One of the Me-s I used to Be

I’ve been many versions of myself. There was the shy, sweet Mennonite child who was shredded by the kids and the public school in a prairie town. There was the pre-teen who contemplated suicide and struggled with depression. There was the teenager who was desperate for responsibility and control who reached out and became a punk to make a little space in her life. There’s the post-punk young woman at university, married at 18, wearing hiking boots and flannel shirts and planning to backpack all around the world.

I say, “There was,” but the truth is all of those Sarahs are with me still. Some of them give me strength and others I’ve tucked into bed with hot cocoa and kissed on the forehead while murmuring, “There, there, it’s OK now.”

The Me that I want to talk about today is the early mother.

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Family Photo 2000

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When I look at that photo I feel a sadness and a sort of itch. An itch because I remember being that woman and how it felt to be her, like there was no match between her insides and her outsides, and that is an itchy feeling.

Let’s see. I was 23 and Rainer 28 in that photo. Two unplanned pregnancies that were so hard I lay down for months and thought that getting my own crackers was a good day. Two babies when our friends weren’t even dating seriously much less parenting and we were so isolated. University students with the attendant shifting schedules and lack of daily routines that might have helped us transition to parenthood more smoothly. At this point we were in London, ON while Rainer did his Masters in Library and Information Science, in married student housing, each about 50 pounds overweight, and doing our best.

Our best was pretty good. I think that I’ve judged that particular me pretty unfairly at times as I journeyed away from her. We devoted ourselves to attachment parenting. I gave myself to parenting in a way that was all-consuming, like an artist at a canvas. These little lives were so precious. Rainer would do a full day at school and come home and parent like a dream while cooking supper and making the kids giggle. I trained to become a La Leche League Leader. We just didn’t know how to be ourselves in all that. We got lost in the cultural definition of ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, especially in Western’s super-preppy married student residence, populated largely by Business grads and their trophy wives and their antiques on the townhouse linoleum.

Life was flux. I had just been finding my way out of the very all-consuming and rigid self-definition that is being a punk and replacing it with an identity as a professional academic (top of my class and with big plans for grad degrees) when I was sideswiped with motherhood. By the time Sandra was 5 we had moved 9 times. Co-op job and back. Summer job and back. This university and that. Every semester a different schedule. Every day a different amount of sleep, a different mood in the kids. And to top it all off, neither child slept through the night til 4 years of age.

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Snuggling

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We were young parents who didn’t feel young.  We were funny, out-of-the-box thinkers, rebels, rabble-rousers who didn’t know how to combine any of that with being Parents.  With parenting itself, sure. We were still making unusual choices in our parenting, just not in ourselves.

We had just started to get the hang of good housekeeping/daily rhythms (well, good-ish, we were students!) before I got unexpectedly pregnant with Sandra because of the collision of a backpacking trip in Scotland, a terrible rainstorm, and my now-soggy birth control pills. There was within me a desire for structure. A wish to respect myself more. A feeling that there was strength in me beyond the strength to bend with the winds of life.

There was also a feeling that I couldn’t strike out for shore when the waves made treading water a priority.  And this is, I think, the core of what wasn’t working: I was surviving, not thriving.  Aside from motherhood, the rest of my life wasn’t doing so well.  Things felt a little out of control, since they were, and that showed up in my days.

Why did things change?

There was a whole confluence of factors that just piled up into a useful platform from which I could take many little steps:

Deciding to homeschool.  With both pregnancies unplanned, it seemed that I had always just adjusted to one phase as it ended. Homeschooling was a choice I thoroughly explored and made ahead of time.

Moving to this city.  Not because of the city, but because it represented stability.  Rainer had a job.  We bought a house.  We weren’t leaving soon.

Reading homeschool message boards.  At first I was comforted that there were others who were like me.  Then I was inspired by those who said they used to be that way and had changed.  One of the first quotes I collected in my commonplace book was from a mother who said, “We all pick the pain in our life – either the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret.”

There was, simply, a growing need to stop ‘sweeping under the carpet’ in so many areas of life. For example,  I wanted to stop doing emergency tidying before someone came over; I wanted to live a tidy life for my own self.  And other things, too. It was time to live in a way that made me proud.  That I could respect.  I wanted there to be a closer alignment between myself and the people I admired.

