As I reflect on the year we are leaving behind, I envision my body as a ship from which unnecessary cargo has been unloaded. A lightness is felt, like when all the apples have been bitten and the tree is left empty and its leaves can gracefully drop to the ground so that the roots can conserve their energy and just be at peace. It is also fullness, I have learned, this fact of emptiness, or weightlessness. On New Year’s Eve, early 2022, my mother-in-law looked me in the eye and wished me the best of luck in whatever came my way. I was in my last trimester, and I could feel our baby moving constantly, announcing his vibrancy and his growing readiness to emerge. I still remember the process after their arrival…long periods of time focusing on the clock on the wall as my limbs were being reassembled. I felt this weight lift from the core of my spinal anesthetized body, and soon after I saw the red face of our baby held close to my face. Everything changed in that moment.
When I reflect on how much I’ve grown as a person, I’m sure it’s because I absorbed the life lessons I learned along the way. As a young mother, you are often in the infancy stage. Total strangers and their relatives will give you all kinds of unsolicited advice, and if you’re insecure or struggling with self-doubt, it’s easy to have your confidence shaken. For this reason I am a little unsure how to advance the insights I have encountered while dealing with the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life – reparenting, which involves healing myself from various intergenerational traumas while establishing healthy patterns of communication. involves fixing. and behavior. Identifying as a queer feminist involves its own form of un-conditioning, removing one’s mind from the clutches of patriarchal thinking.
This year, in my moments of greatest anxiety, I learned to question the source of my stress. Was it internal or external? In most cases I find that I often put myself under pressure to perform in a way that is close to perfection. The pursuit of perfection is not noble. This often involves trying to live up to standards set by someone else. Instead, it’s good to have an awareness of your weaknesses and strengths and find ways to embrace them and get help.
This—practicing the art of reaching out to others and asking for help—I cannot emphasize enough. In late capitalist times, the absence of a defined village makes it more difficult to identify who our true well-wishers are. We avoid making our need for help clear, because we believe it to be a form of defeat. But we’re only human, and that means we need other people by design, because our capabilities are not infinite. Asking for help involves trusting other people, and it’s not easy, as people can be discouraged, and it’s important not to take their failure to help personally. Often, it is a crisis of empathy, sometimes people are so involved in processing their own struggles, they are unable to see what yours is in need. I am still working on asking for her hand and accepting it with grace when it is offered to me without asking.
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One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is to tone down my ambitions, an extension of letting go of the pressure of external validation. In the past, if I invited people over for dinner, I was forced to spread the table with a feast. Now I make three dishes, one carb-based, one curry-based, one vegetable-based. I don’t mess with the desert unless I have time. I don’t do appetizers. I no longer feel the pressure of being the ‘perfect’ host. If a dish fails, I apologize and move on, I don’t dwell on failure. I’ve had to embrace cooking through interruptions, and if you expect too much of yourself in terms of flavor, you’re setting yourself up for sore disappointment.
It is important to pat yourself on the back for small successes. I cannot stress enough what it means to validate the everyday mundane we take for granted. Waking up and making yourself a cup of coffee or tea, feeding yourself healthy meals, shopping, stocking the pantry, and the exquisite enjoyment of household chores that allow you to take the time out of your personal exertions and focus on maintenance Is. Looking back at all the daily things you managed to accomplish at the end of the day puts into perspective the tasks you didn’t get done. “It’s tomorrow’s problem,” I now tell myself at the end of the day.
Finally, in every moment of unprecedented stress or uncertainty, I try to think about my response by considering how I want my child to behave. If I want her to be calm and collected in the face of adversity, I have to find it in me to practice that behavior with complete authenticity, until I learn to internalize that response and become it in reality. When my baby was still learning to crawl while his second cousin, two months younger than him, had already started learning to stand, I had to firmly tell myself that comparisons don’t make any sense. What mattered to me was not whether we had the most athletic or promiscuous child. If he is kind to himself and others, I will be successful in my parenting goals. For (and this is my last life lesson), kindness is self-love (and self-care) in action.
Rosalyn D’Mello is a distinguished art critic and author of A Handbook for My Lover, discussing the life and times of the Everywoman. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.