Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Caterpillars to Butterflies With a Stop in Paris: The Many Transformations of Motherhood

When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to spend my junior year living in Paris, France. Ooh la la! As I packed for the adventure, I just knew it would be transformative. Like the title character in one of my favorite movies of all time, Sabrina, I would leave a slightly (ok, totally) gawky, awkward, frizzy-haired, caterpillar, and return a sleek and chic butterfly- or as they say in Paris, un papillon.

Audrey Hepburn plays a young girl in Paris, circa  1954

That's not quite the way it happened.

In my defense, it's not like Audrey Hepburn was EVER, even for a fraction of a second, gawky or awkward, and I'm sure it took a village of Hollywood hairdressers to transform her lovely locks into something even vaguely approximating frizzy for the "before" shots.

But back to me. So off I went to Par-EE where I did my best to absorb the language, the culture, the je ne sais quoi that all French women possess. Along the way I also absorbed a lot of croissants, baguettes, and brie. Oh, I was a caterpillar all right- The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I gained about 25 pounds during my stay in the City of Lights, which did not exactly help with Operation Papillon. And the whole frizzy hair thing didn't get any better on the other side of the world.

Monet's Gardens at Giverny, 1993
But I did learn a lot about myself, including the fact that I was born without the scarf-tying gene that all French women possess. Try as I might (and I did try) I always ended up just looking like I was being choked by a yard of fabric. Try as I might (and I did try) I never looked anything like a French woman. And that's OK. Because what I did learn in that year away from my family, my friends, and the language and culture I grew up with, is that I am still me without all that. Strip away the trappings that seemingly define you, and what you're often left with... is you.
A random train was calling my name, somewhere in Europe. 

Unfortunately, the lesson didn't quite stick. Upon returning from Paris I said au revoir to my evolved self and reacquainted myself with the American tradition of trying to be things I'm not. I spent years trying to change myself myself to fit in with various crowds, always coming up short, feeling somehow "less than" as a result. I played the roles and dressed the parts: the intellectual, party girl, the suburban mom, the corporate ladder climber, and yes, even at one point in my life, the Club Med showgirl.
Club Med Turkoise, Winter 1995 

But none of those were me, and none of them felt quite right. I always found myself feeling like an outsider wearing a costume (sometimes literally) that didn't quite fit. It wasn't just the jobs, but the whole package. As my "finding myself" years stretched into decades, I started to wonder- was it just me? Was being just me just not enough for me... or for anyone else?

Until one hot summer day in 2009, when God sent me a message. It was a 7 pound, 12 ounce message which arrived gently and with barely a cry.

Sweet Baby Girl

One minute a bundle was placed in my arms and the next two big, blue eyes blinked back at me with an intensity I'd never experienced. I could see instantly that this little girl knew who she was. She was laughter, she was love, she was chocolate frosted cupcakes and warm, sandy beaches all rolled into one. She was pure joy. In fact, I was so sure of it, I knew right then and there it was literally her middle name.

Joy arrives. 

And since that day, she has more than lived up to it. At age 4, she is still so blessedly and unabashedly bold, so completely absorbed in being herself that she doesn't have time to even consider an alternative. If there is a song playing in her head (and there usually is), she dances with abandon, not giving a moment's thought to whether the rest of us can hear the tune or know the moves.

Beachside ballerina. 

Not only does she march to her own beat, she leads the band with a plastic recorder while wearing a skunk suit.

Leader of the band.

She is a girl unafraid of making a bold fashion statement, the kind that involves mixing multiple prints with multiple muppets.

Style maven. 

And when it comes to accessories, she's got a plan of her own.

Work it, girl. 

And so for the past four years, that fearless girl, my sweet Cecilia Joy has reminded me that we are meant to live our own lives. Not the one down the road with the fancy catalogue furniture and the Pinterest-perfect porch decor, not the one that looks so impossibly put together each morning at preschool drop-off and only wears yoga pants to do actual yoga, and not the one in the office down the hall that seems so much more accomplished or at least seems to be able to accomplish work AND a full night's sleep. No- we are meant to live the life we are given and to live it with joy. Or in my case, with Joy. 

Joy squared.

I'd like to say I've religiously applied that mantra to my life and have effortlessly blossomed into my very own butterfly at last, but progress isn't always linear and I've had my share of slip-ups. Lately I've found myself back at the comparison game, which is one I always lose. I've been spending too much time looking at what others have, or what they've achieved, or where they've been and wondering once again why I don't ever seem to fit in. 

And at the same time I've seen the first traces of self awareness creep into my little girl's brain. I can see her watching other kids closely, studying their words and their movements and trying to imitate what they do. I see her hesitate ever so slightly before she moves a certain way or says a certain thing, the wheels turning in her brain as she seems to question if she's doing the "right" thing. I watch her holding caterpillars in her hand and wonder what she's thinking. 

She calls them callipiters. 

So for her, and for me, it's time to make some changes.

For her, and for me, I left a job I didn't love, one which was rapidly turning me into a person I didn't love, a job I was holding on to because it was easier than finding my own path. 

For her, and for me, I'm recommitting myself to celebrating the things that make me different, and the wonderful people in my life who embrace those differences because, really, who has time for anyone who doesn't? 

For her, and for me, it's time to be OK with who I am and where I am. 

No more waiting for some magical transformation to turn me into a butterfly. Maybe I'm already there. Any maybe I'm not. But either way, I don't want to wish away all the joy (and the Joy) that's already here. 

1 comment:

  1. I just happened to come across this blog post at a time in my life when I can relate to nearly every word you have written here. I don't think that is coincidence. Thank you!