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Words I Just Finished Reading

The Kitchen House
The Atomic Weight of Love
We're All Damaged
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Wishful Drinking
News of the World
The Forgotten Garden
Out of My Mind
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
My Not So Perfect Life
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Anna and the French Kiss
Little Bee

Julie's favorite books »


Be Here Now

I want to be an incredible mother-in-law.

Lately, I find myself thinking about the boys getting older, and I consider their futures.  And in one of these potential futures, they lose all interest in me: their dear, sweet, overbearing mummy.  It’s because I call them too much, their phone ringing endlessly, their voicemail filling with my mindless drivel.  This will be me. 

I become doddering and boring and repetitive, and they start ignoring my calls.  So my future self suggests a mitigation: be a cool mom to your boys from here on out.  Be present and available, but never obtrusive or demanding.  Have the right answers about everything.  Additionally, be sure that their future wives really, really like you.  Buy them lots of gifts, my future self whispers.  Your path is that of the ideal mother-in-law.  Have zero needs and provide only benefit, and then you’ll be able to just hang around them as their trusty servant.  Until you die.  The end.

The New Year always brings a mix of excitement and melancholy for me.  This year will be exciting and new and fresh, except for all the ways it will look exactly the same.  It’s not fatalistic, but more contemplative.  This is life right now: the boys are growing, and beginning to request their space.  “Is it okay if I call you Mom instead of Mommy?”  “Could you not kiss me at school?”  This is right and appropriate and strange.  It gives rise to all my future-fretting because it was only yesterday I was cooing at chubby, smiling babies and wiping sticky toddler hands and playing Candy Land.  So my mind spins out the timeline: I’ll wake up tomorrow and they’ll be teenagers.  The day after they’ll be men.  It’s the cruel twist of parenting: they’ll always be mine, but someday they’ll belong to themselves.  I used to be the star of their show, but it was only a limited run.    

And I don’t really believe that they’ll leave me in a ditch someday.  But I’m so wholly immersed in their lives now.  The pool is deep, and it’s full of sports and school and honest talk about the hard, messy work of growing up.  It’s also full of laughter and fun and open-faced joy.  So to imagine the future in which that’s absent?  To imagine the year I won’t have to get up early on Christmas morning to open presents?  Bittersweet, indeed.

In those moments, I decide that the only solution is to separate myself now.  If I have all my distractions and busyness lined up, then perhaps it won’t hurt so badly when they go.  And this is sometimes quite easy to do, because parenting is a grind.  When the kids are polite and kind and peaceful, then there’s no place I’d rather be.  But life, alas, is full of less golden-hued moments.  And in those moments, I’m convinced that I’m wasting the best years of my life and intelligence on these small people who are totally ungrateful and will never appreciate me never, ever, ever.  No one lets me do anything, I cry.  In this mood, I am a pure delight. 

The truth: being a parent has forever changed me.  It’s enlarged my heart space and my head space; the stork brought me babies, but he also brought perspective, and joy, and depth.  (He also brought worry and guilt and crushing sleep-deprivation.)  But even with all the ways my children have changed me, they were never meant to be everything to me.  Their lives are gifts to me, but their destiny is to be a gift somewhere else, for someone else, perhaps for many.  They’re not mine to keep.

So I’m faced with two choices.  I can either play my Envision a Depressing Future Game or I can stay here, in the present, which, it turns out, is the only inhabitable moment.  It’s impossible to predict the future.  Why do I believe that doing so will insulate me against anything?  Why do I concern myself with who I’ll be then when there’s plenty to discover about who I am right now? 

Staying in this moment is a discipline.  Change is made bit by bit, and it’s hard, grueling work; it requires self-discipline and self-denial and, most painfully, it requires me to admit that I’m not perfect.  But if I’m committed to self-discovery, then the future will arrive as it always does: day by day.  I can only take the next right step, and then the next.  Suddenly, it will be the future, and I’ll be who I’m meant to be then, just as I am who I’m meant to be now.  There’s grace in the moment, in this moment; there will be grace enough for the coming moments.  So I’ll stay here.  I’ll be here now, believing that this moment has its own treasures.  The New Year will tempt with its promises of fresh starts and endless possibilities and instant fixes, but one tiny snag will remain: me.  Imperfect, messy me: who unloads half the dishwasher and walks away; who loves well but is sometimes controlling and insecure; who wants to know the future but knows it’s a fool’s errand.  Me, who will focus in on those impossible, important words: be here now.  

Me, who loves being a mom and is, indeed, going to focus on those words but then she’ll daydream about running away from home because Christmas break is a quiet, exacting form of torture.  Especially when she’s trying to finish her fifty-sixth book.

(Maybe sleeping in on Christmas Day won't be so terrible after all.)

Happy New Year, friends.    

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