I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a wife, mother, and a mental health counselor with a Master’s degree (a very funny joke at the pizza restaurant where I currently work). In polite conversation, it must seem that I am highly functioning, a success story, “Oh yes, I’m working for a private practice gaining hours towards licensure”, “Our daughter just started understanding German words, teaching her a second language is important to us”, “Well, James was recently promoted in his company, and we just celebrated our two year wedding anniversary”. These things slip right out of my mouth when I’m asked about them, as if my quick tongue is trying to cover for me. I wonder if they notice my face flush, my wringing hands, my dodging eyes; even though I’m speaking truth, there’s a lie underneath. I’m working for a private practice, but have no clients. My anxiety crawls all over me like spiders, reminding me that I’m unsure of what I’m doing right or wrong with my daughter. My relationship with my husband is still flexing it’s muscles, our love is coming in to itself. These are things I can’t say to anyone. I can’t because, if I did, what would people think of me? 27 is too old to still be figuring it out. 27 is too old to not have a solid career. 27 is too old to be unsure of myself as a mother. At 27, I should be thriving in my role as a woman who has it all, and all together: Master’s, husband, daughter, bills, home. I can’t think at this moment of who exactly handed me this criteria for a successful and happy life, I can only imagine that I’ve pieced together the expectations of everyone I’ve known and created this inescapable standard for myself. I put myself in this box. My anxiety, my self doubt, my depressive states, all a product of the woman I’ve decided I should become. The woman I haven’t become.
The first memory I can access glows in the back of my mind, sunshine yellow, and makes my heart flutter; at least that’s how I perceive it this time. Turning 3, running up the steps of our weathered porch, laughing in that pure and joyful way that children do. Our brick house was painted gentle custard color, and in my swirling memory now, it may well have been made of sunshine. After I turn the chipped gold doorknob and fling open the porch door, I see my pink-and-white ballerina cake and there is wonder that explodes from the center of my chest.
Just there, the memory fades. I can’t grasp what I did next, I only know there are photographs that show I opened gifts that thrilled me the second I ripped open the paper, and probably bored me the next day. This memory is one I access often, as it reminds me of what basic, authenic joy feels like when it comes in and floods my body temporarily. When the sunshine ends, and the memory fades to the back of my mind, I’m left with a tearful sense of loss for that time, as I know it will never reoccur. My brain has grown, my range of emotions expanded tenfold, and things done can never be undone. The innocence of my small years has left me, and here I can only access that innocence, never regain it. So I mourn.
I guess I’ll start with the water.
A hot shower is a luxury these days, and the water refocuses my senses when it runs over me, drowning out the noise. I hear the baby cry in the other room, but I know her father has her, and I just need a moment more to wash my feet. The water rushes, and my heartbeat slows.
The baby isn’t crying anymore, and I hear my husband singing. I smile into my vanity mirror which shows me how tired I am and I look away. It’s early, I know I still need to wash the dishes and fold the laundry. There’s a whiskey waiting for me when I finish, so I figure I will. My hair goes up in a sloppy wet bun, as it always does, the comfort of the water long gone. I haven’t been comfortable in a long time, but that’s all I’ll say about that for now.
I remind myself to put on socks, because the floors are always dirty no matter what I do. Walking into our patchwork living room, I see my baby buried in my husband’s beard and I know she’ll need me to sing her to sleep soon so I hurry with the laundry. The dull hum of the television pushes into my head and jumbles my thoughts; I feel as tired as my reflection looked.
The baby makes her sweet sleep sounds, and I carry her to her crib, singing all the songs to which I know the words. She sleeps, and I relax my back for the first time all day. I’m relieved when she sleeps, but I miss her all the same.