I had a growing sense that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and have regrets.  I also had a dimly-felt understanding that the external disorder was a sign of an internal disorder, or perhaps more properly, that getting my house and my lifestyle in order would be a part of achieving that sense of grace and peace that I desired.  If house guests were worth a clutter-free house, perhaps I was, too.  It was a little like always saving the good china for company, but in this case it was saving the peaceful environment for others.  Surroundings have far more effect on us than we might believe and I came to see that I needed to at least test this theory out.

Joining Weight Watchers.  It gave me a deep, exciting confidence in my ability to set a goal and achieve it.  I hadn’t had that feeling in a while, not for goals bigger than a To Do list. It reminded me that a big goal with lots of little steps is doable.  Spending the money gave me a good reason to rate my needs and my goals as being as important as the other family members.   It helped me unearth a physical Sarah I recognized.  It took 10 years off me psychologically, gave me a pile of energy, and stopped me from feeling middle-aged at 25.

And, as I’ve written before, I had a startling moment when I thought, “If I was paying someone to run my life and they were doing it like this, wouldn’t I fire them?”

How did things change?

Blogging.  At first I blogged as though Rainer was reading it and might come home and be super nice to me if I had a hard day.  Then I blogged with a mission to be homeschooling’s Erma Bombeck. I liked to make people laugh and  it seemed like too many people were shining up their image and never talking about how hard things could be.  But eventually that wasn’t as satisfying as it used to be and I started using it to focus on the little treasures.  And to have a little treasure to focus on each day in order to ‘feed the blog’, I needed to be sure to have one.  And so, between a change in my mental sorting of experiences and a change in how we lived (ever so slight), things shifted.

FlyLady.  Not so much the system, although I did give it a try a few times.  No, more than the practical housekeeping skills, it was her other messages that kicked me in the butt.  She wrote things that made me realize that if I wanted things to be different I had to stop wanting and wishing and waiting for some godmother with a wand to show up. If I wanted a better life, then I would have to make it happen. No whining.  If I wanted the satisfaction of a tidy dining room, I would have to rate the work of tidying it as worthy.  The fact that it untidied itself at a break-neck speed every day?  Just one of the stupid facts of life – and heck, one of the definitions of crazy is arguing with reality, right?  Also, I really, really needed to learn the lesson of the power of a 5-10 minute burst of work.  Wow.  I was a mother with never a stretch of hours in which to accomplish things and make them perfect, but that was OK because a Ten Minute Tidy had awesome powers.

Thought Tidying.  FlyLady was also part of a general mental decluttering that I did. I took apart my thought patterns. Why was I telling myself certain stories about my day?  Why was I letting my mental framing of situations steal the power from me?  What emotional relationship did I have with these stories?  A lot happened here.  I read a lot of books.  One of my favourites was The Tao of Pooh.  That book led me down some very interesting paths and to a real sense that Taoist philosophy could help me unleash a whole lot of things that sound glib when you type them, like magazine covers: “gratitude, flow, happiness, personal power”.

Life Art.  Getting back to my punk teens, the childhood with my wonderful parents who made unusual choices, the attachment parenting, I somehow re-connected with the ability to not try to fit in.  There was something so high-stakes about parenting that I’d just gone with the herd, looking and talking like An Average Mom as depicted in ads.  Oh, and the fact that I was a mom at 20 and everyone else at playgroup was 30 and I didn’t want them to know how much more their junior I was.  But I wasn’t me.  I started to think of life as a kind of art, the days and years we have as a sort of canvas, and I started to paint with more accountability to the idea of Sarah on her deathbed looking at the picture and being happy with it.

Things got better.  Then they got fantastic.  Not always easy, mind you, but fantastic.

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family

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I don’t want to fire myself anymore.  I don’t feel regret.  Every day is a new canvas and we’re having a blast with our brushes.  The things I dimly felt – about order and harmony, about bravery, about a custom-fit life, about the incredible power a family can have when parents take care of themselves – they were true.

