“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ~ Rumi
When I had my first child I lived in a house that was about 1500 square feet, smack in the middle of a planned neighborhood and that looked identical to the house fifty yards or so down the block in each direction.
How very Suburban American of me.
It seemed big enough for the three of us, at first. But about five whole minutes after the little bundle arrived home from the hospital the “dark years” began. In my desperate attempts to figure out how to keep this precious helpless being alive while not simultaneously losing my mind, I bought into every possible gadget made for babies I could get my hands, and my visa, on.
This resulted in a mass takeover of floor space by giant plastic thirty-second baby entertainers.
Those beastly apparati sat in the corners of my house while my child, not one to buy into the latest bouncy, rocking or spinning gimmick baby stores everywhere promised would keep her content while permitting me to take a shower or choke down a hot meal, spent most of her waking (and sleeping, to be honest) hours riding on my hip in a sling instead.
Her toys, all 1,001 of the delightful noise making educational devices proposing to turn my infant into a genius, sat as pristine memorials of my failed attempts at parenting in tidy labeled baskets while she chose instead to pick up microscopic pieces of dirt (for sampling purposes, of course) and play with kitchen spoons and cabinet doors.
Don’t even get me started about my stroller and carseat addiction. Let’s just say if I had known there were jobs out there for testing baby products, I would have been rolling in dolla’ bills yo.
Fast forward to the second kid, who arrived (just as planned) two years and nine months after his sister.
We now lived in approximately 3,000 square feet as it made perfectly logical sense that if you double your kid size the floor plan should grow accordingly. It’s just what you are supposed to do.
Bigger. Better. More. Level One Lifestyle. Laetus. Sometimes also, felix.
In the new quarters, still not having learned my lesson about the futility of providing my children with the contents of at least half a toy store, I now had shrine in which to display said menagerie.
Middle class people call this a playroom….I call it ridiculous.
This nonsense, the increasing quantities of stuff, the creation of additional space, the continued accumulation of “more,” continued for about a year and half. I tried to buy my way into happiness, convinced that if I just purchased, found, or otherwise checked off one more thing from “the list,” my life would be perfect.
As evidenced by their simple pleasure in the ordinary, my children clearly saw this error in judgement. More stuff is not more fun. Simple is better. Be content with what you have right in front of you. Make a joyful noise with whatever is nearby.
When life hands you lemons, squeeze those chuckers, make a mess, and enjoy the process.
But I still didn’t get it.
White picket fence? Check. Two new vehicles, one charming historic home staged with picture perfect rooms, two respectable incomes generated from dependable mainstream professions? Check, check, checkity check.
I should note here, that five days after my son was born, my mom suffered a brain aneurysm. She had two surgeries, one of which resulted in a stroke. Her recovery was long and painful, for all of us. Especially when considering that right about the time we got home from her two week stint in the hospital my Dad, who was caring for her 24/7 while running his farm in the middle of hay season, was slapped with what would be a two year legal battle with his own mother and older brother.
Nice timing, don’t you think?
Oh, and my husband fell of the wagon, again.
And just for shits and giggles, I went back to work, teaching kindergarten with thirty-two little darlings by myself all day, pumping breastmilk in the closet every recess and spending lunch time sobbing in my car.
I worked so hard, so very diligently to portray a happy life.
I built the grandest birthday cakes for my children and planned the most detailed oriented events on the block. I spent hours building beautiful scrapbooks with snapshots of posed moments, snippets of how I wanted to remember things, rather than candid shots of how they actually were. I sought evidence of my worth, proof I was doing it “right.”
Amazingly, no amount of overscheduled playgroups, kids activities, classes, clubs or social engagements filled the vast void I felt inside. Not a single five-course homemade meal for a dinner party of thirty-seven of our closest friends made me feel I belonged. No $200 jeans, $500 purses and $5,000 family vacations made me feel I had or was enough. Not at all.
I was doing everything I knew to make myself happy, and none of it was working.
Big shocker here, isn’t it?
And then something changed, in me, and for me. Having endured a real life shitstorm of circumstances, I hit a pivotal point in my self awareness. Enough was finally enough, at least to serve as a catalyst for change.
It was as though I awoke from the coma of conventions I’d been lost in for years. Suddenly, I was able to see what was no longer serving me. I’d been clinging desperately to a set of ideals and behaviors that made absolutely no sense; norms and formalities I had assumed I must adopt to win the game of life.
I was wrong about what happiness meant, and I finally knew it.
And so, thus began the process of letting go, of all of it.
First up, the toxic relationship. I got a divorce. Freedom—It was mine again. I found space inside of myself. No longer drowning by trying to save someone else, I started to regain balance, perspective, and learn how to live fully.
Next in line was the giant house. Thank. God.
After that, well, the real cleansing began.
I downsized, twice. First to 1800 square feet, and then just a short ten months later, to 650, with both kids, full time.
I continued the process of elimination of negative, and the accumulation of positive. I got rid of more than half of my possessions and in their stead, obtained experiences.
I lived outside of my home, instead of in it. I went out and explored the world, instead of watching it. I left my job to figure out who I wanted to be when I grew up.
I tried new things. I learned new skills. I wore different hats. I made new friends.
I said “yes,” over, and over and over again, turning down almost nothing that sounded good. I leaned into discomfort, way in.
I traveled. I took my children with me, and saw the world through their eyes. How very lovely it really is, when you stop and look.
I found yoga. Or maybe, yoga found me.
I forgave. I made peace. I stopped trying to control the world, and instead worked on controlling my reactions to it.
I learned to trust the universe, and I gave myself permission to fail.
I stopped concerning myself what others thought about me and my choices, and starting caring about my own opinion. I discovered what served ME. What helped me be the best person I could be. What helped me grow. What didn’t, and why. I found out what really mattered.
I calmed the fuck down.
I also learned that I’m not alone. We’re all a work in progress actually, each of us a unique and beautiful mess.
We are all fighting our own demons, some of us have just learned how to snuggle with them better.
Turns out, it isn’t stuff that makes us happy. It isn’t a list, and it isn’t societal norms, standards, or strategically crafted family portraits.
Fuck white picket fences and screw the rules. Everyone has their own yellow brick road to follow, and none of them are the same. Not one.
They may run parallel to each other. They may cross, share some intersections or, delightfully, even merge bricks for a large part of the journey. However, they are ours, and ours alone to build. It is our path to walk.
The route to happiness begins and ends with us.
We can stride with courage, or we can pace with fear. We can walk wrapped in love, or we can wallow in anger. We can keep looking back at our past, or we can turn our heads, see our present, and look at what opportunities may come our way.
What works for me may not work for you. What is fabulous for you might be less than stellar for me. There is no right way.
There is no prize for being “the best” There is simply life, and just this one.
What matters, in the grand scheme of things, is if your world is better because of your choices, if our world is better because you are.
If by taking care of you, you can care for others.
If by filling up yourself with gratitude, love, and positive energy, you are thereby able to contribute to the happiness of those around you.
Love thyself first, most, and fully. Because of who you are, not what you have. Because of what you do, not what you say. Because of your inside, despite what you see on the outside.
Find your own happy. It’s lying there, just inside of you. Set it free.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Alan Cleaver at Flickr