3:30 Thursday, Projects

Birthdays, and Birth-Days

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. In honor of Jillian’s 30th Birthday on April 27, she will write her thoughts on three decades, while Maggie and Mary Margaret share some thoughts about our dear friend becoming a mother in her 30th year! 


Jillian

In the stories of Flannery O’Connor, innocent people suffer and die and evil people walk away from their crimes, the end.

When I first started reading them, I thought, “Well, that was miserable. Why is that considered great literature?” But they say when you read Flannery O’Connor, you shouldn’t focus on what happens to the characters physically- you have to look at their souls. That’s where the real story is – in the movements of souls.

I’ll be thirty years old the day this is published, and it’s very easy to see myself as a massive screw-up. I always thought by now I’d have an enriching career where I was both successful and important in my own way. I thought I’d be making good money and deftly managing all the responsibilities of adult life. I thought I’d have learned how to keep everything in order – the laundry, the dishes, the dusting, the dogs’ toenails, my acne, my hair.

Actually, I thought I’d have all that down by age 27.

But when I left home at 18, what bloomed was not my potential but all my latent anxiety and despair. I starved my body. I slogged through college with constant migraines. I worked five years in a job that crushed me. I quit my job as soon as I could justify it. I crawled home to lick my wounds.

I’m turning thirty having been out of the workforce for a year. I’m in eating disorder recovery for the fourth consecutive year. I’ve spent more money on my therapy than I can bear to think about. I’m still working on how to not feel overwhelmed by everyday life.

But I think those things are not the real story.

I’ve fought for the things I believed in, over and over again. Especially when it mattered for my soul or for someone else’s. I lost all of those battles, but I never walked away from a fight that mattered. I’ve seen myself stand up and speak truth to power when everyone around me fell silent. I’ve stood up to opponents and to loved ones. I’ve stepped up to face things other people have found too frightening, not because I had to, but because I wanted to do right by my soul and others’.

I lost. I never righted any wrongs. I certainly never saved anyone. But I found out what I’m made of. Fire and grit and passion and sadness and faith and fear and bravery most of all.

So, if I’m a warrior of the soul who can’t get her shit organized, I’ve mostly made my peace with that. I can keep working on the everyday life skills, and I will – but my battle skills have been honed. I’m ready to take up arms when it’s needed. I’m ready to face down fear when it appears.

If the real story is the movement of souls, then I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m stronger, brighter, and fiercer than ever before. I’m making plans for my future – a future I have confidence and faith in, a future that only a year ago I didn’t even believe in.

I’ll be a mother before the end of the year, and I know that parenthood is rife with pain and fear and heartbreak. But I am not afraid. No matter how hard life may be, I know how to see past it, to find hope in the movements of souls. That’s my real story, and this is my gift to my son: that we will tell real stories – mine, and his father’s, and his.

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Maggie

Dear Jillian,

I know that you have really considered the pros and cons of adding a child to your life. But even so, taking on the role of mother is pretty daunting.

I would like to be the first person to officially give you unsolicited parenting advice. So, with love, please ignore any of this that you see fit!

10 Things You Simply Must Know Before Becoming a Parent

  1. People will give you unsolicited advice on parenting in an inverse relationship to how well they know you. You are not obligated to listen.
  2.  There is no perfect method that will help your baby to sleep through the night.
  3. Your child WILL have a temper tantrum in a public place. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
  4. You will forget to take your diaper bag with you exactly once. When that one time happens, your baby will have a super blow out poop. If you’re lucky, this will happen at a place that sells diapers and baby wipes. You will live through this experience, but it’s okay to cry.
  5. People will judge you for how you feed your baby and whether or not you use a pacifier. But as long as your baby is fed, it’s probably going to be okay.
  6. You are under no obligation to breast feed in public.
  7. I know that strange things always happen to you, but nothing will be stranger than human coming out of your body.
  8. But right up there with a human growing in your body and then exiting, milk coming out of your breasts is also pretty weird. Depending on how things go and what you decide to do, that’s going to take a while to get under control. I know it’s natural, and despite our smart phones and climate control, we are still mammals, but it is messy and disconcerting to feel like a cow.
  9. There’s nothing wrong with naptime being your favorite part of the day.
    • There’s nothing wrong with also taking a nap during naptime.
    • There’s no reason that you should obligated to “be productive” while your baby sleeps.
  10. One of the things I try to do when I’m arguing with my daughter about whether or not she should wear underwear or when she’s upset that I’ve opened her yogurt incorrectly, is I try to remember the feeling I had when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. The hope, the terror, the excitement, the love, the joy – all of that. When I remember how much I wanted this little person to be in my life, it makes it a little easier to get through those moments.

