May 8, 2012

Existential Thoughts on Tuesday

I've been thinking a lot these last few days about being a mother, what it all means and what the heck I'm supposed to be doing – not just as a mother and a wife, but as a person here on this planet. I do this sort of existential thing quite often so this isn't some ground-breaking thinking going on, but just an ongoing conversation I have with myself.

This current bout started when I visited with a friend of mine in Billings. She told me I should check out a very inspiring blog she loves, The Nie Nie Dialogues. So I did. Stephanie Nielson, the author, is a mother of five who began writing a blog many years ago to chronicle her daily life with her husband and children. Always upbeat and in love with her family, her blog was an inspiration to other mothers to embrace life and mothering to the fullest.

In 2008, shortly after her husband received his pilot's license (the lessons were a gift from her) the two were in a near-fatal plane crash. Both Stephanie and her husband were badly burned. Stephanie's husband was burnt on 30% of his body and spent some time in the hospital. Stephanie was much worse off and had suffered burns on more than 80% of her body. She was in a coma for several months and is now extremely disfigured. As soon as she was able she began updating her blog.

Both before AND after the accident Stephanie writes her posts like a modern-day Pollyanna, filled with positivity and a child-like happiness. She is pushing through her new life with the grace and determination that I feel like I don't even display some days in my own far less-adverse situation. She feels it's all part of a plan and she is constantly buoyed by her faith. She is a Mormon and from what I understand about the church, she is an example of all they stand for and value. Married at 19, five children by age 30 – Stephanie dotes on her husband, desires only to serve her family and sees her mission in life is clearly to be a mother and wife to the fullest.

When I read her posts I am in awe of her dedication to her job as mother/wife. I'm in awe of her strength to stay positive in the face of her tragedy and the ongoing pain and surgeries that she will always endure. But there's a part of me that shakes my head. This can't be all for real. I am so confused . . . and I keep asking myself so many questions:

Am I attracted to her dedication because of what our society continues to consider "perfect" despite decades of women's equality efforts? Is there still the notion that if you're dedicated to your family, wear an apron all day (she does) and run to meet your husband at the door at 5:00 that you are truly living the "American Dream?" If I could be that way would I feel like a better person? (I think maybe so). But didn't we learn in the 1950's that being content with ironing and cooking is often just an act and the boredom that accompanies that life often leads to depression or anger? But maybe if you truly embraced that work as your "calling" and lived in the moment (a zen-like life) perhaps you could find the ultimate happiness? And then I wonder if it's good for children to have a mother who dedicates herself only to their happiness? But maybe if she doesn't seem unhappy in doing so then it's the best thing you could give children? Maybe the only reason I question it is because Americans have gotten so self-focused and individualistic? Perhaps getting "outisde yourself" is the key to contentment?

Maybe my attraction is in seeing someone who is so sure of their purpose. I mean SO SURE. Like, she never says, "Hmmm . . . maybe I could make something and sell it at a craft fair" or "Gee, I wonder if I should go back to school for my MA in Creative Writing." Even one of my favorite lines of poetry shows that I can't seem to find clear answers . . . "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I've always loved that line because I feel like it keeps me thinking and growing, but maybe I'm the one living the farce. Maybe the discontent is in the wondering. I don't think Stephanie ever wonders. 

I guess I envy that.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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