We are all works in progress
Anytime I start to think I have it all figured out — anything, including parenthood, friendship, career, life itself — something happens that knocks me on my tush. Something that informs me I am an imperfect human, a mere mortal, and that I have a long way to go.
After I had my first child, I would call my friend Alyson — who’d already had two kids — with good, and not-so-good, parenting news. Once, when I was exhausted with (and failing at) potty training my older daughter, Alyson said, half-laughing: “Well, just when you think you’ve got this down pat, they’ll change it up on you again.”
Now, seven and a half years and one more child into parenting, I know she was right. Our 7-year-old is a champion reader and gifted in math (Yay!). But she still can’t ride a bike or tie her own shoes. Our 3-year-old was easily potty trained and has the vocabulary of a fifth-grader. But she still doesn’t sleep through the night. Also, we’re pretty sure she enjoys behaving badly.
It’s the same with other aspects of life: those big-ticket chunks of responsibility, like friendship and career. I’ll think I’ve made headway, like with a developing mom-relationship — she likes me, she really likes me, our families will vacation together for the rest of our lives! — and then, nope. Nothing. Not a word.
Or, I’ll carve out a chunk of writing time on a certain day of the week: time wherein I am supposed to be alone and unbothered, out at my desk on our porch, at my computer for at least two hours. Then, from inside the house: the sound of something fragile breaking, two screaming daughters (each blaming the other), someone knocking on the front door trying to sell me their candidate/religion/tree-cutting/yard-cleaning/house-cleaning services, or my husband traveling for work.
Or, I’ll spend hours upon hours crafting new, interactive coursework for the rare upper-level literature class I’ve been promised, only to be told that this semester, I’ll once again need to teach freshman writing. (Ah, the life of an adjunct professor.)
When I was young, I had this very American idea that if I worked hard, I could do and be everything … perfectly. That at some point in my future grown-up life, all the pieces would fall into place. I’d have a lovely (clean) home, a enviable romantic relationship, all the deep and mutually-satisfying friendships I could wish for, well-behaved (and clean) children, the financial capability to travel the world with those clean children and that romantic husband, and a profitable and enjoyable writing and teaching career.
Now I realize that while, on the surface, these goals may be attainable in some form or fashion, attaining them will not make them — or me — perfect. In other words, now I know that I’ll never reach a pinnacle of self-actualization: that place where I’m able to breathe a sigh of relief, full of the knowledge that I’ve met my highest potential in all aspects of life, and that I’ll never go back.
Also, let’s get real. I’m never going to have a clean, perfect house. Or, for that matter, consistently clean children.
A life free of heartache, disappointment and misstep is no life at all. In fact, there’s a word for it: death.
Since I’m quite fond of living, I plan to keep trucking right on into 2017. The adventure is in the living, right? It’s the journey, not the destination. The point of life is to live it. The glory is in the attempt. Or sort of say lots of famous wordy people.
“The play’s the thing,” wrote Shakespeare, my favorite of the wordy people. And life — trying to get all of it “right,” whatever “right” may mean for each of us — is the thing. We keep trying. Even (especially) when we get knocked on our tush.
Talk to Katherine
Katherine Scott Crawford is a novelist, adjunct college professor, hiker and mom. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.