I’ve managed to avoid my computer for over a week, telling myself that I was on vacation, that I was celebrating my daughter’s birthday and seeing my family again.
But in truth, I was just getting rusty. Rusty and cranky. So this entry may be disjointed, may make no sense. So be it. I need to turn the wheel somehow, need to enter this space again.
During this self-imposed computer and blog fast, I have been reading a lot. Reading books chosen on a whim, at random, but that all seem related and giving me the same message.
I found myself slipping back into old patterns this week, around my family and my in laws. I was so anxious to please them, so quick to agree, to smile even when I didn’t feel like doing it. I became subservient, the eternal little sister, youngest daughter.
It occurs to me that I am tired of feeling that way. Of being that way. But I am not sure how to change it.
What does it mean to be a grown up woman? For years, I resisted the idea of becoming a grown up, equating it with a life of nittygrit, setting tables and making dinners and paying the mortgage and changing diapers. My passion for literature would have to be put away and I would have to be consumed with "real life."
And now I do all of those things, but I still don’t feel like a grown up. I still feel like I am masquerading in this role, like I need to apologize for being me, for taking up people’s time, for taking up space. I speak in a hushed, high voice, begging for a scrap of approval. I lie and sneak around my house like a child, afraid of being punished or accused of "wasting time" with my writing and my reading. I am tentative. I have no authority.
This is not what I want to model to my daughter.
One of the books I just finished reading, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, calls this being a daughter in your mind—unable to step into a central role in your own life. To take yourself seriously. When I read that, something inside me went "click." I don’t make myself central to my own life, and so I revolve around everyone else and what they will think. My parents. TEG. I don’t win a lot of arguments around here because I can never seem to convince myself, or anyone else, that what I want is worth having. That my ideas have value.
So I give in, because I don’t make the money, because my parents are older, because I should respect my in laws, because I am afraid of taking on the responsibility of sticking to my ideals—what if I am wrong?
So I give in, and then I seethe, dream about grabbing Madam and escaping to a place where no one knows that I used to be dutiful, that I used to look wistfully at people doing the most ordinary things—living alone, getting tattoos, going back to school—and feel completely ineffectual and inept.
But of course I don’t do that.
So the question remains—how to be a grown up woman?
Lately, I have been looking for mentors—women writers who have managed to produce work and live creatively even with small children. I discovered a book called The Writer at Her Work and have been devouring the encouraging essays by such writers as Joan Didion and Anne Tyler. And yes, some of them have children and talk about the ways that being mothers helped and hindered their process. But I was struck by something else in their voices—a certain clear-eyed confidence in the power of their own minds, in the value of their own thoughts. Many of them were around my age when they were first published, or when they wrote the essays in the book. These women were, are, clearly adults—clearly in control. Clearly equals in their own relationships, in their own lives.
Reading them, absorbing their voices, shook me. I’m 33, and a mother, and I can’t claim the same power over my own life. And I’m angry. I’m angry at TEG for his often-cutting belittling comments. I’m angry with my parents for discounting all of my accomplishments and focusing on my failures. I’m angry with my siblings for bossing me around even now and trying to keep me in my place as their little sister. But most of all, I am angry with myself for arresting my own development—for avoiding responsibility and power and strength and adulthood for so long. And for trying to please everyone and smile and sidle along inoffensively, even when I know that I can think. I can lead. I can write.
I am tired of insincerity, of my endless givens, of begging for scraps from the grown up table. I am tired of being secondary, subservient, and overlooked. I feel as though I need to finally feel strong and be strong in order to really come into my creative voice—to be able to withstand criticism and ridicule.
Forget my inner child. I am discovering that in order to be a writer, I need to become a grown up. A woman.