57 thoughts on “One of the Me-s I used to Be”

  1. What a journey! Mine is not so dissimilar although I still don’t feel that I’ve 100% found my “authentic self”. I think it is because I don’t want to be rejected and yet, at the same time, refuse to be a mindless follower. Quite the dichotomy. And, as much as I love putting down roots (especially for my children’s sake) and the friendships I’ve built here, we struggle somewhat with the fact that we’re not camping/ quadding Albertans… don’t totally ‘fit’ here. When I look back at the girl I once was I feel sad – sometimes even ashamed but I try to forgive myself for past choices/ not believing I was worth more. I am living my dream now and yet get easily distracted and continually need to work out WHO I want to be, WHAT I want my life to look and feel like. Thanks for your post – only I wish I could write you a novel in response :)

  2. What a lovely post! A couple of times, it brought me to tears. I am a mother of young children and your words have a lot of meaning for me. I hope that in the future I can look back on the great changes I made in my life and be on a great path too.

  3. Wow. Fabulous post. Lots to think about today. I especially appreciate that you included this quote: “We all pick the pain in our life – either the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret.”

    Now I’m off to do some mental uncluttering…

  4. You’re really an inspiring person, Sarah. I’m glad you’ve come to accept who you are/were at each stage. Even though I became a parent when I was 30, I still went through many of the same things you did–wanting to do everything by the book and worrying that other mothers–the ones who seemed to have it all together–would see through to my inexperience and insecurity. I (mostly) got over it though :)

  5. “A wish to respect myself more. A feeling that there was strength in me beyond the strength to bend with the winds of life.

    There was also a feeling that I couldn’t strike out for shore when the waves made treading water a priority. And this is, I think, the core of what wasn’t working: I was surviving, not thriving.”

    This was absolutely perfect. Thank you so much.

  6. I am at the same place you were…but I am 52. I came to parenting late. The first phases were easy for me but this teen stuff has really shaken me to the core. Thank you for your honesty. I stopped reading books about homeschooling families several years ago because of the unrealistic pictures and standards they contained. You don’t do that and I appreciate it.

  7. Thank you for writing and sharing your story with us. This really moved me.

    This week I’m feeling shut down about blogging and revealing stuff. Then yesterday I got a blog comment about eye tracking problems thanking me for my posts as they helped this parent out on their new path of treating their child’s eye tracking problems. So then I figured I should not slow down or stop blogging my thoughts and life experiences.

    I recently joined FaceBook and am having a weird feeling that my real name and identity may connect with my blog, something I’d not wanted to happen. So I have been thinking I might have been wrong to reveal personal thoughts on my blog.

    But now that I read your post here I am reminded that some of the best pieces written reveal very personal things.

    Thank you again.

  8. I just found you today from a leap through Goody Goody Handmade to Handmade and Homebaked to here. I am so glad you are here, and I loved this post!! Your family transformation is amazing, and you and Rainer look happier and younger than in your original photo. I have added your site to my blogroll so I can check back often.

  9. Thanks Sarah for sharing your story. I’m sure there are parts of it that ring true for most women. It’s especially nice though to hear other women tell it like it really is! You and your husband look twenty years younger in the second photo. You all look fantastic. Way to go. A healthy active lifestyle does wonders for the whole family and what a great example you are for your kids. I’m currently on weight watchers and have gotten back into running. Blogs like yours are an inspiration. Thank you.

  10. what a lovely post. thank you for sharing your story as i know so many of us can relate. i appreciate your honesty and openness – it’s the reason you’ve become of my favorites!

  11. Thank you for sharing this. You might say I’m in the middle of my journey. Trying to find myself despite my past self and sometimes it’s so hard. Thanks for be willing to share.

  12. That was a wonderful post! It made me cry, just like the Canadian national anthem, seeing my parents after a few years separation, A Baby Story, and other good things.

  13. I had just found you before I took a hiatus from the real homeschool thing I had planned (instead we just did unschooling) and stopped reading homeschool blogs etc. So I’m basically a new reader.
    I think this post and its responses flesh out what you and your readers were getting at with the Day in the Life post and the subsequent one. Even if I were not starting on this homeschool journey, this post would have caught me. I’m still in the early floundering for dry land phase. While you are, as you said, in the macro phase where you can {more} easily see the “little treasures”, you worked to gain that clarity. It comes through as being authentic rather than a slight-of-hand-cropped out of the mess and it does so without seeming trite. No plastered on “You go girl!” attitude.
    At the moment I’m mostly reading blogs from a “keeping my head above water” perspective, but when I get back to treading water, yours is one I will investigate thoroughly!

