I’m a know-it-all control-freak. I take pride in my self-control and the accomplishments that have resulted from it: my good grades as a kid and my activism as an adult. I like being aware of what is going on in my world, my community, my house, and especially myself.
It’s a defense mechanism; in theory, if I can control the situation, nothing bad will happen. As a kid, I developed it as my armor against bullying. The more I cried, the harder they pushed me. So I stopped crying – at least in public.
Because I could control my emotions, I looked down on those who couldn’t. When my mother-in-law told her story of tearing up while reading Sylvester and the Magic Pebble to a third grade class, I used to smirk.
So when my eyes are more than damp over a beer commercial, my initial reaction is, “What’s wrong with me?” But I’m coming to realize that the answer is: “Nothing at all.”
Just as motherhood has changed my priorities, schedule and body, it’s irrevocably transformed my mental state. All of my emotions are turned up to 11. My joys are more joyous, my worries deeper, my anger hotter, my peacefulness more content. When I hear my son’s giggles as I “fly” him through the air, I smile wider than I thought I could. Worries tickle my mind about about the simplest and most complex aspects of his current and future life – from eating pizza to climate change. My temper flares when I read about children abused by individuals or institutions. I melt when I feel my son’s feathery hair brush my cheek as I’m hugging him.
His infant’s touch shattered the glass box I tried to build around my heart.
I saw my struggles reflected as I watched Inside Out, Pixar’s latest movie designed to entertain kids and move adults to tears. In the movie, Joy (a little girl’s actual sense of joy) tries to separate out her “co-worker” Sadness so she can’t contaminate the girl’s memories. At one point, Joy even draws a circle for Sadness to stand inside. But no matter what Joy does, Sadness keeps wandering out. I immediately empathized with Joy’s quest to keep Sadness in ever-smaller boxes, safe and segregated from others.
Of course, in the movie and in life, keeping sadness contained fails. Life doesn’t work that way. Love doesn’t work that way. Loving anyone – especially a child – requires your whole self. You can’t lock away, reject or ignore parts of it and still love fully. You need to be fully you.
But despite knowing that simple fact, I had been fighting it, pushing away the pieces that I wasn’t comfortable with. I felt like I simply wasn’t good enough if couldn’t keep a hold on my emotions, if I was weak.
Biking home from work one day, I realized how sick of fighting I was. How radical accepting all of me – even the awkward parts – is. That I didn’t have to live up to anyone’s image of the “perfect mom” – mine or society’s. So I let go of it. At that moment, my mind was as clear as the sky above me.
Of course, that clarity didn’t last long. Rather, growth is a continual process, a stop-and-go, push-and-pull of acceptance and rejection. Every day, I still struggle to be who I am without self-criticism. I bite my lip and try to ignore the biting words in my head. And as hard as it is, I know it will never end – this journey is a life-long one.
But I also know it’s worth it. If my new normal means that I cry while reading children’s books – even ones I don’t actually like – so be it. Because I love my son enough to love myself, even the weepy parts.
Shannon Brescher Shea has been a writer for as long as she can remember and a mother rather more recently. She and her husband are trying to raise their toddler to be as awesome as they believe he already is. When she’s not at her day job as a science communicator for the federal government, she writes about parenting and growing up in the process herself at We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So. Follow her on Twitter.
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