The Warrior Song – My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, the bird sings because it has a song.

Maya Angelou

I made a major change over a year ago.  I decided that rather than go back to a job that I was good at but didn’t offer me much in the realm of satisfaction, I would stay home with our newborn son.  With the full support of my husband, I made the decision to “consciously uncouple” from my career.   I don’t blame the job, and I didn’t opt out because I thought that staying at home was the prescribed role for women.  At one time, I had that thought that women should stay home.  My certainty was steeped in the belief that if you commit to a role, stuck by it, life would work in your favor.  I thought that everything you ever wanted – or thought you wanted – would just work out without much pain and hurt.  But strict roles only work when everything stays the same.  If there’s one thing that having kids has taught me, change is constant.

In the end, I didn’t leave my career because I wanted to fit in a certain role as a mother.  I realized that a career doesn’t stand in the way of motherhood anymore than anything else I pursue.     I mean does anything really work seamlessly and in tandem with motherhood?  Does cooking a meal, managing a household, volunteering, being an activist, a friend, a woman, a wife, an athlete, a professional, an entrepreneur, a neighbor or anything at all go hand in hand with motherhood?  Becoming a mother has shown me that everything requires effort, balance, teamwork, a village, and some chocolate.

Ultimately, I wanted to make a choice that wasn’t rooted in fear and insecurity.  Guess what?  It’s all harder than I thought it would be.  Messy doesn’t even cover it.  Staying at home gave me no more security in my mothering abilities than being a working mom did.  I thought making difficult choices took you down the right road?  I thought the road less travelled made all the difference?  I’m looking at you Robert Frost!   I chose a road that would confront my fears, but I’m still scared.  Now there is one singular thing I am failing at spectacularly, rather than, doing well enough at work to cover up my insufficiencies at home.

And when in doubt, I resort to old tendencies and beliefs.  I don’t know if it’s better to stay at home or have a career, but my old beliefs?  Those, I’m well acquainted with.  They’re negative and destructive, but at least I know them.  Right?  They’ve been my constant companion these 30 plus years.  Maybe you have some too?  At their core, mine sound like this:  you’re no good; you’re damaged; you will never change; who do you think you are; everything is your fault – everything.

Who has time to worry about having a career, the right parenting techniques or the best new diet to shed 10 pounds when everything is an assault.  Like, EVERYTHING.  That bad mood that the grocery store clerk was in – my fault somehow.  My daughter wishing for a two-story house – my fault.  Global warming – my fault.  So what is the right answer?  It’s not like you can Google that.

Weeks ago, I shared these thoughts with my therapist.   She pushed me to begin with what I know about myself.  A list of the good things.  Because when you have no answers, you should start with the good things you do know.  Then, she asked me if I could believe these things about myself.  It’s all very Stewart Smalley – I’m good enough, I’m smart enough – except that when you have a hard time believing in your good, then it’s actually not a silly SNL skit anymore.  It’s heartbreaking.   But I can play along.  If I’m not my old wounded self, then the possibilities are endless.

Wait.  The other shoe is bound to drop.  Because life taught me at an early age that the other shoe always drops.  Hurt happens.  Hand in hand sometimes with the good.  It’s what Glennon Doyle Melton calls “brutiful” – brutal and beautiful.   It’s not always drastic or life threatening, though sometimes it is.  The shoe dropping could be the moment you lose it and yell at your daughter for no good reason at all.  Or it could be the miscommunication with your husband that leads to a blow out of epic proportions that leaves no one unscathed.  Or it could be a rejection letter, the job you didn’t get or worse, silence.  These things happen.  The disappointments of life, of others, or of ourselves are real.  Whatever shape they take, the messiness and the hurt is waiting in the wings.

So, I asked my therapist the obvious question.  Why bother?  Why bother risking it when you can’t guarantee the outcome?  Why should I try so hard if I can’t guarantee that I will get what I want or that I won’t get hurt in the process?  My therapist doesn’t draw my attention elsewhere to shiny objects or silver linings – we’re so beyond that.  I’m glad.  She never denies the hurt and sometimes we sit in this place for a bit.  Feeling the weight of fear, the discomfort of hurt.  Just when I think I’m going to get coddled, she asks what if despite the hurt, we live life anyway?  What if we believe the good and take the risk, as they say, to fight the good fight?  Not because we can guarantee an outcome but because we’re fighting to make life, our life and lives around us, even an ounce better.

Not long after I was on the hunt for a new tattoo.  (I mean, how else does one go about sorting out questions without answers except when on the hunt for a new tattoo?)  And in a moment of divine intervention, I came across the quote from Maya Angelou.  “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, the bird sings because it has a song.”  This is it, people!  Eureka!  This is what it means to fight the good fight.  Not because I have an answer, but because I have a song to sing.  And the angels sang or my brain exploded, or both.

You know what happened next?  The song.  First – no one else can be mother to my kiddos.  Having a career, staying at home, being involved, pursuing my passions, or even not knowing what to pursue, nothing – nothing can change that.  My death won’t even change that.  I will always be Lola and Eli’s mom.  No one else can sing that song for me.  It gets better.  Despite and in spite of my imperfections, my husband and kids are getting the best of me.  Even when it’s messy and ugly and hurtful, it is my best because it’s the one where I sing a song instead of live in fear or shame.  It’s not even close to perfect, and in certain moments it’s not even beautiful, but it is so good.  This is the best part of me; the part that seeks change and growth and goodness. The part that gets to choose how to live life.  That is my song, my warrior song.

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