  14. What an inspiration. First off – you and your family look so healthy and radiant !

    I totally understand this journey to true self. I am on that journey. I have small children and am just finally making time for ME. I have spent 6 years putting others first now I just need a little wiggle room for myself. It is important and I don’t know how or why I let it slip away.

    Thanks for inspiring me even more. Thanks for your honesty.

  15. Thanks Again for such a touching story. I have been visiting your blog quite frequently since finding your “Loving the Mothers we are” post. You do have an excellent way with words & your experiences seem to speak to me on a very personal level.
    Thanks for daring to share so much, it is so very touching.

  16. I loved this post. And I related to it so much. You are a really gifted writer. Thanks for putting so much of yourself out there for the rest of us to read. You’re very inspiring.

  17. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I find it very inspiring. I am at the point that I would like to fire myself. But I took the first step today.

    Thank you once again for sharing your journey with us.

  18. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. So much food for thought and inspiration. May your journey continue to be fantastic.

  19. :::waving hello::: from another creative, homeschooling, non-mainstream family actively making choices to sculpt the lives we want to live. We still need to tackle the health/weight/activity aspect, but otherwise are feeling quite good about the journey so far. The further we get off the beaten path, the higher our quality of life. :-)

  20. Thanks for sharing this very personal account. I’m finding that every year I live, I get more and more comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I’m sloughing off the baggage of expectations (more my own that societal or familial) I’ve been carting around. I love the idea of a custom-fit life, which is what attracted me to your blog in the first place. The kind of life that is right for me and my husband and my children, not the life that works for someone else. I love that you encourage others to be themselves and find a way to live that works for them. Thank you!

  21. Thanks for sharing this. It was a real inspiration to me. I feel like I have been living in a cloud since I got married and have been feeling lately like I can start to move out of it.

  22. Wow, what a fantastic story Sarah. The real stories of people’s lives are so much more interesting than fiction because they encourage us that we too can live our true selves, as hard as that may be.

    I became a lot more comfortable with “me” and discovered things I never knew I valued near the end of my 20’s, coinciding with several things: leaving the fog of the baby years, moving to Maine and starting to blog. I was a young mom also and a young newlywed. Both of those were planned but still set a course in motion that rather consumed me. Who was I during those years – wife and mom. Finding out I am more than that is so freeing and enjoyable. Keep in mind I’m still totally devoted to this family of mind, homeschool and the rest of it.

    Anyway, I ramble. This was a great story. Thank you for sharing and I’m so happy for your successes.

  23. “If I was paying someone to run my life and they were doing it like this, wouldn’t I fire them?” Wow. Those words struck a chord with me. In regard to how I’ve been parenting and living my life over the past year, I probably should have been issued a pink slip long ago. But, the good news is that it’s never to late to start again, right? Even if that means several times in the same day! :) Lots of food for thought in this post. Thank you for that.

  24. “We all pick the pain in our life – either the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret.”

    I’m so grateful to Kris for posting a link to this post. Thank you so much for the inspiration—to be the changes I want for my family and my life. Love this and hope to return to it often!

  25. I have followed you for years . . . and this post explains so much. You inspire me, and even more so with this history. Would that I can muster the courage, the focus and the energy to make some of the same choices that you have made. Thanks for sharing so much.

  26. What an honest amazing recount of your journey. Resonates here… and inspiring! You are beautiful and I love that your share your evolution with us. Thank you.

  27. Woah. As a Mennonite woman who came to motherhood in her early thirties I can’t and can identify. I’m floored by this post. Thank you so, so much. I’ll be returning to your blog again and again as I venture deeper into homeschooling and being truer to who I am.

