Standing in the checkout aisle at the local Great Satan (Wal*Mart), I always read the covers of the magazines on the racks, checking to see which starlet is in rehab, who's hooking up, who's breaking up, who's knocked up, how to lose those last stubborn pounds, which sex secrets I *need* to know to please my man, how to cook a three-course dinner in a crock-pot. Then, last week, for the first time in my entire life, I bought one. There it was, sitting in the front row, luring me with the promise that, for only $3.95, I could find my authentic self. For someone who's been struggling to find my place in the world, now that the world as I know it is in constant flux, the temptation was just too much. I had to have it.
Later, after the kids were asleep, I arranged my pillows just so and crawled into bed to find myself. Three hours later, I turned out the light and snuggled in to mull over this new idea. According to these people, all I have to do to be authentic is to do what *I* want to do. To hell with society and its strictures. Rest of the world and your needs, be damned. To find the real me, all I have to do is what I think, what I feel, what I need, what I want. All the time.
Shit, I thought. For $3.95, I could have told *you* that.
What do I want? What's standing in the way of what I want? How can I get what I want? I couldn't sleep for thinking (hardly unusual, in my case). I want the *chance* to do what I want. To leave the house on a moment's notice. To go where I want, when I want, without packing extra snacks or making extra stops. To sleep as long as I need to, when I need to. To spend hours in my favorite chair, reading my favorite books over and over. To keep a clean and orderly house, where things aren't always sticky, and I'm not always sweeping up crumbs and wiping off fingerprints. I want abs like I had when I was sixteen, and skin like I had when I was twenty. I want to wear tight-fitting t-shirts with suggestive slogans on them. I want to curse and shout and cry when I'm angry. I want to spend lazy summer days doing nothing at all.
It should go without saying that I have none of these things.
And so, it follows, I should be unhappy. And for quite some time, I was. I'm too lazy for a husband and children. I'm too selfish to be part of a family, where everyone sacrifices a little for the common good. I was never willing to take mine for the team, even though I expected everyone else to take one for me. I felt like a stranger in my own skin, living a life that was meant for someone else.
Then, last night, in that lost hour of changing clocks, it came to me. Maybe I'm not the most important person in my world anymore. I thought about my daughters, who depend on my for everything from survival to wisdom, guidance and security in an insecure world. They are so young, so tender, and so new to this life. They have all the possibilities before them that I once had. And maybe, just maybe, it's okay if I'm not the prettiest girl in the room anymore. Perhaps the slow spread of my belly is a badge of honor in the face of the world. Look at me, ridiculously thin and beautiful women. I have brought forth new life. I have made people where there were no people before. And perhaps these people are more important to me than I am to myself, at least at this point in my life. Perhaps the most important thing I can do with my life is not what I want, but what they need.
My daughters need a role model. They need someone to teach them that it's okay to fall down, but that you have to get back up to make it worthwhile. That you're going to have your heart broken, but that it won't last forever. That it's okay to wear pants that clash with your shirt, and socks that don't match your shoes, if it makes you feel good. That it's never okay to hurt someone else for your own desires, or to let them hurt you for theirs. They need someone to teach them how to make pancakes and piecrust, someone to teach them how to flirt and how to protect themselves. They will need someone who is there for them even when they can't be there for themselves. And I want to be that person. More than I want to fit into my skinny jeans, more than I want eight consecutive hours of sleep, I want to be that person for my children.
Maybe that's the real me. Maybe by being authentic with them, I'm discovering my authentic self. Maybe this place, right here, right now, with my family, is my place in the world. And maybe that's okay.