Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My friend Lisa asked me how I did it. How I stopped running around with my hair on fire. It's not that she would call it that. But I do. It all looked so good. I had a darling little boy. I had a cute little condo just outside of Boston. I had lots of fun play dates for Dalton. There was always a new craft to make, a new book to talk about in book group, a new restaurant to try out with all my friends. There was always somewhere to volunteer, some activity to attend, someone to save. And so on and so forth. So, yes, it appeared to be wonderful. And in my head, I guess I thought it was. It's all I'd ever known, and it gave me a bit of a high. If I had an hour to myself, with nothing to fill it with, I would start to sweat. Look at me wasting time! I should be DOING something. And so I did. I was a DOER. Dalton was drug all over the place. In the car for this errand, or that...or watched by a sitter so that I could do this or that. There was no way that I could miss anything! Of course I had to go to a church activity to learn about scrapbooking, or yoga. It's church related, so it's practically a commandment that I go! Poor Gavin. Poor Dalton. Again, we didn't know any different. It's just the way our little family had always functioned. Plus, when you are living in Boston, there is ALWAYS something to do. And I think that my little inner-child-who'd-been-stuck-in-white-Mormon-homogeneous-suburban-Utah was secretly living out all of the things that she wished she'd been able to do her whole life. Another museum opening-I am there! A lecture at Harvard-yes! A new Moroccan restaurant with belly dancing- yes, yes, YES! And so my time slipped quickly by and I felt happy having every minute of my day filled to the brim. I should have clued in to the warning sign when I was pregnant with Shelby. I was lugging my groceries up the stairs, from our underground garage to our condo, when I began to bleed..a lot. I thought I had miscarried. Luckily it turned out to be a placental tear, which was dangerous, but I still had a baby in there. I was supposed to be on bed rest. But no, not me. I just kept on truckin. And so, every month or so, I would have another bleed. I had to go in for weekly ultrasounds, to monitor the tears, as they were numerous. And why I couldn't connect the dots- that my lifestyle was doing this to the baby, I don't know. I was doing my church assignments, running all over town, and coaching Dalton's soccer team, the day before I delivered, and thankfully, she survived. Now we were four. But was that going to slow me down? No way. Gavin's traveling ,and long hours at work- no problem. Dalton's medical emergency... a hiccup. And whatever life threw at me, I pushed back with double the energy. I was not going to slow down. Another red flag occurred when Shelby was a new born. My milk supply was incredibly low, and she was hungry. Instead of realizing that my body needed rest in order to make the milk, I just drank fenugreek tea and pumped my guts out, again- not connecting the dots. And then it came time for our lease to be renewed, again. We had been in Boston for five years. Gavin was itching to buy a home. We figured we had already paid over $100,000 in rent over those past years. He was ready to see his money go toward something permanent. I was ready to continue to see our money buy me the full and fun life that I had enjoyed the past five years. That, to me, was priceless. I didn't care if we were living in a cave, I wanted to continue to drink it all in. We couldn't afford a place in the city. Which meant we would have to live in the suburbs. And the Massachusetts suburbs appeared just as homogeneous and boring to me, as the suburbs of Utah. It seemed like a death sentence. During this crossroads (or rather, stand-off) I watched a show on PBS about New York City. The narrator made the comment, "People who know who they are live in the suburbs. Those that need to find themselves, come to the city." It struck me. That is what I had been doing...trying to find myself. Desperately wanting to distance myself from who I had been, and find out who I was...who I could be. I was like a sponge, soaking up the people, the places, the energy. It had also been a good substitute for the void that was my marriage. Although we got along, we were not happy. We had kept ourselves busy enough to avoid the elephant in the room that was our marriage. Our relationship had been starved of attention, and it was teetering on collapse. Both of us felt unloved, under appreciated, and unconnected. We loved our children dearly, but our bond was non-existent. I had filled that void with friends and activities. He had filled his with work and success. But I knew that in order to heal our marriage, we had to leave Boston. Our little family...Gavin and I, needed to exist without distraction, with just one another as company..forcing us to focus on each other. I had already found a marriage therapist in Salt Lake, and planned to sacrifice my happiness for the sake of my children and my marriage. But could I give it up? Had I found myself? Was I ready to move to suburbia? The answer was no. I was terrified. Not only were we going to move to the suburbs, we were going to move to Utah. Even though I was devastated, it was my decision, and I knew that it was the right one. Gavin's company would let him work from a home office three weeks out of the month, and then he would return to Boston a week out of every month. He was already traveling that much in Massachusetts, and this way he would be at home with us during the day, avoiding the hour+ commute to and from his office each day. He would also avoid the need to be the first one in, last one out at the office. We could now afford a home. I could go back to school, since the tuition would be substantially less than the pricey Boston schools. My kids could be with their Grandma and Grandpas, aunt and uncle, and their cousins. They longed for that. We could afford to bike, and ski, and take trips, instead of sinking every last cent in to our rent. On paper, it all made perfect sense. But I was heart broken. I put off packing until the day before our move. Dragging out the inevitable. I told everyone "Just two years, and then we'll be back." Hoping that they wouldn't forget me. That my little busy town of Brookline wouldn't forget me. "And Gavin will be back every month, and we'll come back to visit every month." And in the beginning, we did come back to visit a lot. I was like a drug addict slowly being weaned off. I could not give up Boston cold-turkey. Each time the cab would approach Logan Airport, for our return trip home, I felt nauseous, already homesick for the life that I was giving up, the life I had already given up. And back in Utah I tried the same routine. Even though I was lonely and depressed, I kicked in to full gear. Enrolled at the University of Utah, taking a large load of thought-provoking classes, volunteered at the shelter, attended all the church activities, accepted the position of "Young Women's President" where I would be in charge of all the girls ages 12-17 within our church group. I was gone Wednesday nights for youth activities. Our Sundays were swamped with planning meetings, firesides, and church services. Gavin was traveling more than we'd originally planned..sometimes half the month. I relied on my mother, to jump in and save me as I was committed to get straight A's in school, which meant hours at the library studying. I also couldn't give up the lectures on campus, and the study sessions. Still, playdates for Dalton and Shelby, family gatherings, and rooms in our new home to decorate, decorate, decorate. I still felt disconnected. The hole in my heart still existed. I just patched it with enough "stuff" to numb myself to those feelings. If I were busy enough, if the kids were busy enough, then we were "happy". I enrolled Dalton in a strict academic private school. I wanted him to have the academic experience that I felt he would be missing, not living in Massachusetts. He did not thrive. He did not enjoy school. I started to suffer as well. I felt disconnected to my kids now, as well as Gavin. My mother was their stand-in-mom, a role she did not mind. Gavin and I had been going to therapy, and slowly began to make progress. I wanted to have another child. Which meant that something had to give. I don't remember if there was a large epiphany. But I made drastic changes. I moved Dalton to public school for 1st grade, where he began to thrive. I quit my position in the church and took back two days of my week that had been lost to me. I quit school. I quit volunteering, I quit coaching. I quit needing to be busy all the time. These were baby steps. They didn't happen all at once. But with every fragment of time I recaptured as mine, it empowered me to regain it all. Anything that took my time, away from my husband and children, was now priority level zero. Getting to know my family was number one. We began to ski together, and hike together. Go for Sunday brunch at our neighborhood diner every week. We began to slow down, and enjoy each other's company. We began to drink in life. Now, once in a while, the old me would creep back in. I would volunteer at Dalton's school even though I was deliriously fatigued, being pregnant with Garrett. Or, I would join a playgroup, even though I dreaded the task of watching other kids for the trade. But again, I would catch myself and reevaluate. And I stopped volunteering at Dalton's school, and we quit the playgroup. And now I am a suburbanite who has found herself. I have found out who I am. I have found out who my husband is. We are a family, first and foremost. We live for each other, and for the pure joy that is to be had in the simple moments of the day. In the puzzles, and the dress up. In the pillow forts, and family movie parties, in the Snow Canyon trips to visit Grandpa, and the ranch trips to ride the horses with Grandma and Grandpa. In the Saturday morning cartoons, and the late afternoons at the pool. In the family ski days at Alta, and the impromptu neighborhood gatherings on the lawns while the kids play. In the visits to our local bookstore for a special new book, and the daily walks to our neighborhood market for a tub of homemade tomato soup or organic yogurt. All of this is pure joy to me. And this is why I no longer run around with my hair on fire.


