there were moments when it shut down altogether.

This wasn’t an easy transformation for me. I desperately clung to my previous life of thoughts. But what are plans and lists and goals to hours filled with diaper changing and dishes?

I remember the end of one particularly long– uneventful day. I cleaned the kitchen, picked up the floor, put the baby to bed and climbed to the top of the stairs, sat down, and cried. “I don’t remember the last time I had a paycheck,” I wept to my husband who had just arrived home, 12 hours after he had left us in the morning.

Endlessly exhausted from the deprivation of identity, I became a sleep junkie. I waded through the thick hours of each morning and afternoon to my next “fix”– the baby’s nap. There, in the countless moments spent on the edge of consciousness, I rediscovered my dream self.

Though I couldn’t have claimed it at the time, I had begun to relearn what it was to define myself from the inside out. Motherhood threw me a buoy in my doing obsessed life, and I began to float. Out of this was born my need to write– to reconnect myself with the world.

I had to learn how to work in bits and pieces. No longer could I, obsessed, spend an entire day driven toward a singular goal. The needs of the baby and my needs as a nursing mother forced me into balance. Perfection volleyed for its usual attention, but I had to let her go too.

This new found freedom from perfection gave me permission to try all things new– and old, exploring the visual arts for the first time since college. When my son was four,  I took him to the studio to sign up for a class, only to discover that he was too young. He squeezed my hand and said, “Why don’t you sign up for a class then, Mommy?

Terror seized my heart and soared through my mind with these thoughts,  I can’t! I’m too afraid. I’m not good enough. I’m too old. I can’t afford it. I don’t have time. But with the promise of my little boy’s face and faith before me, I responded to deeper call.

The artist’s canvass presented a new venue for my expression of self, this time compounded with the pregnancy of my second child. Though I had deeply desired the changes that another round at mothering would bring, I found myself unable to manage the tremendous shifts that were already taking place.

I spent evenings in the studio isolated from my classmates, painting wildly on long strips of paper with my hands. My first piece was entitled, “First Trimester Hell”; the next, “Opening to Pregnancy”; and then “Migraine”; and finally, “Integration.”

Sharing my body with this second child was a bit like being out at sea in the eye of a storm. I felt completely out of control but all the while the baby inside was quiet and calm. He came into the world in the same way, and with blue eyes like the ocean and blonde hair like the sand.

My mother died five weeks later, and together we traveled 300 miles to be at her side. I nursed him in my arms as she passed, singing a lullaby to both of them. It was the same song my midwife sang on the day of his birth. Through this weaving of lives, I came to know that birth and death were petals of the same flower.

This experience gave birth to another expression of self– a gathering of women who came together to sing— of our connections, our dreams and our tears. My son grew up in my arms as we sang.

My work as a healer began to take shape within the circles of life. More and more, I sought to create, and in doing so, to serve. It had been a long way home to my creative self. She was buried in so much that didn’t matter, consumed with reaching a finish line that didn’t exist. Before the motherhood lobotomy, the fire in me that was artist was smothered by my need for perfection, for destination, for speed. Obsessed with “doing”, I lost any knowing of self as creator; but in the  “beingness” of mothering, I’ve found a softer place from which to orient my life. A fluidity. A grace. And I’ve come to know it and to trust in it, not through effort or accomplishment, but through experience and surrender, over and over again.

In the spiral dance of motherhood, I have learned what it is to proceed without understanding, what it is to initiate action from the heart, and what it is to allow a challenge to be teacher rather than obstacle.

Motherhood has shown me what it truly means to be an artist– to live creatively in each moment– to be playfully present– and to follow my heart and spirit from which my creative self flows.

What once felt like an “ending of self”  has created an opening from which to truly know myself. The path has unrolled before me, as it was when I was a child. I see my life as an unending canvass and I, its beloved artist, called upon to fill it with color and light, over and over again.

Am I writer? Yes .

An artist, a singer? Yes, yes!

A healer? Yes!

A dancer…?

Dancing is the fire into which I am presently called— to be the dancer of my life, the dancer of my dreams! As I approach my fortieth birthday, I find an inexplicable desire to take a ballet class. This is truly the voice of my soul– for my mind is raging protests:  Beginning ballet at forty years old! Do you have the body? The clothes? The aptitude?? You can hardly touch your toes! Didn’t your mom pull you out of ballet at age of four because you were so bad?

Navigating my life at this moment without my mind in the driver’s seat is terrifying, but I’ve been down this road before. My children have taken me, each holding a hand. I know I will be safe if I can just allow another layer of ego to be burned. I must dance!

The “Yes” lies in that soft place, the one created by my children, uncovered by them, allowing me a slow decent to my soul. For once upon a time, I stopped to think… and never started again–and for that motherhood lobotomy–and I am forever thankful.

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