Monday, August 30, 2010

This is probably one of my all-time favorite pictures of Sadie, not because of the somewhat tacky purple 'performance' outfit that she coveted ("Isn't it just so beautiful Mommy??") and teared up when she had to take it off on the final day (due to the fact that it wasn't ours) ... or even the memory of what happened before or after the picture was taken, 45 minutes of performing by she and her three other camp mates when this picture was taken.

No, the reason why I so love this picture, and what I hope I always spot immediately when I see it, what makes this picture just precious to me, is the look in my daughter's eyes. She is exhilarated. She is thrilled with what she alone is doing. She isn't caring if she is bad or good at it, or that there are only four children in this camp class and a handful of us parents there to observe. She isn't focused on anyone watching her, at all. She isn't performing for us, actually, at all. She is performing for herself. She is absolutely in touch with the thrill of this moment, in her life.

I hope that I capture hundreds of other pictures like this over the years, but I am not sure that I will. I don't recall my parents ever capturing this look in a picture that they have of me. They have plenty of other pictures of their four children, "performing" in one thing or another during our childhood years, enough to fill 40-some albums that my mother managed to keep up to date and in order in a closet in our house, and which still exist. But as children in a chaotic existence, we were generally looking at what someone else was doing (or about to be doing), either inside the picture or just outside of the frame. I am not criticizing that character trait... in fact, I think that the inherent drive for success that my parents instilled, perhaps subconsciously, is largely responsible for the achievements that their four children have made in life. And my parents themselves were young, they were busy, they weren't affluent, and frankly, they lacked digital cameras!

We Misage kids were taught to look around at the situation in which we found ourselves as children and to immediately discern what was the best role for us, individually, in it. My parents encouraged achievement. They weren't cut-throat, in that they didn't push us to succeed at the expense of others. But they demanded success, and almost every instance that I can think of, success was measured against the cultural norms of an objective test, be it a swim meet, a boat race, a 4-H baking contest, a church youth group leadership role, a college achievement test, or whatever. If you knew my parents during their years of Fourth of July projects, you would agree. The bigger, the more difficult, the more perfect, the better!

Sadie will fall into that soon I am sure. Mark and I will probably be to blame, and one day she will read this and roll her eyes and likely say that we turned out just like our own parents were to us, pushing and pushing and pushing for success. But in this picture, I hope that I always remember and cherish this Sadie. This child of mine that didn't give a thought as to whether she was dancing to the beat of the music (which she wasn't) or if the other kids were all lined up perfectly with her lead (which they weren't). She was dancing for the sheer enjoyment of the moment, of the dance.

A month ago I left my job as a partner at an international law firm. Until a month ago, I largely followed the lock-step expectations I had set for myself (probably with some collaboration from said parents) back in my youth. I attended college, and then lawschool. I passed the bar on my first attempt. Sure I switched jobs a few times in my first five years, looking for better opportunities suited to my skill set, but when push came to shove, I buckled down and performed. I trained for and ran two marathons the year before I made partner, and brought home a yellow lab puppy when romance went wrong so I had something to else to nuture. Mark and I got engaged and got married according to my plan, just before I turned 35. While getting pregnant with Sadie didn't happen as immediately as I had hoped, my pregnancy with her was uneventful and after three months of maternity leave, I was back at my firm, full-time, performing. Balancing an infant and partnership wasn't easy by any stretch of the word, but it went as expected. I conformed to the expectations I had set for myself.

Sure I left a cluttered desk most evenings with many unfinished work products remaining on it. And I ignored my ringing cell phone lots of nights while I put Sadie to bed, and was able to return and work from home most nights thereafter. And I left a crying child plenty of mornings too, intially, as I headed into the office. But honestly, no one was worse for the wear. Sadie thrived with our nanny and in her preschool setting. And I continued to cultivate client relationships and successfully orchestrate financing transactions in my role as a partner.

Just like the 41 years prior -- I was performing well against the objective measures of success.

So why change? Because I took enough moments and noticed the look that this picture of Sadie captures. I saw that she was invigorated by the moment. And I, her mother, was missing that. I was missing being present to watch my daughter's display of her own emotion of being thrilled with herself. And I was missing that emotion in me.

Do I think that mothers need to stay home to observe these moments with their children? Not all of them. But in my full-time role, I wasn't allowing myself to be present for any of them. And I became sorely disappointed in my own lack of balance, of living-in-the-moment for myself too. Countless times I told Mark as we were looking for a nanny that I wanted to find someone to be a good role-model for Sadie. Why was I discounting my own ability to be her role model? I could feel myself staying in my working role so I could show Sadie that when she grew up, she could have any career she wanted. But it occured to me, would she remember a happy laughing silly mother, or would she remember that her mother was a partner who worked a lot?

So wish me luck. Starting Today Not Tomorrow.