Danielle Hatch said...

Ashley, thanks for sharing your experience. I definitely feel a kinship to you with the whole "I must do everything" mentality (not to mention missing Boston). I've been struggling with the same issue recently and it finally came to the point where I had to decline my acceptance to grad school for architecture. Though there really was no feasible way for me to be a good mom, wife, sane person while doing this program, I'd convinced myself that somehow I would be worth less or disappointing all those people who had mentored me academically if I didn't somehow make it work. And when I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't possible to do it all, I immediately felt relief and peace. I'm sure I'll continue to over commit myself in the future, but at this point it does feel great to step back and refocus on family and the things which truly matter in life. Ok sorry for the outrageously long comment, thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I always enjoy reading your musings on life.

Ashley said...

Hey Danielle, way to go on figuring it out so early. I wish that I would have had this insight when Dalton was just a baby. Life is too long to make it so complex so early. Thanks for the comment. It means a lot.

Lyndsie Field said...

Ashley...it's lyndsie olsen field (kristen's friend). I must say that I love reading your blog and your thoughts about life. You're so real and refreshing...and I find myself relating in so many ways to this post...I've been trying to simplify my life lately by not taking on so many projects...and to just enjoy my kids right now as they are and thrive in the simple moments of every day. It's been nice, but I thnk I'm definitely going through detox mode...I feel lazy...I feel like if all I did all morning long was sit around with the kids playing with blocks...in some ways it was a waste of time...even though deep down I know those are the simple pleasures of life and that's really what it's all about. I'm trying to find the balance I guess. But your post really helped me...so thanks! And I'm glad you've found what makes YOU most happy!!

Ps.. I love all the books you have listed. Have you ever read any of neale donald walsh's books? You might like those too. :)

Ashley said...

Hey Lyndsie, great to hear from you. It's been so long. As for choosing sanity over multi-tasking, way to go! I think that we are like Pavlov's dog- programmed to try to do it all, because that is where we get our praise from. And we need that. It's human nature. Looking back now, it's funny that my Grandmother, who wrote and spoke for the church, was always being praised for what a good mother she was, while working at the same time. When the reality was that she had maids, and nannies and more help than I can imagine. So, of course it was easier for her to "be a good mom". And truth be told, she has many regrets about not being there for her younger kids, when she was working like crazy. And as for Walsh's books- I am embarrassed to admit that I have "What God Wants"(a gift from my dad from a year ago) that I still have not read. I did read "Conversations With God" when it first came out, and I had mixed feelings about it. I think that his "conversations" are real to him, but as to the source being God, that wasn't convincing to me. I will have to read the other one, and tell you what I think. Thanks for the suggestion!

Emily said...

Wow Ashley! This post was so real and raw. Thanks for sharing. I caught myself catching my breath a few times as I read about your various activities. You really did need to SLOW DOWN!

I hope you are enjoying the new-found suburbian Ashley.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

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