“”No man can live without joy” is what Thomas Aquinas wrote. And I confess, it is true, I have known many dead waiting to die”.[i]
Here I sit, fireside, in a leather chair, sipping my Starbucks. I haven’t seen my husband or children in 24 hours. I’ve interacted only with total strangers, a silent hotel room, a cab driver, and the wait staff at the hotel restaurant.
That gift-giving big heart of a man booked me this night away with belly swollen and just weeks from its time to give birth. I envisioned relaxation and hours upon hours to myself to finally catch up. To finally get a chance to do what I never seem to have time for (whatever that may be).
Since the time he dropped me off yesterday, my mind has been spinning and whirling and not quite sure where to stop. In truth, this little getaway has been strangely difficult. A wrestling, of sorts.
I confess, I spent most of my time yesterday just flitting around from one thing to another. I went on facebook, I watched at least an hour of natural birth videos on youtube, I downloaded Uno onto my ipod and never played it. I read a book, some posts from my google reader, had dinner by myself, and flipped through TV channels mindlessly until I had the sense to just turn it off altogether. I sat in that king-sized bed surrounded by mounds of white fluffy pillows, wearing just my hubby’s t-shirt (At 37 weeks pregnant? Yeah.) until I fell asleep knowing I wasn’t going to be wakened by anything other than the little one dancing on my bladder.
In these mothering-the-little-years-life I often find myself thinking that if only I just had more time to myself, more hours in a day, more focus on my own wants and needs, then I could be a better mother, a better wife. More organized, less behind on everything. I was certain that I would be more patient, wiser, and happier. A veritable trifecta of Mrs. Brady, Martha Stewart, and Mother Theresa.
My days are ever hemmed in by a load of darks and load of whites and a load of colors. The towels and linens, the dirty diapers, and by the time all is washed (sometimes twice when left overnight accidentally), dried, folded, and put away, the hamper is overflowing again and the work is never ever done. When is there time for me sit and relax? To get my daily dose of joy and fulfillment by finally catering to myself after a day of servanthood?
I’ve never been away before with solely my own self for company. I felt the need to pretend. To act like it was all old hat to me. “I’m not just a housewife that spends her days within four walls with (almost) 3 children aged 3 and under, wiping boogers and bums, sweeping crumbs from the eternally-dirty dining room floor” I wanted to shout. I am important! I am more than that! Heaven forbid anyone scoffingly see through my stylish maternity cropped trench coat and cute bag to know that all I am is a mere servant with raisins and baby wipes at the bottom of my purse: the antithesis of vogue sophistication.
In truth my insides were screaming at me to notice. To wake up and realize that more me-time is not the answer. “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it!” wrote G.K. Chesterton, and I see the truth in this. I am not ashamed of my servant-status, my resumé of changing diapers and soothing babies to sleep and sharing in the delight of a puddle-splashing preschooler.
The self is small and I am glad and my heart burns with the knowledge that I am exactly what I need to be to fully receive joy.
As I wrestled with my own soul and my expectations for this time away, I found myself humbled by my temptation to pretend. I’m not a savvy business traveler, nor a career woman with a company credit card. I can try to play that part, but my fumbling fingers as I reach first for the cab’s front door then clumsily change my mind and switch to the back door likely gave me away (as did my basketball-sized abdomen).
I don’t know proper cab etiquette and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not in control of this wild and unnoticed life.
If I seek peace and joy by fulfilling myself and my own ambitions I will not find it. Not in a million nights of hotel getaways, and not in unrestricted free time to myself. It is not in the fancy champagne brunch (champagne-less for the swollen-bellied), nor the designer coffee beverage that I slowly sip, uninterrupted. The American Dream (Mother’s Edition) of housekeeper, cook, and nanny cannot offer it either.
It turns out that moments of peace and quiet, away from the daily grind do not bring true peace if one is running away. Peace must be found in the very life that is lived and breathed, not the moments in between.
I sit here with myself for company, and I realize this. I did not leave in order to get away. I came in order to step back and renew my perspective. To see with fresh eyes the joy that awaits when I walk back in that front door and back into the daily grind.
This was not a getaway, it was a coming-to, and I see the joy that is present in my mundane and precious life within those four sacred walls. In the midst of snotty-nosed kiddos that whine and breakdown on the kitchen floor because I wouldn’t let them push their chairs up too close to the stove while I stand with aching back and tired feet and the endless cycle of meal-making for my beautiful babies and husband. There is joy in that life and I whisper my thanks to the Gift-Giver for these beautiful gifts.
I’ll see them again in just a few hours with smiles wide and hugs and kisses freely given. I’ll inwardly gasp for breath in gratitude as I haul my toddler up on my hip with belly large, and I’ll choose joy, and I will know:
I’m just living the dream, baby. Living the dream.
[i] Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, pg. 177.