Finding My Fire
We forget how to break the rules when we’re busy teaching kids to follow them.
AMERICAN MOTHERHOOD, especially as it’s practiced in the comfort of suburbia, is a recipe for losing your edge. My own mother’s generation didn’t have this problem, because most of them never really got much chance to develop their edge, or their voice, or their ability to take up metaphorical space. They didn’t have the chance to figure out who they wanted to be outside the context of being someone’s daughter, someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife, someone’s mother.
My generation had the luxury of spending our 20s and 30s growing ourselves and learning to seize our voices and take up space, even as we worked to pay the rent and pursue what fascinated us. Some of us moved to another town or city, or maybe all the way across the country from where we’d been raised. Some of us questioned the religious traditions we were raised to follow, or maybe we decided organized religion wasn’t our path to spirituality. Maybe we traded in our preppy sweaters for Doc Martens, or decided to wear our preppy sweaters with Doc Martens.
There were a million possible ways to develop ourselves as individuals, and for most of us there were plenty of late nights and weekend hours to spend figuring out who we were and who we wanted to be. On our own, we could experiment. Break the rules in order to write ourselves new ones.
I was an actress and writer when I became a mother just over a decade ago. Home was New York City and Beijing, and life was all about late nights in foreign cities, roadtrips without a map, and doing experimental theater that asked uncomfortable questions. Serendipity, unplanned adventure and seeking enlightenment were at the top of my list. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone was necessary, whether it meant auditioning on a bare stage under bright lights or seeking to fill the gaps left by my sheltered childhood as I sought to learn and experience everything I’d missed.
And then just as I was really getting traction with myself — and just as so many women I know were getting traction with themselves — the very necessary ways of living and thinking that define motherhood shifted the fabric of our lives.
I was thrilled to have kids, and determined to be good at it. And I quickly learned that the mechanics of motherhood are all about keeping kids safe, making good choices, planning ahead, anticipating and avoiding risks, and minimizing chaos as much as possible. The trouble is this: These actions create a safe and nurturing space for your tiny human, but they also soften the personal edge that you’d only just begun to truly sharpen.
After a decade, it can be hard to find the fire that once burned inside. It can be hard to remember just how much fuel you got from chaos and risk, because you’ve become so good at keeping them at bay. And it can be surprisingly hard to notice your own impulses and go with them when you’ve spent day after day after day teaching impulse control.
A decade of child-rearing and caring for elderly parents, most of it spent in a picture-postcard small town in Pennsylvania filled with wonderful people and the dangerously appealing comfort of total predictability, has taught me a lot. It’s shown me that putting others first can be beautiful, and quiet evenings spent on a suburban ball field as young kids race around the bases can be tonic for the soul.
But leaving there — especially having traded that Pennsylvania town for the steamy, electrifying streets of Bangkok — has shown me in stark relief just how far I’ve gotten from being the boundary-pushing, adventure-seeking, constantly questioning woman I was before my extraordinary husband and I brought our two children into the world.
My goal for the next few years is to use the energizing landscape of Bangkok to help me understand just what it was about our past decade in the U.S. that softened me and slowed me down in the way that it did. I want to know how I got here, and I want to figure out how to merge the mother in me (who is charged with creating a dependable, safe and solid world for my children) with the independent person who isn’t done growing and learning and pushing myself and rewriting the rules and really living.
Originally published at Sharpen Your Edge, August, 2014
Still hungry? Further reading:
- The Betty Draper Effect. What life in a 1960s time capsule taught me about the 21st century.
- The Sum of Our Parts (and Hers). Society is relentless in dissecting the beauty fails of celebrities. Are we even rougher on ourselves?
- Welcome to the Pool Party. Tween life on Instagram is getting weirder and weirder.
- Why Didn’t I Question 28 Years of Birth Control? To medicate or not to medicate? It was never even a question.
Melissa Rayworth writes for U.S. and international publications about the building blocks of modern life, covering everything from parenting and marriage, global travel and expat life, home design and organization, the myths & realities of modern suburbia, and the issue of beauty and body image in a world still rife with sexism. She tweets at@mrayworth. Melissa currently splits her time between Pittsburgh, New York and Bangkok, Thailand.
©2014, Melissa Rayworth