When I was pregnant with my first child, I discovered the limitations of human biology. The hours of the day, which had previously always sufficed for the multitude of tasks I crammed into them, stretched away beneath my grasping fingers. My evenings became litanies of Things Left Undone, my mornings frustrated contemplations of impossible tasks, and as one child followed another the daily demands on my time kept increasing.
I loved being pregnant. Far more than I ever expected. But I hated feeling so incompetent, so reduced from the vibrant over-achievement that had become, over the years, inseparable from my conception of self. And so I had to re-train my neurons. I had to teach them that when vast amounts of the body’s resources are pumping energy to a tiny fluttering bundle of emerging life, even lying uselessly on the couch is a massively productive act.
Lowering my expectations for myself was difficult. I’d always believed one shouldn’t abandon the pursuit of a goal just because the road got bumpy along the way. The idea that I could actively choose which goals to pursue was obvious in retrospect, but peculiarly difficult to stumble upon.
Expectations are tricky stuff. When you let go of some you feel better, and when you let go of others you feel worse. I don’t know why certain expectations coax me onward to delightful-yet-difficult accomplishments while others drag me down in a weighted quagmire of floundering disappointment, but I know that it is so. And so the trick lies in nourishing the expectations that give you wings and shedding the ones that wrap you in chains, and not too often mistaking the one for the other.
I’m thinking about this today because, once again, the demands on my time have outgrown my capacity to fulfill them. I have retreated to my usual fallback position, the one that leaves my schedule in tatters but my soul feeling happy and well-balanced: I have dragged a couple of key expectations about how I spend my time and how I interact with my children out of the crowded back corners and back into a place of honor where they belong. Other expectations are quietly being carved away. Work offers turned down. Writing projects placed on hold. A hundred delightful aspirations laid to rest because the things I have chosen instead are more important to me.
When I wake up in the morning and feel excited about the day, I know I have left the right pieces of my life intact.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com