Half the Distance and Twice as Far

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

The kids and I accompanied my husband to a tech conference. We love this conference for three big reasons:

  1. Ryan connects with the people and ideas that help him to grow professionally
  2. The older kids attend classes about robotics, 3D printing, electronics, and technology.
  3. And, well, it’s at an indoor water park.

Work + fun + family = yes, please.

The awesome part…

This year, Ryan offered a session for the kids’ track. Using a slinky to demonstrate sound waves, a needle-in-a-cone to demonstrate the physical imprint of sound on a vinyl record, and a deconstructed version of “Everything is Awesome,” he explained how physical sound waves are transformed into digital bits of 1’s and 0’s.

At the end of the class, he handed out instruments and led the kids in a Stomp Jr. experience that would’ve impressed John Bonham.

He was funny and super-smart. It was a great class.

I took photos and chased our 18-month baby around the back of the room. My heart was full of pride – in the best sense of the word – to see Ryan in his element. I thought, this guy could go far.

One of the highlights of the class happened afterward when we were cleaning up the egg shakers and sandpaper blocks. A 4-year old boy settled himself in the middle of the overturned buckets and aluminum paint-trays like a real professional drummer.  He just knew what to do.  We were mesmerized. His mom said that neither she nor her husband were musical, so they certainly hadn’t given this boy his natural sense of rhythm. In fact, they had adopted him as a baby and they often wondered what awesome heritage pulsed in his blood. We watched those dowel rods whip up and down, we felt the rhythm in our chests, we watched his soft blond curls bouncing – and said, “This guy could go far.”

The week before the conference, the kids and I helped Ryan to make those instruments –  we snipped and stretched balloons over PVC pipe, sanded dowel rods, and covered wood blocks in sand paper. Before we packed everything in the cargo box, we played a trial run of the song. I like to think that I “laid down the beat” on that 5 gallon bucket. Audrey shook a plastic egg filled with rice, Malachi kept a cool rickety rhythm on the aluminum paint tray, the other kids played their parts. We agreed unanimously: Dad would rock this class. And he certainly did.

Because Ryan offered that class, our whole family was able to stay at the indoor waterpark all week long. So, we moved into our hotel suite with bathing suits, 5 gallon buckets, egg shakers, and plenty of microwave popcorn.

The difficult part…

During the daytime, Ryan attended the conference while I, um, held down the chlorinated fort. Despite the amazing opportunity to live at an indoor waterpark for a week, I actually struggled with feeling angry about the whole arrangement. After all, it’s not easy to plan meals and snacks for 5 kiddos in a hotel room.

It’s not easy to keep everything under control in a small space,

organize the clothes,

dry the bathing suits,

help with showers,

oversee 5 kiddos at an enormous waterpark,

break up arguments,

get big kids to classes,

guide little kids from snacks to happiness to meltdowns to naps and back around again.

Not to mention that I was also wrestling with my self-doubt, which is the worst kill-joy.

It’s all because we were at a tech conference full of brilliant professionals.  There’s just something about careening a baby stroller through streams of professionals that makes me doubt my current decision to stay home with my children and not pursue a career.

I wonder, What would it be like to earn a salary? How fun would it be to network? Wouldn’t I love to teach at a conference of this caliber? Am I missing my potential?

And, of course: Shouldn’t I be farther along by now?

When I applied to college, I was “Pre-Med”. A lover of the sciences, I became a Biology major and thought I’d pursue a career in medicine and become a doctor. During the summers, I had an ongoing internship at Merck, testing their newest drugs. To balance out my science courses, I took literature classes as well. I edited the school literary magazine and thought I’d pursue a career in academia and become a professor. I went to the Natatorium as often as I could, planning to join a Master’s Swim Team some day. I sang in an a cappella group and thought I’d join a community choir or audition for the local theater. I travelled to Iceland to study arctic biology and thought for sure I’d return and work on one of their lush and ancient farms.

With the sun on my face and the wind at my back, I was like that little drummer boy: I could go far.

That was ages ago, when I only had to worry about my own potential: my own hopes, dreams, education, interests, and skills.

Since then, I’ve enfolded other people into my life: a husband, 5 children, family, friends…

Every time I love and commit to another person, I have to modify my life plan and recalculate my destination.

Every day, love demands that I lay down my own dreams, skills, and interests to help with another’s.

Love requires that I take side trips away from my own plans to accompany my loved-ones, edging them closer to their own dreams.

(I’m thinking of our recent trip to Manhattan where we snapped a photo in front of The Lincoln Center waterfall just moments before our daughter auditioned for a summer intensive at the School of American Ballet. Or when I put off some computer work to set up a LEGO table for our little builder to create wonders. I’m thinking of the hours I’ve spent at the piano, accompanying our 9 year-old’s violin practice. Or the afternoons I’ve invested in reading aloud to the babies.)

Of course, I’m not the only one sacrificing my own pursuits for the sake of loving others. Every day, my husband does the same for me. My children, friends, and family do it for me.  My parents have always done it.

I bet you’ve done it, too. You’ve laid your own dream down in order to carry a dream for someone else. You’ve rearranged your goals and modified your life plan in order to help a loved-one get closer to their own.

There’s no way around it: when we love people, we simply cannot go as far as we had hoped. 

When I’m pushing that stroller full of kids, snacks, and diaper wipes through a convention center, glancing sidelong at professionals, I resign myself

Face it,” I tell myself, “You are not going to accomplish the great trek that you had mapped out. You are not going to actualize your potential. Not with all of these people to love. Not with all of these side trips. You’ll just have to be content to go half the distance.

But then again…

There I was at my husband’s Kidz Mash session and saw those children laughing and clapping in rhythm and I thought, “If I hadn’t helped him to get here – if I weren’t standing here in the back of the room with a squirmy baby and a bag of quickly-disappearing snacks – I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know about the history of recorded music, vinyl records, or digital sound. I wouldn’t know the mystery and love behind that curly-haired drummer boy. I wouldn’t see our children delight in helping their daddy. What’s more, I wouldn’t know that man up there – that one, clapping his hands and whooping the LEGO theme song – that one, whom I love.”

Marriage hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it. 

Ryan has always taken me twice as far as I ever would have gone on my own. In fact, the things I experience with him are literally akin to foreign countries. (I mean, the goats! The chickens! The road trips! The kefir! The scoby! The sunsets! He invites me to wonders I never would have noticed on my own.)  And, too, he has sacrificed his own dreams to make mine come true. I mean, the piano! The children! The books! The teaching! The writing!

Considering the limitless ways my husband has promoted and nurtured me over the years… he has multiplied my life many-times-over.

Motherhood hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it.

Though I have denied many exciting opportunities for my children’s sakes, they have enriched me in ways that I never could have imagined with interests, humor, and creativity. Because of them, I know arabesques, Seitz concertos, nerf gun wars, minor league baseball, silly jokes, Happy Salmon, avocado-skin bracelets, Marvel superheroes, The Incorrigibles, herbal remedies, and countless delightful friends.

Simply being a mother changes me profoundly: motherhood’s every lesson, insight, and growing pain makes me more into the person I want to be.

Yes, my eyes brim with tears when dreams must fade and self must sacrifice.

Yes, I struggle against self-doubt when I push that stroller through the convention center.

But the cost of loving people is both universal and incalculable… we’re all in this together. Career or not, diaper bag or computer bag, anyone who is committed to loving another person is only ever going half the distance.

None of us will reach our potential.

Let the tears fall because the truth of the matter is that when we love people, we go half the distance… but twice as far.