After nearly 14 years of being a full-time wife and mother, I discovered a hidden, deep dark secret: I wanted more.
Sometimes while washing dishes, my mind would wander to beautiful, imaginary women waking up to soft music. These ladies would look in the mirror, do their hair just so, carefully select form and function of clothing, makeup and attitude and walk out their front door. They would get into their shiny, gleaming SUVs, drive to work, grab their last glance at the reflection in the glass door to the office and dive into their very successful workplace.
These women are confident, happy and always admired, with a twinge of jealousy. What I want to know is, do these women really exist?
In my world of domesticated goddesses, I wake up, look in the mirror and try to make what Mama gave me look its best after four kids. I grab my T-shirt and jean skirt and then do the same for my children. I gather up backpacks, lunches and kids and jump into our gently dinged and crumb-filled minivan. I try to avoid a glance at my rear-view reflection as my life is not exactly one of high-class power meetings. Rather, my "office" is filled with laundry, shopping lists, bill paying, diapers, homework fact-checking, and meal preparation.
I know I exist, but is there a way for me to live in my world and enter into that "other," more exciting world at the same time?
In my quest for answers, I read that stay-at-home moms can feel unfulfilled when they are not getting enough exercise. That was it! I scoured every healthy cookbook I could find. I shopped only in organic food stores and prepared the most healthful and beautiful meals of our life. (My children were most unhappy with this new change in our diet.) I began working out to my favorite dance music of the '80s. I lost about 10 pounds on this self-discovery experiment, and physically I was in the best shape of my life.
One morning, I was combing the produce aisle at the market when I heard a voice inside my head. It spoke loud and clear (and for some reason in a Chinese proverbial accent): Step away from the vegetables; they are not the answer you seek.
I felt defeated. I began to relay my concerns to my husband, hoping he would find just the right words or give me just the idea I needed to feel like a "real accomplished woman." He didn't have the answers either. Frustrated and angry, I grabbed my laptop and ran to my next best friend-Starbucks.
There it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been asking everyone-my friends, my husband, my myriad self-help books and even the Internet-how to find contentment in my life. I had forgotten the most important person to ask.
I realized there were too many years of taking care of the rest of the world, but I had never taken the time to nourish me.
On my drive home from my epiphany I made a mental bucket list. I took this mental list and wrote it out on paper and folded it into my wallet.
That evening when my husband walked in the door I told him I was going to take a yoga class. I didn't care if he thought I would stick with it (he didn't), but I was going to try something new. He stood there, briefcase still in hand, smiled and said, "Go for it."
I pulled out my mat in the back of the classroom. It smelled like incense and sweat, but I tried my best to shove the negativity out of my mind. This was going to be my Me Time and I was going to love it. I rested on that mat for nearly five minutes trying to "observe without judgement." It felt so good to just be.
I decided I needed time for myself every day. I found writing classes, new books to read, classes and seminars to take, volunteering time in the community, even a mani/pedi here or there to manage just a few minutes for myself.
It seemed selfish at first. Once I got used to the time, I discovered I was becoming a better mother. I was becoming a better wife. I was more present with everyone.
The answer to existing is so simple.
I don't need to become an imaginary woman with a high-powered career. My career is living each day and learning to love my life, always taking time to discover new things to appreciate in my life and be grateful for the many gifts I already have.
Sara Kutliroff is a freelance writer living in Skokie with her husband, Daniel, and her four children. You can read more of her thoughts on life at kutliroffpages.blogspot.com.