Friday, October 7, 2016

Privilege vs. Accomplishment: Fun Birthday Thoughts

Yesterday was my birthday. My birthday is always one of my favorite days of the year. Who doesn't love a day devoted to self-celebration, excess, cake and favorite foods, presents, and messages from friends new and old? I also really love getting older. I have felt out of my depth for most of my life, and every year that passes I feel more confident, less worried about others' opinions of me, and more comfortable in my own skin. (I am shooting, at this point, for an early grandmotherly look. I want long grey hair, a big, soft body that I will drape with cool skirts and scarves, and tons of funky jewelry. I will call everyone "dear" and talk a lot about crystals and spells and push coffee on everyone. This goal is SUPER attainable- I am at least halfway there.)

I was thinking a lot about how lucky I am and how much love there is in my little life and I was separating out what has been given to me versus what I have earned, because that's a fun way to celebrate getting older. But it's important.  I took a picture of my sons and I was thinking about posting it and captioning it something like "My two biggest accomplishments of the past 31 years" or something similarly clever. And then I paused, because my sons are not accomplishments. Sitting with that felt weird. 

My body made my sons, not because I worked hard or because I had to go through a lot, but in the lottery of the world I got a body that easily makes babies, and then they fairly easily slid out of me, and I truly had little to nothing to do with that. Now, yes, I am raising them, and trying very hard to give them the things they need while also giving myself the things I need, but I screw up EVERY day and I have a MASTERS DEGREE in working with little kids, so I can't really say that surviving my parenting battles is any real accomplishment. Also, they are people, and calling other people a personal accomplishment seems kind of gross. So my sons, the two biggest sources of frustration and joy in my life, are not really an accomplishment I can claim.

Maybe my house? Well, no. Moving into this new house is not that big of an accomplishment. I didn't build this damn thing. There was a lot of stress with the move and my family made it through the summer with the help of the people around us who held us in their loving arms and soothed me every step of the way. There is work to be done turning this house into OUR HOME, and we're partway there, but I've even had endless help there: friends and family turning up to paint and peel and clean and love, money from my grandfather's legacy to pay for repairs that might have had to wait, a detail-oriented husband who stayed on top of bills and paperwork when I was too emotionally burnt out from leaving our old home to deal. So this house is a blessing and I'm so happy I'm here, but I can't call it a personal accomplishment.

I was starting to get nervous. My writing? I've always been able to put words together. My job? Given to me when I was young, secured by a contract rule that says that after three years, you're pretty much guaranteed a position. My relationship? Ben's patience is not my accomplishment.

Well, I'm thirty-one and I've done nothing.

EXCEPT. Well. I'm a lot different than I was even five years ago.  The biggest change I can recognize is my temper at home- a combination of medicine and therapy and long talks with my husband have helped me realize how I effect my home when I unleash the emotions that I keep pent up in public and as a result, our home life is happier. I am happier. It's a work in progress. It's an accomplishment.

I speak up more now. My voice still shakes and I still turn bright red, but I no longer assume that anyone older than me is smarter than me. I no longer live in constant fear of offending someone I work with, or someone I interact with, or the teller at the bank who might overhear me.  It's a work in progress. It's an accomplishment.

I love more now. I went through a period in my twenties where I was very closed off. I liked being home and alone and I never wanted to visit or have people over. Getting out to meet someone was a huge inconvenience. I resented people who wanted my time. I don't know if I was depressed or just selfish, but I had a really hard time holding up my end of relationships. I still get overwhelmed sometimes, but I have come to realize the joy of having a group of people who are your people. I appreciate the push and pull of the time we give each other, and realize that it's not a zero sum game. My female friendships are a freaking treasure. It's an accomplishment that I got out of my own damn way to embrace them.

I am a better teacher and writer because I've stuck with both. I've taken criticism and made adjustments. I've studied craft and applied new techniques. I've looked inside myself, thought about what I specifically can offer, and used that to improve my practice. When I remember my first years teaching, or think about some of my first drafts and stories, I cringe so hard I almost turn inside out. But over the years, I've improved, and I truly believe that will continue. Becoming better through hard work is an accomplishment.

So I guess it's not a throwaway life. I have been given SO much. I will never for one second stop recognizing my unbelievable privilege. But maybe even knowing that is an accomplishment in itself. I do not take this life for granted. I can't wait to see what this next year will bring. 

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