So I decided to go to work this morning. Due to a growing lack (there’s an oxymoron) of patience with my full-time day (and night) job, there was a collective vote that I take a half-day off.
So after I successfully micro-managed my husband for an hour or so this morning (listing my agenda and instructions for his few hours of taking care of our children), I finally got out of the door (much to his relief).
I drove in the cold February rain to a great little coffee shop that I have not been to since the first year we lived in Nashville. Rumor has it that it is country pop star Taylor Swift’s favorite haunt, though I admit that I likely wouldn’t recognize her if she was sitting at the table beside me. I ordered a vanilla latte from the hippie-hipster barista and found a corner bar table with a high-backed chair to sink into my retreat. I opened my bag with a copy of the book I am plodding through for one of my book clubs and Ben’s laptop. Hmmm- what to do. I have an entire half day off from my children. I better make it count. Oh…the pressure….
The perfectionist in me kicks in. I should power through 100 pages of this book. I should write the thousands of stories that have flitted in and out of my consciousness the past month. I should be PRODUCTIVE. I am at work.
Nestled in this corner, I allow myself a few moments of voyeurism, eavesdropping on the twenty-something women sitting beside me. One is clearly writing lesson plans, hunched over a familiar template with boxes for objectives and guided practice directives and with a large Ziploc bag full of leveled readers at her side. The other is restlessly musing about what kind of job she hopes to secure in the future. “I think I could be happy doing lots of different things,” she sighs. I am reminded of my 22-year old self spending a Sunday morning at Onion Creek coffee shop in Houston, Texas pouring my heart and caffeine-driven soul into the 7th graders I was charged to save from the plague of educational inequity. I center for a moment on that transformative time in my life and smile, but I soon become annoyed by the woman’s valley-girl lilt and happily discover that my headphones are buried in the bottom of my purse (smashed under a baby Mum-mum cracker wrapper and a snot-covered Kleenex).
I try to stream Pandora but find that the wireless signal I am borrowing is too weak to sustain the music. I open Ben’s iTunes application and am excited to find that he has downloaded the new albums that he bought for me for Christmas. Perfect. I hook up my ears to my new favorite anthems from “The Head and the Heart” and hunker down with my thoughts. Here I sit in front of the computer. What to do? What to create? I must be sure to use this time wisely. I stave off the pressure by letting my curious eyes explore again. To my right is a guy sitting at a table alone, reading The Catcher in the Rye. He doesn’t look up much. He is deeply enthralled in the coming-of-age vortex of Holden Caulfield. At the other nearby table is a family having breakfast. I admire their cute little boy, who probably falls in between Ev and Lou in age as he bangs his Hot Wheels on the table and his parents try to gently quiet him, so as not to disturb the Salinger reader. I take pause to remember what I am retreating from and feel content to be present here but also happily aware of what waits for me the other 6 and 1/2 days of the week ahead.
And still I sit, struggling to dive in to the work I came to do. I romanticized the idea of packing a laptop up and “going to work” this Sunday morning, but here I perch pushing away the desire to “make it count” and create something to show for my time away from my children. I desire an intellectual charge, but also feel too restless to tune in. So my fingers hit Google and I explore a new writers’ group that I read about in Nashville. I discover that there is a memoir-writing workshop coming up in three weeks served up on the community education docket of a local college. It costs $80 and would take me away for a little more than half a Saturday. I’m tempted. Should I just pull out the credit card and enroll? But what if it ends up being a waste of time, a waste of funds, a waste of the guilt I will feel leaving my family on one of the few days we have to all four hang out together…?
And then I realize what I am really here doing this morning. I am reclaiming aspects of my self that have faded into the background the past three years. The teacher self, the writer self, the coffee-shop-sitting-musing self, the self that holds worth and importance independent of the mother-self. Who knew that this kind of “work” would take deliberate planning and assigning of time, energy, and in some ways risk-taking? These parts of me are not lost, but they do require deliberate cultivation in order to thrive. Perhaps I’ve found my resolution for 2014. Go to work. Do the work. But let it be imperfect and spontaneous and ever-changing. Let it be challenging and soothing and gratifying and unnerving and revitalizing all at once.
And let go of the guilt… even though I must admit I am even feeling guilty monopolizing this cafe table as people swirl around me carrying their steaming cappuccinos and looking for a spot to land. My instinct is to serve, to sacrifice, to move aside so others can thrive. “I am doing important work here,” I want to look up and say. And I so I repeat that mantra to myself as I begin to believe it.