Welcome to parenthood!


Mary Margaret

You know how people sometimes take any topic (almost to comic effect) and manage to somehow make it about them?  My dear Jillian is turning 30 this week, and in late summer she will enter motherhood for the first time with the arrival of a little boy! Now let’s talk about me.

Some people might look at my life and say that I am gradually being Left Behind.  No, not in the Post-Apocalyptic, Revelations-style, book-series-into-bad-movie way. What I mean is that while my status has remained “Single and Childless” over the past decade, my sisters, closest friends, and many of my peers have taken on new roles as spouses and parents. I would be lying if I didn’t say that there’s always a part of me that finds myself worrying that these new life-changing relationships and roles will mean that my life will suddenly seem small, tedious, and irrelevant to these people who have chosen to shoulder the awesome responsibility of growing and raising another human being. I wonder if they will look at me and my concerns and begin shaking their heads with a sigh of, “Unmarried with no kids? She just can’t possibly understand.”

People say motherhood changes a person forever,  and not having experienced this, I can only imagine what these changes feel like. But dwelling on the margins, witnessing the transformation of beloved people into mothers and fathers, I am categorically unable to say that I have actually been Left Behind.  On the contrary, my sisters, cousins, and friends seem to have invited me along for the ride, and I humbly and gratefully assert that my life has been profoundly transformed by the births of these beautiful children. Of course I am not claiming alterations like the radical, 24-7 life-overhaul brought about by having an infant under your care, but my life is decidedly different populated by the wonderful little people that are not mine directly, but I undoubtedly lay claim to in my heart.

So to the parents who have invited me along for their journey through pregnancy, birth, and parenthood…Most importantly this week, to Jillian,  here is what I want to tell you most about my transformation on the fringes:

I am grateful, I am honored, and I do not take lightly the responsibility of being permitted to be in your child’s life. Jillian, you are a careful, thoughtful,  discerning person; you do not bestow trust on each person that you encounter, so when you confided in me your motherhood hopes and later the fulfillment of these hopes, I  saw this as being entrusted with a gift. The gift and responsibility is your trust in me as a person able and willing to support you in this terrifying/joyous new experience and as a person capable of being a positive and loving figure in the life of your child.

Which leads to my next point, which is how deeply your pregnancy makes me think about who I am as an adult person, begging the question: who do I choose to be as a figure in the life of your child? If we are called to teach by example, how can I be (although marginal or far-away) a role model for your son of the values that you, his mother, and I share and have spent countless hours discussing together? How can my life be just one more small positive force in his world?

Speaking of values, what also am I called to do out in that world to make the life of your son safer, better, more hopeful, and more compassionate? There are times over the past few months following the 2016 election that have made me want to despair the direction of our American society. It seems a cliché I’ve heard repeated, but I’ve had those instances of looking around and not recognizing my own country. The fact that people around me are having babies, an act I view as a supreme faith in the hopefulness of the future, requires that I never throw my hands up, but rather seek out actions that will give those kids a country still worth being proud to grow up in. Whether that is voting, civic engagement, creating art, volunteering, and simply the fundamental nature of how I treat people in my work and personal life, your son drives me to action because I must take care of this world he must reside in.

I also am already considering what I can do to give you and your son a deep sense of my constant love.  I realized strikingly after losing some loved ones how deeply we come to know ourselves by our mirrors: people in our lives reflecting our identities back to us. Who am I to you, and where does that place me in the universe? I am tremendously grateful to have had people throughout my life that reflected back at me the sense that I was loved unconditionally, that I was valued, that I was smart, beautiful, indispensable to their existence and being on this planet. Even if I am close or far, I suppose I consider it of tremendous value for you and your son to know that no matter what happens, there is one more person beaming back love and support at them. One more person in their corner, in spite of the overwhelming feat of living life.

But enough about me.

Jillian, I know you are going to be an amazing mother. Why? Because, it’s you, my love.

And you know, you’re gonna have back-up. Always.