Yikes. It’s January 19th. My computer tells me I started this draft on January 6th– so, here we are 13 days later.
I remember well in my years before moving to Guatemala and becoming a mom that I would carve out a few hours at the end of each year to reflect. I would curl up in a cozy coffee shop on the mesa, a few blocks from where I used to live, and write and dream and make lists of what I wanted to do in the coming year. I remember 3 of my best friends and I used to go out for dinner at an Italian restaurant, the ones that have the white paper on top instead of a table cloth- perfect for small children, or ambitious 20-something’s. And over rosemary bread dipped in olive oil, we would each write out our 5 goals for the year. We wrote and dreamed about things that most 20 years old want: new relationships and work opportunities and traveling to new countries. I remember distinctly one of those years I wrote something like, “Learn Spanish.” Ha, funny how life works out.
. . .
But this season of life feels different. If feels harder to carve out a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop just to dream and write and plan. In between washing diapers and washing dishes, and coordinating schedules and planning meals, and answering emails and arranging transpiration, and doing all the good stuff that goes into making a life and a marriage work, I find that I have less and less energy and time for me, or for writing, or for even talking to a friend.
But I know first hand it’s not a problem of not having enough time, it’s a problem of having said, “yes” to too much. I have felt this before: this slow stress that comes creeping up and then blindsides you and all of the sudden, you wonder why you’re crying in the parking lot at the grocery store. Yeah, that one. It steals the joy away from whimsical moments, whispering what you should be getting done the moment you stop to rest or play. I know that feeling, and I know I don’t want to go back there.
But, let me tell you people. It’s hard. At least hard for me. If my time and energy were indispensible, I would be saying yes to everything, to leading this and planning that. I would be teaching classes and scheduling events and on-the go-go-go. And the thing is, I probably would get it all done, but often at the expense of those closest to me: my husband and my daughter and myself.
. . .
There was a movie that came out years ago, a total teacher-nerd kind of movie, “The Freedom Writers.” And although not central to the story, there is one scene that I will never forget. The lead (Hilary Swank) is rushing around trying to get ready for one of final big event with her students. The very students she has been mentoring and investing in and for all-important purposes, I mean, she’s helping to changing their lives! She’s a stellar teacher, but you see the sub-plot unfolding. She begins devoting more time to her classroom, and less to her marriage. And in one 3-second scene, she comes home from work to find a note from her husband on the dresser, saying…he’s leaving. I remember sitting on the couch next to my roommate as I was grading my own student’s notebooks, and I started crying.
Something convicted me. It’s like I saw myself. I knew that could easily be me one day. And it scared me.
. . .
Fast-forward 6 years later, I left the public school sector and I am living in a different country, now married and mothering and working with a non-profit organization. I have put my classroom teaching days on hold for now, mostly because I know the days of teaching and playing with my little girl are fleeting.
But two weeks ago, the director of the girls school where I used to teach, asked me if I would be interested in teaching at the junior high? (she just so happens to also be my sister-in-law:). You remember the girls school??!! This one, where I wrote about how I go to their 6th graduation every year and so few of the girls continuing studying because they have to help their families. And now that very school is opening up a jr. high! I was thrilled. I almost said yes, on the spot. I love teaching, and love those girls. It seemed like an easy answer.
But I told her I would talk to Gerber and get back to her.
I shared with him one morning, while standing over the sink, toothbrush in one hand, make-up brush in the other. He listened, and nodded and then remained silent.
He asked a few questions. I got defensive. He said it seemed like our life already felt really full, between juggling work and schedules and groups and caring for our child. He asked why I wanted to add one more thing when he often hears me complaining about not having enough time for things I enjoy?
In my head I rattled off all of my usual mantras, I will be more productive with my time. Everything will get done. I can do one more thing.
He looked at me, as I tried to brush powder on my face and toothpaste on my teeth and said, “I trust you. You can decide what’s best.”
. . .
So I did what I usually do, I prayed while I drove to work that morning and then, texted my best friend.
Usually, what I hear God say and what she says, line up. So that must mean something, riiiiight???
She wrote back, “I know you love teaching, but I think Gerber’s right. It’s ok to say no, sometimes. Your marriage and family may appreciate it.”
Then I heard God say, if you and Gerber aren’t equally excited for something, maybe you should listen to that.
That sounded pretty wise. I swallowed, what I knew was my pride, and called my sister-in-law to say that I wouldn’t be able to teach this year. It was hard, but felt good.
. . .
I know it’s an age-old rule, but sometimes saying no to one thing, means saying yes to something else.
I know myself, and I know that I will always have the propensity to put my work above my family. I know in whatever field I am in, it will be a struggle. I don’t necessarily like this about myself, but I know there is a reason why that movie scene hit me like it did 6 years ago. And I know I need to consistently keep choosing what’s really important. Because just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.
I saw something Shauna Niequist or Laura from Hollywood Housewife posted a few months ago and it stuck with me: Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People. And I decided that is my mantra for 2015. That is what I want to repeat to myself this year ahead. This is what I am going to write on a post-it note in my calendar.
Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People.
On Monday night we boarded a redeye flight from California to Guatemala. We’ve done this numerous times before, the difference being this time the little baby we thought would sleep was wide awake. We sat on the runway for a while before being giving the clear to take off. As she stared out the window pointing at the lights, we tried our best to keep her occupied. Like any parent who has flown with a toddler knows, you’ll do anything to keep them quiet and contained. I started whispering “bye bye” to each item we spotted out the window. We waved bye bye to the moon and to the lights and to the man with the orange flashlight. We continued…
Good-bye to Nana, Good-bye to Papa, Good-bye to Bean and wooff wooff,
In her sweetest voice she repeated, “byyeee, byeee.”
Good-bye Bobo and Grandma Charlotte. Good-bye Tia Steph and Uncle Brian.
As the plane started to speed up we waved good-bye to Target and Trader Joe’s, REI and easy returns. We waved goodbye to Starbucks and the sleeping deer. Good-bye library and the parks with no sand.
Good-bye 5-lane freeways and the carpool lane. Goodbye sushi and roasted seaweed.
Good-bye beach walks and friends in Santa Barbara. Good-bye Boat House and Blenders.
Good-bye Jen, Good-bye June. Good-bye church and cousins in LA. And good-bye putting toilet paper in the toilet.
As the headed west out over the Pacific and the lights behind us faded we waved one more time. I whispered in her ear…
. . .
I looked out the window into the black sky. I swallowed the ache in my heart. So much has changed since I first left.
I moved to Guatemala trusting that still small voice that says, Go, Will you trust me? My plan was for a year. I think if someone had told me you’re leaving and not coming back, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But a year seamed do-able, even desirable. And in these 4 years some pretty significant life changes happened: I fell in love and got married. We bought a home and then welcomed the birth of our daughter. My life has expanded and changed and simplified in a million ways. I became a foreigner, a wife and a mother within a span of three years. Sometimes when I let that all sink in, I think, woah! That’s a lot.
And then we go back for visits like this past one. And I soak.it.all.up.
My parents spoil us. They do everything possible to make visiting with a toddler easy. They let us borrow a car and give us the guest bedroom, they buy diapers and wipes and set-up a changing station in our room. They have a closet full of toys for Elena to play with and a fridge full of food for us. They welcome us and love us well.
One of my very favorite things was watching Elena reach her arms out for Nana or Papa. My sister spoiled her with crafts and cups of Starbucks’ hot chocolate and she spoiled us with free babysitting for date nights and afternoon errands. Gerber and I went to the movies together for the FIRST time since Elena was born. We saw, the Hobbit (his choice) and Interstellar (my choice).
I have a new appreciation for the benefits of living close to my family. I get a glimpse of what it could look like.
Then we went to Santa Barbara for a week. Some of my favorite people and favorite places are there. We bounced around and stayed with three different friends’ who gracioulsy hosted us. We piled Elena in the car for dinners with friends and breakfast dates. We walked along the beach and spent a morning out on the pier at the Sea Center Museum. I planned play dates and we had an open house. I visited the high school where I taught and ran into a few old students around town. The week was full. On our way out of town we even stopped for coffee with two of my favorite professors.
We drove down the 101 with the ocean sparkling in the rear-view mirror. As, we rounded the last curve the orange-pink sunset slipped behind the hill and I sighed. Not a sad sigh, just a nostalgic, heart full and heavy sigh.
Maybe I was mourning what I left behind. Or maybe just reminiscing. Although we all know the past often looks better when seen through rear-view mirror sunsets. I know in a heartbeat I would leave it all again, but for some reason being back this time touched something different.
. . .
Elena finally settled down on my lap, buried her head in my chest and was asleep before they turned off the cabin lights. I leaned my head back against my seat and closed my eyes. Gerber grabbed my hand. He knew. He always knows. Even when we don’t exchange words, he senses the heaviness in my heart. He saw the tears as we waved good-bye to my family at the airport.
I glanced down at my husband’s hand tightly wrapped around mine and the little girl asleep in my arms. I may have left some really good things behind, but I am deeply thankful for what I gained.
A few short hours later, the captain makes an announcement in Spanish that I am not awake enough to understand. I lift open the window shade and let the light in. Elena pops open her eyes and pulls herself up to peer out the window.
Down below is Guatemala, in all of her majesty. Volcanoes, lakes, tiny cement pueblos built on the edges of cliffs.
We start the slow descent by waving hello to everything she knows in Guatemala.
She waves hello to horsies and doggies in the street. Hello, to agua and the fountain in Antigua.
Hello, Mama Hilla and Papa Choyo. Hello, Tia Mimi & Tia Ara. Hello, Sofi and Emmita.
Hello, Guayo and Dalilia. Hello, Alessandra and Tio Walter.
Hello, nuestra casa and the community playground. Hello, bumpy streets and breakfast bagel dates.
Hello, black beans and handmade tortillas.
We are home. My heart is full and yet there is always an ache in the leaving, huh?
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I am, I replied.
I could hear him smiling through the phone.
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