My newest baby, Ella.  We have been doing a lot of late night struggling the two of us.

My newest baby, Ella. We have been doing a lot of late night struggling the two of us.

When Max was a few days old, Juan went off to work, my mother climbed onto an airplane and I was left all alone with a strange little person who couldn’t seem to get the hang of nursing and who screamed bloody murder whenever he was put down.  I remember sitting with him on the couch, trying to figure him out, wishing he had an owners manual attached to his little foot. 

Motherhood wasn’t going as planned. 

I assumed I would be a natural at mothering.   I had imagined that soon after delivery I would be sailing along effortlessly, nurturing and listening to my baby’s cues, managing the house, and taking a break from my stressful DC job, as good at the art of parenting as I was at everything else in my life that I had tackled.  Instead, I sat sobbing on the couch frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to simultaneously hold him and feed myself lunch.  I was so hungry, he was so needy and we were both absolutely miserable.  

Even weeks later, I beat myself up for not knowing what the hell I was doing.  I was not effortlessly swaddling my little bambino in a sling as I arrived for my lunch appointment.  Instead I was sobbing as I tried for the 5th time to tuck him in, an hour and a half late for an appointment with a friend downtown, yellow mustard poop smeared on my arm, my breasts leaking through my shirt. 

It was then, at that exact moment that I discovered the art of baby steps. 

I stopped trying to fufill my ultimate vision and dropped my standards to the sub-basement level.  I would define victory in the smallest of ways.  “Today I went to the bathroom.”  “Today I made myself lunch.”  “Today I combed my hair.”   I remember how exhilerating it was when Max was three and a half weeks old I was able to pack him up all by myself and get to a friend’s house.  Granted, I was so exhausted from the effort of getting out all I could do was sit in her hammock swing and nurse my son sleepily, but I had done it all by myself.  For a Type-A, Washington overachiever, it seemed like a pretty lame accomplishment but to me that victory felt sweeter than anything I had accomplished in the previous 10 years of work.

It dawned on me as I was swinging there on her porch that this was the first time I had attempted to do something I wasn’t naturally good at.  I really had no choice after all.  But this was a departure from the rhythm of my life up to that point. 

See, I was used to being good at things.  As a child and young adult I was a classic overachiever.  I was interested in anything I excelled at and so I chose my activities very carefully, filling my time with things I could sail through effortlessly and then focused all my energy at being the best.  I quickly lost interest in anything that was hard.

Dance–I had been a natural since my first ballet class at 4.  It stuck and became my major extracurricular activity all the way through college.  On the other hand there was tennis and downhill skiing,  I fell too much and had a weak swing.  Swimming–I was slow and always behind the others, a little out of breathe.  I left those activities in the dust (with a bit of regret) and didn’t look back. 

As much as I sometimes wished for it, I didn’t have the option of leaving mothering behind in pursuit of something I could do so much better.  So at age 32, I finally allowed myself to indulge in taking things slow, in fumbling along in a half-assed manner, in failing every day and in taking baby steps.   

I learned the pure joy of sticking with something I was bad at, of toughing it out and struggling through.  Getting through the muck and surviving.  And while I still daily make classic mistakes that would lead many a social worker shake to her head in dismay, I have really become a pretty decent mom,.  It was a bumpy ride l to get here but looking into those big brown eyes of Max’s I know that every second its been worth it. 

Max helped me discover the pure joy of doing something because I love it not because I am going to be good at it.  And this beautiful little angel, he has opened up doors for me.  I am now free to do things for pure and utter joy of it.  There are so many beautiful things that I cant do well!  Giving myself permission to plunge into all of them has been liberating.  And it has been the biggest creative gift the universe has ever passed along.

Since Juan left, I regularly practice doing things I am bad at.  I know longer crave the praise from doing the things that I naturally do well.  Instead, I fill my free hours struggling through with no hope of ever being great, striving to be good enough.  Despite the often poor results I keep going–an addict now to the adrenline rush of the tiny victory.

I was thinking about all this this evening because I have a bunch of new projects on my plate now that really do not play to my strengths.  Struggling through them could be the understatement of the year.  I am spending hours with little results, taking my baby steps, one by one and relentlessly congratulating myself on the smallest of successes. 

I am so proud of myself to be doing so much so badly.  For finally choosing to do things for the joy of them and not for the flashy results.   

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