I haven't been happy for a while now. It began with what my father used to describe as "general malaise." Then my discontent started creeping into other areas of my life, slowly and a little at a time, the way that hot cheese will escape the end of a Hot Pocket when you cook it too long.
I was talking to a friend about feeling unhappy and she asked what changes would need to happen in my life for me to feel happy instead. I thought that a good start in answering was to list the things that I felt were contributing to my unhappiness, and I had an epiphany of sorts about the way that I've been seeing myself. In order to get you there, let's go back a few years.
Five years ago, June 30th was a Tuesday.
I wish I could say that I know this because I have the savant-like ability to name the day of the week that any given date fell on, like the girl with autism in that one Baby-Sitter's Club book that handled the issue of autism badly, even for a children's book from the 80s.
Alas, that is not the case. And parenthetically, precious few of the books I loved as a child have held up well over time from a literary standpoint.
I remember that June 30th, 2009 was a Tuesday, because it was my due date. Roo's due date. I knew that she wouldn't be born on her due date, because pretty much no one delivers on their due date. But the date still felt significant, because it was the date I'd had in my mind for nine months, and reaching it felt like a great accomplishment. So even though I knew she wouldn't be born that day, I felt like something should happen to mark the occasion of my due date.
Nothing did. It was a perfectly average Tuesday in every way, except for the fact that I was really super-duper pregnant and Roo kept kicking me in the kidneys (they must be pleasantly squishy or something, because she always kicked them). She stayed snug and warm in my belly for another week, and absolutely nothing happened on my due date. Despite my expectations, my hopes, and my timeline, all I got was a backache.
To quote my friend Rob, isn't that just like life?
I got to thinking about that the other day - about expectations and plans and mental due dates. How many times in my life have various due dates come and gone with nothing to show for them? Dozens, at least, if not a hundred or more. But despite a dearth of any savant-like skill with dates, I do tend to remember them, and more often than not I use them as a way of measuring my progress, or more specifically my lack thereof.
Three years ago I realized that it had been a decade since my high school graduation (May 24, 2001) and I quite naturally took inventory of my life in that space of time. It was an eventful decade, but I still felt like a failure, because I was single and fat and working part-time for $8 an hour. I always thought I'd have a college degree and a husband and children and a Volkswagen by the time my ten-year reunion rolled around. I had nothing to show for the decade that had elapsed since high school. It's been thirteen years now and I've still got nothing to show.
Even the revised life plans that I made when I placed Roo didn't come to fruition. I knew where I wanted to be when Roo was 1 year old, and 2 years old and so forth, and I am not in any of those places or stages of life. But, I told myself, that's okay. I just need to adjust my timeline. Change my when-Roo-is-four goals to my when-Roo-is-eight-or-nine goals.
I'd been feeling better about things last August, but then I took an online survey. I don't typically do that but at that time every single Target receipt I got had an invitation on it, and I needed to kill time while my cupcakes were in the oven. Nothing cuts to the heart of your insecurities quite like answering demographic questions. I already knew all of these things about myself, but it wasn't until Target asked me on one page that I thought, I am in my late twenties, I am single, I have never been married, I have no children, and I make less than $30,000 a year. That cheered me right up, let me tell you. I was glad to have cupcakes to look forward to; I needed them.
And then last fall I hit another due date, another deadline I set for myself. I turned 30. It wasn't as scary as I thought it might be. I actually had several days of birthday, culminating in a party where my fantastic friends surprised me with this cake:
(How you doin', Tom Selleck?)
I should mention that the very first thing I did in my thirties was put my contact lenses in, and then put my glasses back on. Isn't memory loss supposed to start in your forties? Anyway. After my week of birthday, I thought, well, shoot. I'm 30 now, and all I have to show for it is half of Tom Selleck's torso.*
Because that's what I've been doing since my birthday and probably my entire adult life. When I look at these due dates, at these deadlines, I feel that I've fallen short because of what I don't have. (And before you suggest counting my blessings, know that I actually have a list of my blessings. I am a compulsive list-maker; if you ever want to know what my faults are I have a Google doc I can show you.) I didn't used to do that. When did I start? When did I stop seeing myself as a whole person with innate value and start seeing myself as a collection of empty spaces?
My only consolation, if you can call it that, is that I know I'm not alone in this. I think it's a societal disease, this idea that who we are is what we're missing. I know plenty of other women who are put into boxes marked Single and Childless. How messed up is that? I've written before about how labeling birth mothers dehumanizes them. It's true for everyone, and especially when that label implies that they've come up short, that something is missing.
I want to get married. I want to be a mother. But I want to be happy even if neither of those things ever happens for me. I want to feel whole just the way that I am now. I want to see myself as the sum of what I do have, good and bad, and not as a list of unfulfilled dreams. I want to be enough. I want the woman that I am right now, right this second, to be enough for me to be happy.
When I was a child I was focused on what I could do, what I did well, and what I wanted to do. I didn't ever feel like I wasn't enough as I was. What changed in the past twenty years? I mean, obviously plenty of things have changed, but who I am fundamentally, as a human being, as a child of God - what's really changed? Nothing has changed. If I was enough then, I'm enough now.
I don't mean to imply that there's no room for improvement. I want to end each day as a better person than I was when I began it (how's that for an unattainable goal?). But I'm tired of feeling inadequate because of the things I don't have. Here's the thing - I'm never going to run out of due dates. I'm never going to stop having occasion to mark my progress and reevaluate my life. I don't have a lot of control over that. What I do have control over is how I let these due dates affect me.
Roo will be five in a little over a week. Another milestone - another deadline. I am light-years away from where I wanted to be when she turns five. I may never get to where I wanted to be at this point in my life. That doesn't have to matter. I can still be happy with where I am.
I know I'm not going to get there right away. It takes time to change the habit of being dissatisfied. But I want to start now. I want to learn to be happy with myself and my life, no matter what. It's time. I'm due.
*The left half. Well, my left, his right.