I love smiley people.
In any city, you can find your people. There will be plenty of people who are not your people, but you can find the right ones in the kinds of places you’d like to be.
For me, it’s the smiley people. Not everyone in DC is smiley; most people are not. But I found something wrong with people in New York and Los Angeles and every other city I’ve visited, and at the end of the day, you just have to realize that you’re not going to like everybody. You’re not going to arrive in a place where everyone thinks the same way you do, where everyone behaves the same way you do, where everyone shares your beliefs and values — and who would want to live in a place like that anyway? DC isn’t perfect. It’s the kind of city where a lot of people care very much about your connections and your background and how well-read you are. There’s a little bit of ignorance and a lot of arrogance; there’s a lot of poverty and a ton of money; not all the streets are safe; the bars are filled with frat boys; the service isn’t very good most of the time, and the hipsters want you to pay a million dollars for coffee that it took them at least an hour to pour. There is a lot of room for improvement. But in the summertime, when it gets so hot, you can head to a free pool at a local rec center. When you’re starving for intellectual conversation, you can head to any bookshop or coffee shop or meetup or probably even any bar on trivia night because DC is filled with incredibly smart people who can recommend a good book or share their thoughtful opinions on the latest Supreme Court ruling. You’ll find the only other person in the world who knows how Socrates died or read Frankenstein as many times as you did. You’ll find alum from your small, or large, university at the DC bar dedicated to watching your alma mater play football. You’ll find people who care about the things that you care about — whether that’s saving the world, ending street harassment, running 5Ks, or playing Taboo.
DC isn’t perfect. But it’s so perfect for me right now — and for quite a few years to come.
So here it is: The post I’ve been meaning to write about the new year and my new goals. I’ve started it a couple of times, but I wasn’t truly inspired then (and when I was, my post got deleted). It wasn’t really the right time. I wasn’t really ready to start the new year. i needed some time to recover from last year.
Recover in the best way possible, of course.
in the last two days of 2014, I raised over $120,000 to fund efforts to end human trafficking in the US and across the globe — breaking fundraising records at Polaris that I know I’ll break again next year. It’s a little unreal that I’ve actually accomplished the career goal I set for myself this year: I wanted to work for an organization that’s ending human trafficking and violence against women. Now, here I am — fundraising for a leading nonprofit in the fight against modern slavery and serving on the board of a fast-growing local nonprofit working to end sexual harassment and assault in DC. It’s amazing how everything in my life just fell into place.
Last year, I was so excited to have Max and become a mom, but I had serious doubts about my ability to work and parent; I was fearful about how motherhood would affect my potential to advance in my career; I worried about what I might’ve been giving up. I made a decision to put my career on hold while I focused on being the best mother I could be. And then, this year, I put my heart and soul into motherhood — breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, reading, singing, talking, playing and learning how to be a mom from all of the best parenting books and blogs I could find. And still, somehow, I got my dream job.
So, it’s been a great year.
In many ways, my son has taught me how to live. He has taught me to be patient and perseverant, but he’s also taught me how to enjoy my life outside of work. I used to derive so much of my self-worth and self-love from success at work. I liked hitting goals, reaching benchmarks, and reaping the glory. I was driven, and I was loud about my accomplishments.
OK so some things don’t actually change.
I still love to achieve my goals — and celebrate my accomplishments. But it’s no longer the only thing that matters to me. When I don’t go to work, I go to the park. Or I go the Children’s Museum. Or I go to see Zoo Lights. Or I ride the ferris wheel.
Capital Ferris Wheel, National Harbor, 12/2014
There are a million things I love to do with my free time when, before, I liked feeling so important that I needed to check my email the second I woke up in the morning and right before I went to sleep. I liked having so much on my plate that it seemed like the world would crumble if I took a vacation. I liked pushing myself to the brink — and then further.
When I had Max, I had to decide what kind of working mother I wanted to be. Some people separate their home and work lives completely; others integrate work and home (I know this because I read The Working Mother’s Guide to Life, and it guided all of my calculated decision-making processes on parenting style, child care, housing, employment, and probably various other things). I knew immediately that I couldn’t lead two separate lives. I work in a field that’s incredibly passion-driven; there’s not a lot of money in it, but there’s a lot of heart. I’ll always bring work home, and I like feeling at home in the workplace, too.
And then there’s just motherhood: a whole job in itself — the most wonderful and fulfilling one. It has been incredible to watch Max grow and learn and crawl and now SPEAK! It seems like just yesterday that my five-day-old was discovering his feet and today, he can almost stand.
