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Remember to Look Up

A friend of mine occasionally drives by my house in a bright red convertible. She has no children, and breezes through town with the top down whenever the temperature sneaks above 70 degrees.

I hate her.

I was still driving my own convertible up to Mare’s first birthday. She was just a week old the first time I tucked her in the back seat, rear-facing in her little bucket.

See, I thought. Not everything has to change.

By the time we had driven that car and all our stuff 600 miles to our new home I could not avoid the absurdity of myself: 20 pounds heavier in my hot little car with stray sippies and pacifiers and discarded wipes everywhere, hauling the kid around the folded-front seat, trying not to hit her head on the steel bars of the convertible top.

So I sold the car. The key is still on my keychain -- the little corner of the towel I threw in. Four years later the surrender was complete when I was perched behind the wheel of a mini-van with 12 Dancing Princesses playing on the drop-down video in back.

And then there I was in the driveway, garbage bag in hand, picking fruit bar out of the upholstery and digging peed-on underwear out from under the seat, when that zippy red convertible went by, a colorful silk scarf flapping on the driver’s side. A hot sting of jealousy -- she has a freedom that I’ve given up.

Every one of my days is filled with banality before it starts. I must feed four people a total of ten meals, wash four pairs of pants, underwear, shirts, socks … and that’s if no one manages to pee herself, drop a glass of milk down her front, paint or spill coffee. Before the day is out, I will have to do three loads of dishes, make two beds, sweep the floor, pay a few bills, and clean out the car.

All that is before I have devoted any time to making a living.

Of course, the burden is also the inspiration: I do it for the kids. I adore them, I want their lives to be good, and so I work. They are my legacy, what I will leave in the world after I am gone. They are what Matters.

Watching that red convertible zip past me, I wondered: what would have Mattered if I had had no children?

What would it be like to wake up with 2/3rds of my workload – and all of my purpose – vanished?

There is the obvious: I would drive a convertible.

I would take better care of my clothes, which wouldn’t be permanently stained by nine a.m. every day. I could take as much time to dress myself as I liked, sipping coffee and picking through jewelry and shoes.

I would read all the time, and write about what I read, and write to the authors and ask them questions, and then I would try to teach about it.

I would seek opportunities for travel, volunteer for a political campaign, and buy interesting and expensive food ingredients.

I would take a course on cooking and one on Egyptology and perfect a second language and use it to travel with Habitat for Humanity.

I would nurture a career without guilt.

But these are things I did before I had children that I might get to do again after the children are grown. What I wondered for the first time as I watched that car go by was: How would I approach the world if I had chosen never to have children? What would Matter then?

I would find other inspirations, other legacies, and other purposes I haven’t even considered.

Living a string of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other days, holding small people in trust for themselves isn’t always selfless. It can become self-involved, getting us so lost in our responsibilities that we forget to look up.

My commitment in the coming years is to remember to look up once in a while. To try something I hadn’t considered, to devote a little time to the world as it is, was, and always will be outside of my children.

As usual, I have no answers. So I’ll let you know what I find out as it goes.

The time has come to end my run here at the Parenting Post. I am grateful to Lilan and Ganda, Jesse, Jessica, Nikki, Sarah Smith and the rest of the Parenting team for including me and making me feel so appreciated.

And I am particularly proud to have shared a page with Daring Young Mom, Daddy Daze, Dah Gurl, B-juice, Notes from the Trenches, Halfmama, and Mighty Maggie. I wish you the best in your endeavors. Keep up the great work, I’ll be reading.

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