It’s hard to admit this out loud and in public, but I’ve realized that many of my decisions (and especially my aspirations) as an adult have been fed by vanity. I want to be different and better. I don’t want to just exercise. I want to run marathons and amaze people with my endurance and determination. I don’t want to just live in a house and pay off a mortgage…I want to own multiple rental properties that help to cover our living expenses. Perhaps we aren’t meant to live in a medium-sized American city. Maybe we could go dig wells in Africa instead. “Institutionalized learning” is for suckers! Let’s
homeschool roadschool worldschool instead!!! It seems so unremarkable to go to work, pay the bills, put the kid on the bus, take her off, and bake cupcakes for her class on her birthday. No jaws will drop when you tell people that for family night you went for a walk in the park and then came home and watched The Princess Bride. Nobody hands out medals for walking 35 minutes on the treadmill at your gym. No one interviews you for podcasts when your accomplishments that day were to take you medications, pack lunches, get the kids home, and crash in a depressed state while your husband cooks dinner. I’m not aware of any “regular-sized house” movements. I’d like to think of myself as a minimalist, but the amount of junk all over my floors would seem to negate that. I’d like to think of myself as an ambitious professional. I work part-time.
My twenties seemed to be the time that I learned that I was not going to make my mark on the world at large. The graduation greeting cards lied. And in my thirties, it seems like my best efforts and all of my energy is barely enough to keep a regular life afloat.
I was taught from a young age that our lives are not about ourselves. They are about serving God. And I thought I was going to do that, but in a big way that brought (humble) glory to myself as well.
Ya’ll, I have been brought down to the basement floor. I thought I knew about being a good parent. And then I birthed all the willpower in the world, in the form of a tiny human, born with both fists raised. Despite that, after a while I thought I had things kind of figured out, so I had another one. And I got knocked out and dragged down by post partum depression. Which after three years has lost the soft mantle of post-partum and revealed itself to be the ugly treatment resistant kind instead. I lost control of my breath in panic attacks. While pregnant I injured my back and lost running. Two days ago I tried to lift something heavy and lost any movement at all for a couple of hours of spasmodic pain. This morning I had recovered enough to walk for fifteen minutes at the speed of 2 mph while my preschooler watched TV in the gym daycare. I’ve enrolled my kid in school.
And I’ve read the blogs and listened to the podcasts about extraordinary lives. Tim Ferris will tell you exactly which tea and what brand of hanging-upside down machine will put you in top-shelf highly productive mode. Paula Pant can tell you how to afford anything. Mr. Money Moustache, Go Curry Cracker, and the Mad Fientist will tell you how they retired in their thirties. A key element? Bicycles. And saving half your income. For a while, I was so inspired and determied to follow them. And then I realized–one everlasting excruciating day after another–that their path is not my path. Ya’ll, I am not meant to be around my kids 24/7. Everyone in this house is a happier, better person with lots of school and very expensive childcare. Even though that means taking a huge financial hit, we have to do it. For my literal sanity. Which also, by the way, rules out living in a bus or on a boat or a tiny house. It means not RVing the country or Air Bnbing the world as a lifestyle. I need to be alone to retain my personhood and right now that means also remaining stationary. And not saving half our income. It means we go to a church with a nursery, and live near a preschool with flexible hours. That I work a job that works around when the kids are in school. That we hire babysitters and pay for camps. That I have lots of unstructured time and feel like I get nothing done in it. Only the same clothes washed and the same floors cleaned.
People tell us that it will get easier (or “different”) when the kids get older. Which I suppose is true. But having just gone through the last seven years, I am leery. You can get everything you ever wanted out of life, and not be able to handle it. The best parts of life–your blessings of every kind, things you looked forward to and love–can beat you down until you can’t breathe or stand. That’s not hyperbole. That was two years ago and last Saturday. All my best efforts do not result in extraordinary anything, in living internationally, or heroic self-sacrifice. We’ve scrabbled our way to ordinary and are hanging on for dear life.
That is not to say that we are unable to build for the future. We own two duplexes (one of which we live in), work two jobs, save in our assorted retirement funds, and seek to build a frugal and hard-working life, run through and through with the love of Jesus in action. Which is good for the world, but bad for vanity. Maybe that’s the higher calling I’m supposed to answer in this season? To let go of vanity, of the idea of having an extraordinary life (or even a clean house) and just bring honor to God and satisfaction to my soul by living an ordinary one.