permission to be

My son isn’t a very graceful swimmer. Oh, he gets from point A to point B, but there are lots of flailing limbs and splashing water. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was drowning every time he pauses for a breath.

For awhile, his swimming embarrassed me. We’d paid good money for five rounds of swimming lessons, and I watched with my brow furrowed as the other children glided smoothly through the water, passing him with ease. I studied his form, comparing it to the others in his class, and figured out the problem – he doesn’t get his legs out behind him. He essentially swims vertically in the water, which means he uses up a whole lot of energy to not go very far.

There’s nothing I love more than a problem with a simple solution. I could fix this. I could fix him. After the lesson, I approached the teacher, airing my concerns. The teacher nodded and explained it was due to Nathan’s head position – if he looked down in the water, his legs would automatically raise up. Nathan swims looking forward, so his legs drop down, hanging perpendicular to the ground.

I nodded to show my understanding, already visualizing the drills we could do in the water to correct the problem: holding toys in my hands and making him look down and tell me what I’m holding; reminding him to look at my toes and not my nose. He’d be swimming just like the other kids in no time.

With my answer in hand,  I turned to go. I was ready to make my son faster, better, more like the others. But the teacher read the determination on my face, and gave a parting set of instructions that stopped me in my tracks.

“Keep in mind that you can’t rush him. His body is doing what feels natural right now. It’ll self-correct, and he may well be the fastest kid out there. But you’re just going to frustrate him if you try to push him along before he’s ready. Give it time. He’ll get there.”

Don’t rush him. Stop comparing. Let him be. 

***

I read an article the other day that I shouldn’t have. It talked about the economic impact of leaving the workplace to stay at home with children. When taking into account lost wages, retirement savings and future raises lost, the figure was something like half of a million dollars for staying home for three years — and that was only for a pre-kids salary of $50,000.

$500,000. I’m not a true SAHM, but my 12 hours a week for a non-profit and a little erratic freelancing don’t exactly bring home the bacon, either. Don’t mistake me – I know how fortunate I am that I was able to opt out in the first place. But now that I’m in my 30s, I’m watching my friends who are still leaning in climb the career ladder with great success. They’re landing heady titles and incomes to match; traveling the world, leading teams and steering projects.

My biggest accomplishment today was getting my 2 year old to correctly identify the color blue; a feat that was immediately undone when she called that blue block “yewwow” two minutes later. The only rhythm to our days in this season of life is the complete absence of one. There is no five year plan or strategic goal setting – at least, not beyond the basic “keep everyone alive while raising decent human beings.”

When Ellie was a baby, and I was in the throes of the madness that is spending your days with an infant and a toddler, it was easier. It took all of me to focus inwardly on my own little self and my own little family, and ignorance became bliss – or at least tolerance. Most of my days looked the same, so I didn’t always notice the pace of them.

Now the kids are 5 and 2, and a little less needy. It’s not exactly all cocktail hours and relaxing over here, but I do get to pause and catch my breath every once in awhile. Except sometimes I use my free time to glance in the other lanes. I see how smoothly everyone else seems to be moving — and how much more they seem to fit into each day. They are faster. Better. When I look back down at this one, precious life I’m holding, it suddenly seems like it’s not enough. Like I’m not enough. I’m doing it wrong, and if I could just do life like they’re doing it (whoever “they” are), then everything would be okay.

I need to be more.

Thankfully, Nathan is there to cut through the lies the world is feeding me and offer up his truth.

“Mom, how come you don’t go to work anymore? How come all your work is at home on the computer now?”

This isn’t an uncommon question, and once more I explain to him that Dad and I decided that I would spend more time with him and Ellie for awhile, so I found a job that takes less time and lets me work from home. Usually the conversation ends with Nathan, my social butterfly, musing about how much he misses daycare and how we could get him back there. But not today. Today he hands me a gift.

“I’m glad, Mom. I like that you’re always here for me.”

Just like that, my focus is shifted back where it belongs. It’s a sweet sentiment from my thoughtful boy, but it’s more than that. It’s permission to move more slowly, to be a little poorer and a little less-accomplished for this season of life. It’s permission to be, whatever that looks like (and believe me, it doesn’t look like much most days).

Don’t rush. Stop comparing. Let it be. 

All in the name of being here.

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