One step forward, two steps…

In a time where movement is restricted and crowds are the new social evil, these days are filled with work and family. I keep busy and tend to the here and now but once the day is done I try to find quiet time that calms my mind. Being at home this much is not normal for me, and I’ve become restless. I’ve become sedentary and still and I don’t like it.

As I approached my midlife, I developed a new found appreciation of household freedom. Things were more in order. I didn’t feel obligated to maintain the same meal schedule as when my kids were home. I enthusiastically dispelled the sense of responsibility I overcultivated as a young mother and enjoyed the ability to stay up late, see friends on a whim, and not cook to please everyone in the house. These BP times (Before Pandemic) supported a more “free to be me” exploration. But not any more. As we have shut our doors, wear our masks and stay close to home, everyone has had to make changes. I now have family who have returned to the nest, as the struggle continues to adapt to our new normal.

I admit, this opportunity to focus on the present and remain healthy and happy has been a blessing. I am working to be more attentive to my relationships. I attend to my self care. I try (but not as successfully) to be more active. The fact that I now assess the quality of my day by the readout of my sleep and steps has shifted me into a new paradigm. For most of us, this pandemic has introduced too many plates to juggle. The perspective I hold on my daily living is now rooted from my home base and how I must pivot to adjust to each new challenge. Pivot has become the new word for me. The discovery of my ability to pivot has strengthened me. It is not just the steps forward I take each day but how I respond to the daily events of the world.

Strangely enough, I find a renewed sense of purpose in this perspective on life. Maybe I’ve been too focused on moving forward, moving fast, moving ahead and beyond this craziness. It’s not sufficient to keep up. Maybe my athletic prowess needs work, as I “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge”. In fact, demonstrating the best possible pivot might better be served from my preteen fashion modeling class. Each step forward gets you the end of the runway, but your pivot is what shows you off to the most people in the room. So as 2020 has brought me to the edge of my personal runway, here’s to the pivot showing off my best possible self to 2021.

Reel to Real Life

I can’t recall when I exactly I became fascinated with the movies. I would regularly lose myself in the technicolor drama and my imagination exploded with potential. I became the characters I watched. I was the heroine from a foreign land. I was the adventurer from space or the pioneer woman on the wagon train. When I was old enough to attend the movie theater by myself, something inside me must have clicked. I finally understood that despite the cinematic separation between on and off screen life , each person can pick and choose the influences in their world and create their own life movie. The romance we aspire to, the friendships and family we hope for, and the adventure we seek in an existence which can often be lonely, scary, and full of challenge. Even today, I escape to the movies to what I call my reel life.

Becoming enamored with characters for their wisdom, their ingenuity and their heroism inspired me in ways nothing else could. I had no heroes growing up. As a parent, I can’t say if I was ever a hero to my children. I am, however, a role model. Someone who lives their life in the face of adversity. Someone whose individuality does not waver in a culture of conformity. Someone whose bravery hopefully shines to others in my life during times when it is easy to surrender. I am inspired by the Luke Skywalkers of my reel life. I was inspired by all the role models I did not have but found in the movies.

I think everyone goes through a period of uncertainty, insecurity, or loneliness. My favorite stories brought to life in the movies always seemed to give me solace. Whether it is as a child or as an adult, we grow and cling to what gets us through. For me, the potential of an awesome life is what I found in my youth and what I brought to my midlife. Now, I feel like I have made it to the other side. The challenges of my early life are still there but no longer as crippling. My children have been encouraged to find their own way and to seek inspiration in their worlds. Worlds that I have had a hand in creating. As a mother, I have often worried about the journeys my children are choosing to take. Hopefully, they are finding good things in both typical and unexpected places.

You may wonder why the inspiration and escape I’ve found in movies has remained so constant in my mid-life. Surprisingly, I have found I am not alone. I have learned about networks of others who have been so inspired by their reel life they have cultivated communities of their own whose passion exceeds the confines of national boundaries or age. These people read fan fiction, celebrate fun through cosplay, and join others in their escapism only cinema can provide. While one might argue that movies are not real, they are not a healthy way to perceive life, I argue that for me – they do not dictate what people should be but provide me the framework to explore my own imagination. I am free to believe that I am the master of my own life and I alone can choose how to what I aspire and how high I can reach.

I am fortunate that I can now spend my time worrying less about finding my heroes and more time about being one to inspire someone else. I can find the time to share the stories that will stir others to be bold, to take big steps into their real life. Some are lucky to find these people close to home. Others, like me, found mine in the movies. I may no longer need my virtual light saber, but the soundtrack to my real life still sounds pretty darn good.

Guilt: the equal opportunity burden

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I was supposed to be an equal partner in all things with my significant other in life and in family. Share the responsibility, share the joy from accomplishments in our lives, share common goals so that we were always reassured of the journey we took to bring ourselves to new levels of challenge and reward. Raise our family with strong values, love, and lead by example with exemplifying respect for all things. And then came real life. Discovery of repeating the cycles of past trauma and dysfunction, crises in real time, and then the guilt. The guilt that only comes from hind sight.

I used to believe that my life was to reflect my values and priorities. My perspective was that if you talked the talk, you walked the walk. Little did I realize that life was less about leading by example by what you have and more about reacting to what you didn’t. It was more about juggling the plates and not breaking the important ones. It was less about how nice your table looked with these plates and more about how comfortable your guests were. I felt guilty because I wasn’t leading the mom life I wanted, and in the process, led the mom life that impacted my kids in ways I worry about now.

As an empty nester, I look back at my choices of how they affected my children. Being a step-parent was like a trial run for “real” parenthood. First, there were the years of being just a stepmother. Then there were the years of being mainly just a mom. Finally, there were years of both, when I had to develop answers to questions I wasn’t ready for. I had to be ready to make these decisions whether I was alone, or on the same page with my partner. I had to be ready not only to live the life I felt I should live, but figure how to be the mom I wanted to be, to my stepchildren and my children, amidst all the unhealthy parts of real life that never really went away.

It was difficult. While this blog was never meant to call out the specifics of my life, it does allow me to realize that I spend an awful amount of my life wishing things could have been different. Don’t get me wrong – I made the best decisions I could given the circumstances. However, I have spent lots of my time worrying about what I felt I could have done differently. I often find myself anchored to the past with this worry. Now, I have grandchildren and I see that all of my adult children are creating their own lives. They are making their own choices, creating their own memories. I have to wonder – Could I have done more? Are their challenges in life my fault? Will they ever know I tried? Will they see all that I’d hoped for them but never felt I shared with them?

I know I shouldn’t be worrying about things beyond my control. In my head, I realize that my life never needed to be perfect. But in my heart…that’s a different story. Despite my best attempts to live my life in mindfulness, I continue to be brought back to the thoughts of “what if” I had lived my life differently? Made different choices? Guilt seems like the equal opportunity burden that all mothers face at some point in their lives.

So, inspired as I am for this new year, and for my belief that it is never too late, I make a personal commitment to take each day a time with a simple goal: reach out to my loved ones to let them know they matter. Instead of worrying that I have failed them in some way, I will let them know they are ever present in my thoughts. I accept that I cannot change the past and I cannot accept responsibilities for others’ lives. I can only move forward with purposeful love one day at a time. Loving myself enough to take this step each day allows me to cherish what I have in my life and those who have me in theirs.

This is my journey. One day at a time. One step at a time. Where is your life journey taking you?