I never really wanted anything in life.
Not really, not passionately. Maybe I wanted a new Barbie doll when I was a child, or wanted to stay up later to watch TV, or wanted to skip school, or stay out longer with my boyfriend. I “wanted” to be a stewardess and an Egyptologist, but only with a child’s understanding of what those things are. But I never really felt a drive to be something. I was never drawn to a profession, or a certain kind of life, or felt a calling. I wanted things that were easy, that weren’t risky, that didn’t call any attention to me.
I used to drive my mother crazy by saying “it doesn’t matter” or “whatever” to everything: where I went to college, what I studied, where we went for dinner, where I got married, the color of the napkins at the wedding reception. “It all matters,” she would say, and I would just roll my eyes. Saying “it doesn’t matter” made me look cool, easy, flexible, I thought. And I was, sure. But I also allowed decisions to be made for me—by life, by circumstances, by the people around me. I moved, gave up graduate school, bought cars and houses with that attitude, and while they all sort of worked out in the end, my cool indifference made me feel powerless.
And then I had a baby. I hate to admit it, but initially even that decision was sort of “meh” for me. I don’t remember an overwhelming urge to become a mother—it just seemed like the next logical thing to do.
Once my child was born, I suddenly felt like Superwoman after 35 years of not feeling like much of anything. It started with the small things: Look, I know how to soothe a baby! I can breastfeed and talk on the phone at the same time! I am an expert swaddler! I can stay up all night with a sick child and go to work the next day! And then with time we moved on to the bigger things that required more skill—skills that I suddenly, inexplicably had, out of nowhere: I know how to explain death to my 3-year-old! I can draw a dinosaur! I just built a pirate ship and a lighthouse out of Legos, without instructions!
With all of this crazy confidence, I suddenly realized that I wanted to do things with my life. My time is precious and my attention span is that of a 4-year-old, but I finally feel ready to know—and to get—what I want.
I want to be a great mother, of course. I want to be present and to enjoy the small everyday victories—and defeats—of parenting, of watching a little person grow. I want the tantrums and the swimming classes and the first homework assignment and the first ride on the big bike and the sassy attitude and the superhero costumes. I want to swim in it all.
I also want a career. Until now, all of my jobs have been just that—jobs. But now I find myself wanting to be really good at what I do—even if it’s not finding some ancient, lost pharaoh’s tomb or curing disease. I want to learn new things and move up and ahead. I want to put myself out there and make my job matter to me and to my child.
I want a hobby and time for that hobby. I’ve started to take my writing seriously since my son was born, not only because I finally feel like I have something important to say, but also because I feel like it’s important for me to put myself out there. I want my son to take risks and to give voice to his feelings and opinions, so I should do the same.
I want interesting friends and time to spend with them. I want to travel. I want passion. I want experiences that are crazy and maybe dangerous. I want late nights drinking wine with strangers in strange countries. I want quiet, and I want chaos. I want laughter and pain and everything in-between. I want life. I want it all.
It all seems crazy, because also what I really want most days is a good nap and five minutes by myself in the bathroom. That should be enough, right? But suddenly it isn’t.
Motherhood gave me confidence and focus and infused everything with a sense of urgency. I am suddenly keenly aware of the passage of time. It is not only my son who is growing older every month, every year. I am also trying to set an example for him, and I want him to know me as more than the woman who cooks his favorite food.
Things matter now because in my younger years I was never pulled so strongly in one particular direction (to my child) so there was nothing to pull back against. Things didn’t matter because they were all equally important, or unimportant, but now being a parent is the one big thing everything else is measured against. I really, really have to want something for me to allow it to take me away from my child.
I don’t have dreams or the desire to “have it all.” I don’t think it’s possible, at least not for me. I know that some of what I want will remain unfulfilled. But it’s important to have these wants. The hard choices, the weighing of options, the occasional sacrifices let me know that I am doing something right, that I am paying attention to what matters.