There’s a famous passage in “The Bell Jar” that hits me in the gut every time I read it. In it, Esther talks about imagining herself sitting in the crook of a fig tree, and each fig is a dream of hers:
One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
This quote often made me cry when I was younger, and I felt that, like Esther, I was watching as each fig shriveled up and drop to the ground, and that I would probably starve to death before I reached for a single one.
My perspective has changed now but I am no less moved by that quote. I’ve started reaching for those figs, and I’ve even wrapped my hands around a couple, but in doing so, other figs have slipped from my reach. Certainly it’s good that I have not attained all of my goals. Otherwise I would be the world’s first veterinarian-astronaut-president, and I would drive a pink limo every day to my mansion filled with kitties named Tigger. (Come to think of it, that would be kind of cool…maybe I should have stuck with that plan.) But I have become fairly aware of the fact that I have to make choices, and that some of those choices are going to be hard.
This is the thing: I don’t want to have to choose! I mean, I didn’t name my zine “All I Want Is Everything” because I thought it was clever. I named it that because that’s exactly how I am. I want to experience as much as possible. I want everything.
I find myself at a bit of a crossroads these days, heightened by my trip to the west coast. My husband and I had been putting off starting a family until after we ran Big Sur, and…well. Having a kid is something I never really planned for but I’ve wanted intensely for a few years now. I hear the time is never really right, but it feels very close to right.
And yet to listen to many parents talk, I should expect to no longer want anything else in my life. I have been told to do all of my racing now, to do grad school now, to write a book now – essentially, that my life as Caitlin will cease to exist and that I will be little more than Baby’s Mom, Provider of Milk and Buttwipes. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for parenthood! (Seriously, I know y’all are just trying to prepare me, but really, stop it.)
Obviously, I don’t expect that my life would continue on as it has been, and I am fine with that. But I also have a hard time with the idea that I should expect to let go of two of my greatest passions in life – writing and running – once I have a child. I have a very, very hard time with that.
I know intellectually that this doesn’t have to be the way, so I’ve been reading and watching and listening and seeing how so many other parents make it happen. I read a book called Mamaphonic, a collection of essays written by women about the balancing acts of motherhood and their creative pursuits. I read Hip Mama and all sorts of other mama blogs and zines. I talked to two women who ran the Big Sur marathon, both thirteen days after running Boston, both posting fantastic times and both having given birth relatively recently (six months for one, fourteen for the other). I talk to my friends and relatives, both online and not, who have kids of all ages, and I ask about daycare, division of labor, work balance, finding solitude, finding time.
As with so many other endeavors I prepare to undertake, I seem to have the idea that if I just research enough, I’ll be able to conquer anything. It’s a total Type A nerd mentality, this idea that you can pin down something by reading enough about it. I recognize that this probably an exercise in futility. But still, I wonder. I need to know that it can be done.
I know I’ve got some moms who read this blog. Tell me, how do you do it?