  28. Do you think that part of “what changed” is that your kids just got older? I think having little ones, and trying to be so mindful and present and attachment parenting and all that — is just SO… well, it just takes everything we’ve got and more. It’s just so hard to have these enlightenments while we’re still giving absolutely everything, isn’t it? So often I hear of mothers who get it sorted — and wish they’d achieved the sorting when their kids were still tiny, but I think it’s not a coincidence that the sorting came when the kids had grown up a bit and didn’t require QUITE so much anymore… or maybe not.

  29. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m in the midst of an emotional week and your words exploded for me. While reading the comments I found it so interesting that unlike many of the comments, what resonated for me wasn’t so much raising kids or homeshcooling as much as life in the bigger picture and making thoughtful decisions and following through with intention. Even without your words, your photos alone were jawdropping and so inspiring. Once again, thank-you.

  30. You look so old in your younger photos! I’d never have picked you out.

    I found this an interesting post, I’ve had to think about it. I think that’s why I love your blog–you do make me think!

    I’m quite sure that those who knew me at 13, 23, 33 and now a week before I turn 43, would say I haven’t changed very much. I know I have grown, matured, and hopefully gotten a bit more educated in my old age–but I’m basically the same. I was one of those ‘old’ teens–quite sure of what I felt was the right path for me, and my core values may be more defined now, but haven’t varied very much. I’ve always known my own mind, and I never settle for anything that would make me compromise on one of my core values.

    Yes–I’ve learned new skills, I can cook and garden and I have a family of my own–but the ride so far has been fairly smooth. I’ve always been failry easy going and good at changes–or else moving to another country within a week on a whim wouldn’t have been possible. I have also been fortunate to have found a husband who has the same values, so raising our children has even been smoothly–all decisions are joint ones, and we’ve agreed on every aspect so far.

    But I’ve also brought along with me some of my ‘failings’–which your newest post has finally made it all click for me! My biggest one is that I have never gotten over my procrastination–though I like change and am not fearful of it–I generally just hope things will get done by themselves. Which I know they don’t–but I keep hoping they will!

    So today we got up and all went for a lovely walk–only about 3 miles–but was easily done. We also disconnected the TV–so my evenings will be more productive. (Don’t worry–the kids won’t feel the pain-they rarely ever watch TV–they don’t like many shows at all–just documentaries!) I’ll be taking another 2 courses this year, so have started on some of the reading material–and will be picking out material with my daughter tomorrow to learn to sew her an outfit.

    And as you said in your current post–I’m going to start showing up and getting things done daily! There is always room for improvement! Thank you again for making me think!

    By the way–many congratualtions on your ‘Tri’!!!

  31. I am not sure how to formulate my thoughts into words from this post….all I want to do is sit and cry a bit. I couldn’t respond the day you posted it. Maybe I still can’t??
    …………..
    You have a gift with words.
    I know we don’t know each other, but through your blog, I feel like a kindred spirit.
    I posted before that I am ‘unfolding’ and that is my word for the year….the place I seem stuck is the “physical.” I’d like to unearth a physical ME I recognize!!
    Quoting you:
    “Here’s the thing: the first time we make a choice is really important. Really, super important. But to keep that promise to ourselves we have to keep on showing up and making all the supporting followup choices……The wonderful thing is that each and every time you show up for yourself, you get the energy, the confidence, the surge of motion that comes from keeping a promise. And every time you do approach a choice, no matter how tiny, you get the chance to start again.”

    So Huge!!! I think that is getting put up, in big bold letters, in every room of my house so I can see it daily!!
    I’m just so overwhelmed….your words have the power to move deep within and stir….