Being a mom has helped me learn to rediscover things I used to love from a time before I’d lost myself to depression, drinking, and domestic violence. I love to be crafty and thrifty. I love to bake cookies and casseroles. I love dressing up in clever and elaborate costumes.
I even sort of love the holidays.
When I first started this post, it was mostly just a list of Max’s milestones: the first time he smiled, his first time at a restaurant, the first time he rolled over (albeit with some difficulty), the list goes on. But it occurred to me — partially as a result of the last few months’ of rediscovering myself as a young, attractive, energetic 25-year-old woman and partially due to a thought-provoking conversation with a lady who always reminds me to evaluate and reevaluate my life to figure out where I want to go (the same lady who inspired me to work for Polaris) — I am more than just Max’s mother.
American society gives women who are moms, and particularly single moms, a really hard time about this balance. There’s a lot of pressure to prove yourself as a mother but not to fall behind in any other area of your life. You can be a full-time mom, but you’ll face criticism for not working. You can be a working mom, and you’ll face criticism for not being available to your child at all times. While I’m fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive work environment, I face criticism from people I know, people i’ve considered close friends, and plenty of strangers. Even the teachers at Max’s daycare sometimes fault me for my inability to *poof* just appear the second they call to let me know he’s out of milk (really? no phone call when he was on his last bottle?). There have been times in the past that I’ve struggled with this balance, that i’ve preferred to be home with baby rather than at work, or I’ve preferred to be at work rather than at a doctor’s appointment for a fake ear infection. I’m sure that I’ll struggle with it in the future as well.
But, for now, I’ve accepted myself. i’m happy with the way i’ve helped my son grow and develop, both physically and emotionally, and I’m happy with my successes at work. Max has taught me that sometimes you just have to topple over and topple over and topple over before you’re ready to sit up tall.
Just to complicate things, I’ve added dating into the mix. So here I am, trying to be the best mother and the best fundraiser and the best advocate against sexual harassment and assault — and also present and reliable and eager enough to pursue some sort of functioning relationship. And I’m not quite there, for a million reasons. I have met people that I like very much — people who are funny and kind and giving and smart. But I don’t know if I want a relationship, or if I can handle a relationship, or if I’ve ever enjoyed relationships. I’m not willing to work that hard, and I can blame it on the million other responsibilities that I have to prioritize, but I know: I’ve never wanted to work that hard. I’ve never really been in a relationship that wasn’t incredibly convenient for me. I have layers and layers of intimacy issues, topped with a fairly recent history of domestic violence that makes me feel more guarded and less likely to let anyone in.
But did I ever?
Having my son was a game-changer. The second I found out I was pregnant, I knew I was in love. He makes me feel a way I’ve never felt before — so complete and so elated — like I have an incredible sense of purpose, like my life has gained new meaning.
I just don’t know if this love will translate into my ability to feel real love for others.
This year, I’m setting resolutions for myself that aren’t like the ones I’ve set in the past. I’m not going to pledge to lose weight or exercise more. I’m not going to set career goals or plan to learn new skills — though I hope that both of these things that come up this year. I am setting resolutions that’ll push me to dig deeper and work harder on myself.
- Be flaky. You don’t have to respond to every text message and return every phone call in a timely manner, or ever. You don’t have to make it to every holiday party or every birthday party. It’s okay if you agree to something and then decide later that you don’t actually have the mental or physical capacity for it — or you just don’t want to do it anymore. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits because you’re worried about what people will think. Flake when you want to, flake when you have to. Flake, flake, flake it off.
- Be intimate. Acknowledge the reasons you’ve become so detached, and slowly chip away at the trauma that’s helped you build up your guard. You don’t have to lower your standards to feel safe. You don’t have to find love right away. You don’t have to sit through dates with people you don’t like. You don’t have to feel obligated. Sex doesn’t have to be so empty. Form friendships, build trust, and have patience.
- Find the things you love about the things you think you hate. If Bao Bao can do it, so can you. Embrace the cold. Embrace the hipsters. Embrace the grumpy faces. Figure out what you don’t love about them; recognize why it bothers you and how you can better appreciate them for their place in your world.
- Find home. It might mean staying right where you are, it might mean moving down the street, and it might mean moving halfway across the world. Wherever it might be, find the place where you can feel most comfortable, most secure, happiest, and warmest (on the inside).