Monday, May 21, 2007

What Shrek the Third has taught me

And all that I refuse to learn...

The heavy-handed lesson from S/3rd is that people will label you what they will, but it's only true if you let it be. Shrek is an ogre, but he doesn't need to be an ugly, mean monster. Artie does his own thing, but he's only a loser if he doesn't believe in himself. Sort of Eleanor Roosevelt's "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," dressed up for a modern audience.

This is a lesson that I insist on. In college I repeated like a mantra that I was there to learn all I could, not necessarily to earn the best grade that I could. I taped Eleanor's words to my desk as I wrote my thesis. I tell it to my kids. I fiercely believe that I am doing what is right for me.

But I can only believe it for so long.

Once a quarter the Alumnae Bulletin finds it's way to my mailbox. Inevitably, I put aside everything else and turn to the class notes. I am fixated on all that these incredibly industrious women do with their time and talent. And I begin to shrink inside of myself. Have I made poor choices? What am I doing here, a stay-at-home mom with too much education? It's not even that I want my achievements posted; at that moment, I can't see any achievements. I can't ask myself if someone would be interested in my lessons from the mom-front. I jump too quickly to castigation: Why am I not in there, tearing up the world doing...something!

That day came last week and I did not feel quite as badly as I read about the doings of the class of '93. I think that's because there really wasn't that much to tell. I am irritated that my notes, the notes I dutifully typed up, painfully reviewed (gosh, I hope my life of volunteer work and homemade bread doesn't sound too dumb), and sent it, didn't get published. But I gave myself a pat on the back that I wasn't letting others' achievements bring me down.

My college classmates are more and more in my position: they have kids, they stay at home, they rely more on their partner's involvement than previously, they are tired, frustrated, and grouchy. I have less to feel bad about; I know those feelings intimately. I even give advice. More than one friend has called me in a panic when their child has been chastised in preschool. They know I've been there and survived. It's a twisted point of pride in our family: there is no way that their kid could be as bad as W was - only he has been kicked out!

So why I am typing this?

By 8:15 this morning, I had checked Joe's haircut and his exam; fed, lunched, and put on the bus both kids; done the dishes and started a load of laundry. Cup of coffee beside me, I proceeded to the read the blogs on my list. There are a few cooking pages, but mostly I read church-y stuff: the news, the hype, the analysis (who says being Episcopalian is dull?!) and the endless list of women-in-religion blogs.

And it hit me. These women, women whom I respect, applaud, and hold up in prayer, feed that inner ogre. I couldn't read very far this morning before I started to hit myself about the shoulders: why don't I write like this; if only I were ordained; everyone else is at the party but me...

Here's the truth.

My path is different. I have never done things the way others do, whether by forethought or by circumstance. I hold up the edges for others: I am a mom who reads the news and talks about it with her kids; I am the mom who has taught her kids to cook; I am the woman who has already been there when it comes to contraception, marriage, babies, children. Because I believe that education is in the learning, whether I get an A+ or not, I am easy-going.

If I feel I am the only one walking, it doesn't mean the path isn't true.

I've spent a lot of this year being quiet, staying small. I think it's time to reclaim my status as trail marker. Not trailblazer: I follow other people. I just want others to know that we can get there, too.