Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.
The humidifier steams. The white noise machine zzhhhhhhs.
Faint lights from passing cars travel across the walls.
With his soft breath against my shoulder, I rock back and back and back. One year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. As many Christmases as I can remember.
Plenty of happy ones.
Plenty of ones filled with tension. (Growing up in a house with four teenagers will do that).
Plenty of forgettable ones in my 20s. (That limbo between getting married and having kids.)
Now, we’ve entered a series of Christmases that no longer mean comfort and joy or the most wonderful time of the year.
There was the Christmas of Nausea (2012), when I grasped for ginger candy and Sea Bands or whatever anyone suggested that might help me ride the waves of first trimester nausea. From December until mid-January. (Truly a delight, let me tell you.)
And the 37-Weeks-Pregnant Christmas (2016), when I told myself that I only had three weeks left to go. (It turned out to be another five weeks. Yeah.)
And all those fun Christmases of Illness (2014, 2017, 2018). 2017 was by far the worst, as the baby’s diarrhea stretched on for a few weeks, taking us all down into its shitty vortex.
And the downright sad Christmas (2015) when the baby’s heart stopped beating. After I had a D & C on New Year’s Eve, I sat in the parking lot of Whole Foods while my husband bought me a slice of apple pie. I listened to “Long December” by the Counting Crows and cried.
And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
to hold on to these moments as they pass
But if I’m really thinking about the Christmas when everything in my life changed direction, when I started plotting a course that brought me to this rocking chair, with this child in my arms, while my oldest sleeps in her bed across the hall, I always end up traveling back to Christmas of 2002.
It was Christmas Eve. 11:00 p.m. At Wal-Mart. And I was standing in the card aisle. Looking for cards for a few friends and my boyfriend. I had no trouble picking out the cards for my friends.
But I was having the hardest time picking out one for my boyfriend of three years.
Forever and always. My one and only. Meant for each other.
I couldn’t even pick them up to consider them.
Because I understood, suddenly and completely, that I couldn’t see a future for us anymore, the way that I used to.
What was our future? It was his vision for what we would become. A married couple. A house. No kids. I could be a teacher, but did I really need any more education than a Bachelor’s degree? Why did I want to travel when he was the most important thing in my life? Wasn’t a life with him good enough? And kids? Why have kids? They just ruin a good thing.
And for a long time, I thought, Yes, of course. You’re right. You are the only thing that I want in life. I couldn’t possibly want anything else. Right. I don’t want kids. Nah, too much work. We’d be much happier by ourselves. Living our life together without kids getting in the way.
But I did want more. Much more. And in time, conversations about the future brought me back again and again to a realization that I could not ignore.
We had come as far as we could together, but now there was more pulling us apart than was keeping us together.
And although my heart had been feeling that way for some time, I didn’t want to give up. I had poured so much of myself into making it work. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked his family. I didn’t want to make life more difficult or more inconvenient for anyone.
And above all, I didn’t want to believe that although love can bring people together, sometimes it wasn’t enough to keep them together. No one makes movies or songs about the power of finding someone with compatible values and goals for life, or someone who trusts you and works with you to resolve conflict. It’s not sexy enough. And if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to even articulate the problems.
I just remember thinking, This isn’t working.
I thought that a lot.
And yet, I was like the women in my family who came before me: devoted and long-suffering, servile and contented.
To end this relationship was not within my repertoire. At all.
But I also couldn’t lie to myself.
And therefore, I wouldn’t lie to anyone else anymore either.
I paid for the cards for my friends, got in my old car, turned the heat up, and flipped on the radio. The voice of Stevie Nicks reached through the speakers and the tears rolled.
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
Because I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
And I’m getting older too
I didn’t realize it yet, but when I left that store that night, I had changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Because the very next guy that I dated became my husband.
Three years later, we were married.
And we had two kids.
I know. I know.
It’s what we’re tempted to believe: That all the decisions–good and bad–that we’ve made in our lives have brought us to a point for which we’re ultimately grateful.
But, had I made different decisions, would I have ended up somewhere else, where I would be equally as grateful?
But what I do know is that I did something extraordinary on Christmas Eve of 2002.
For years, I imagined my future, married, but no children. Never kids.
But on Christmas Eve of 2002, I allowed myself to imagine a different future.
A life in which, someday…
I might have kids.
It turns out, as it is with a lot of things, the biggest steps that we take all start with a thought.
The simple willingness to imagine a different future.
That ability to imagine a different future has taken me far beyond the original course that I had plotted for my life. It has helped me imagine that I could get a Master’s degree. And travel overseas. And change my political and religious beliefs. And write a book. And lose forty pounds. (Three times, yeah.) And relearn algebra. (It’s true.)
And, yeah, it has helped me to imagine a life that includes kids.
And, with endless gratitude, it has helped me imagine a future moment in my life when my children won’t always need me every moment that they are awake. And a time when we won’t have to pay for babysitters. And a time when we can travel with them without losing our minds.
What about you?
What different future do you imagine for yourself?
And what will you do tomorrow to help you get there?