  32. Wow, sometimes timing is everything.
    I used to read your blog back when you were Poppins. I’m a homeschool mom, our kids are the same ages. I’ll be honest, when you switched to handmade homeschool, I didn’t stay around long. Your focus changed and it was fine, but not what I was needing at the time. (I don’t knit, I am not very artistic, not athletic.) I also had some changes and difficulties in my own life.
    The last couple of years have been trying ones for me. They’ve lead me to where I am currently–unhappiness. I am questioning everything from my marriage to homeschooling. I am tired. I have let my standards go. The house is messy. The homeschooling is half-assed. I am gaining weight and turning into a ball. So, I joined a gym. Went three times a week for 4.5 months. This was very hard to fit in, but I did it. Then I hit the wall. Some major stuff in my life hit the fan. I was disgusted that I couldn’t lose weight. I’d been working so hard. I knew I was stronger, knew I had endurance like I’d never had before (I jogged a little! Me!) but was not any smaller. I threw my hands up in the air. That was two months ago. I have not been to the gym since.
    In that time, it’s become apparent to me that I am in need of a big shakeup. So my spouse and I are in therapy. I am working to get my house back (I even went through “the pile”!). I am looking into homeschooling alternatives that will be better for our family. I’m trying here.
    I know I need to develop better eating habits. I have little discipline (and I am such a fine cook!). If I had been able to do this at the time I was exercising, my results would have been much better. I know this. Just don’t know how to do it. Need something drastic. Then I thought about Weight Watchers. The website has info about the times and places of meetings, but it’s not personal. It is not engaging for someone who needs gentle encouragment. The thought flashed in my head “If only I knew a real person in that program.” Then I remembered your affiliation with Weight Watchers, and found the website again. I scrolled down to the second post, and it was this one. It made me so happy to see that you were still on that path. You still CHOSE that path.
    Thank you for sharing real feelings. I admire you immensely. Does it sound to you like I am ready for Weight Watchers? That it is something that could offer a program that might work for me? If you have any advice, I am listening.
    Also, I apologize for hitting you with so much personal stuff from a complete stranger. Hope that’s not too weird.
    Thanks again.

  33. Late to the party as usual, I only just scrolled down to read this post after you thanked others for their comments on it. Wow! So many resonances! I remember being about 13 and writing about “The Real Me” and how Fitting In was so much more important to most people than being true to themselves. Now I find myself at almost 45, (having 5 years ago left my husband and conventional security in the city to bring my kids to a country idyll to be with my First Love) once again contemplating a reinvention of myself. And why not? We only live once (as far as I know) so lets make it a full life! Thank you for the reminder.

  34. Okay so you are like my favoritist!!!! LOL Homeschooling MomBlogger. Okay so You are welcome to come for tea or coffee in lancaster pa. LOL Thank you for sharing and pouring, for being real. There is just not enough of balanced reality. You have given me food for thought. There seems to be a cry today and many of us want to live the inside out. And whats most interesting is that you can’t escape the work of it. May G-d help us all in our journey and illuminate the way.

  35. your blog was one of the first that i’d heard about when we jumped into homeschooling two years ago, and i don’t believe i’ve ever commented, but i wanted to this morning. this post hits so close to home for me~ being so uncomformist in my youth, being a young mama, trying so hard to be the perfect version of mother, the itch, finally seeing the light through blogs… all of it. thank you so much for putting to words something i’ve been thinking about a lot lately. you’re all kinds of goodness!

  36. whoa
    Never been to this blog..
    I’ve just now recovered from the be4 & after pix

    you , are one frikin hip lookin family

    and just how exactly do I get that kinda stud-esque hair??

    bravo to you guys!

    Rich in Maine with average joe hair..

  37. Beautiful family and beautiful words.
    I got to your blog because my sister shared with me your story on triathlon (doing my second sprint tri in in less than a month!).
    However, as I read along it’s amazing how you decided to take action… and change if that is what was needed.
    I was homeschooled and my husband and I are planning on dping the same with our kids, when the Lord gives us the blessing of having children.
    Thanks for writing. It’s simply beautiful.
    -Irene

  38. A lovely, amazing post. From my teens through my 20s, I worked as a nanny and in childcare, taught preschooler Sunday school, taught preschool gymnastic and dance. I thought I knew a lot about kids. I thought I was well prepared for my own. Then at 29, I had my daughter and she didn’t sleep and she cried for hours every night, and I felt lonely and miserable. It took me a long time to find some of myself again and now that my younger daughter is 2.5, I am at a new point of needing to re-evaluate my goals and rethink how I can be me and also be home with my 2 girls. Thank you for the inspiration!

  39. WoW, Sarah! What a journey! You are amazing, and such an inspiration! I wish I could be so well rounded and so talented as you, and so orderly and happy, and lead such an exemplary life!! Bless you!!!

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