A couple of weeks ago I was at a low point in my life. I was stressed, I was sick, and I was pretty miserable. At times like that I am reminded of how very different my adult life has turned out compared to how I always imagined it would. And I very much doubt I am alone in having these feelings.
But, as often happens, as I was knee-deep in these feelings (note I could have been much deeper!!) I stumbled across exactly what I needed...
This book. Eat, Pray, Love is the book I have been yearning for and just haven't bothered to pick it up, despite having known about it for a long time! And then in one weekend we found both the DVD and the book (the book in a second hand shop too) and I made sure to make time to sit and read it whenever I could.
This weekend TJ and Little Man have gone away on a little "venture" as Little Man called it. So I have been home alone. It's a strange feeling being on my own and actually having time to do what I want instead of trying to fit way too many things into my life, most of these connected to work, being a parent or just because I find I cannot say "no" and offer to do way too many things! And so Saturday was spent feeling an underlying guilt for not doing anything productive at all... because, after all, there were so many things I wanted to do that I just hadn't had time to do when so busy doing other things, if that makes sense?
But by Sunday I had found a bit of a groove and enjoyed breakfast in the garden, crocheting a little something, photographing the flowers that filled me with joy and picking up this book to read a bit more. And yes, I was wearing my flowery pyjamas with bright yellow shoes and enjoying being lazy as anything at that point.
The sun was shining and I felt hugely content reading the book. Whilst I do not have the same passion for food as the author (my relationship with food has never been great, but is slowly improving) I do love the way she expresses so much joy in learning another language. As a linguist, this is something I can really relate to.
Okay, I'm not sure whether I can still call myself a linguist because I graduated almost 8 years ago, and it is almost 10 years ago that I first set off to Germany for 3 months and then Russia for 3 months. But my love of languages remains, even if I do not have the time to practise much these days. I've always loved learning languages just for the sheer joy of being able to communicate in a whole new way and find these amasing new words and turns of phrase that feel so sensual almost as you try to get your tongue around the closest pronunciation to a native as possible and open up a whole new world of discovery. It's why at school I spent at least some time learning Latin, French, German, Italian, and Chinese and why I loved helping my dad with his Spanish homework and then went on to study both German and Russian at university. And the Elizabthe Gilbert manages time and time again to express exactly what it is I love so much about learning all these languages.
Interestingly, though, I never planned on going to university to study languages. I had always thought I would train to be a teacher, not study some random degree just for the sake of it. And in this respect I always tell people I know that you kinda need to want to go to university to enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the experience, but the whole time I was there I remember wondering what the point was. I learnt far more in my 3 months in Germany than I ever did in the 8 years prior to it. But my teachers had told me to study something first and then get a PGCE in teaching. But by the time I completed 4 years at university I had pretty much had my fill of education and wanted nothing more than to work rather than study any further.
And I'm glad I didn't become a teacher for that very reason, to be honest. Teachers have a hell of a time these days. But what this little story of mine means is that my life didn't really work out the way I had planned and actually that can be okay...
This afternoon I reached chapter 30 of the book and it amuses me that it is in this chapter that I really found my inner thoughts and feelings reflected back out at myself (after all, I turned 30 just a few weeks ago). In this chapter, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about how she imagined being the one who would end up having children and how making a choice not to do so can lead you to feeling guilty, as if it is a selfish decision:
"I thought it would be me who would end up with a houseful of muddy boots and hollering kids... we grew up into different adults than anyone might have foretold when we were children. It's better this way though".
"Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reasons not to have children are the same, either, though. Nor are all those reasons necessarily selfish... I say this because I'm still working out that accusation, which was levelled against me many times by my husbands as our marriage was collapsing - selfishness. Every time he said it, I agreed completely, accepted the guilt, bought everything in the store."
For me, aside from the going to university and becoming a teacher thing that never turned out the way I expected, the biggest thing I always thought I knew about myself was that I was the most maternal and deeply broody person I had ever known and would therefore end up surrounded by children.
And I'm not the only one who thought this. My aunt once told me she thought I'd have 6 kids. And my friends have told me, since I've had Little Man, how cruel it seems that the most maternal person they have ever known doesn't feel able to have any more children.
And for a long, long time that realisation has hurt. In my mid-20s, TJ and I discussed not having any children at all, because my health wasn't great at that time. We talked about how much more we could do if we didn't have children. But ultimately I have been broody since before I even hit double figures in age myself, so it was kinda inevitable that urge to have a child would kick in at some point. And when it did it hit very hard indeed!
I was so very lucky to be able to fall pregnant naturally and have a healthy (in terms of outcome) pregnancy. However the experience was sheer hell and fraught with worry and even almost 3 years on we still feel our world rocked by what we went through. But I have found myself falling into this trap of wanting another child because I didn't want this to be "it" for us. I didn't want that part of my life I always dreamed about (i.e. having babies) to be over so soon. But deep down I also knew that it was and it needed to be and that this was actually the right thing for us.
But it's so easy to fall into that trap of self-doubt. Yes, having an only child means I can give him so much more than I could if I were even more stretched than I am now by having another child. Yes, having an only child has enabled me to write a book (another dream which I never expected to happen at all, go figure). And yes, having an only child means that as he grows older and more independent I find I have time to do the things that I personally love doing. I have time to sit in the garden, in the sunshine, reading for pleasure. I have the time to blog about the things that mean something to me. I have the time (and the money) to attend a blogging conference for the third year running. I have all this time, and energy and space, that I would not have were we to have another child.
We've talked about fostering. And actually fostering is something I do feel we will do one day. But not right now. Not for a long time. Not until our only child no longer needs us so much. Right now I want us to have time to enjoy life... to be like Elizabeth Gilbert and find pleasure in life by saying, "no... that path wasn't right for us". And to do so is not selfish at all... selfish, for me, would be putting my entire family through the stress of having another child because they would need to hold me up whilst I followed a long-held dream that no longer fits in my life.
And nobody is more surprised by that than me!
Today I have learned something I have been trying to learn for years. That is is okay to step away from the dreams and plans you have held for years. To realise that whilst it is scary to do so, whilst you may worry about whether it's the right thing to do, and whilst you may panic that one day you will regret it, sometimes stepping away is not only a good thing but necessary to find your own centre once more. As I discovered in another chapter in the book, sometimes we do not always know who or what we are anymore, but it becomes clear what we are not... and clinging on to that just because we don't know who we are now isn't the wisest or healthiest decision we'll ever make.
If you haven't read Eat, Pray, Love I cannot recommend it enough. It is such an easy read... Elizabeth Gilbert has such a beautiful honesty to her writing and for all the times she has had me nodding my head in agreement she has also had me crying with laughter just as much with her turn of phrase and amusing descriptions of a situation. I promise you, if you buy a copy you will not regret it!