Empty and Full

This is not what I imagined my life would be.

I wanted to fill my days with adventure.
I wanted to tire out my boots and my backpack on mountains and in rivers and knee-deep in wild places. I wanted to travel and buy things I don’t need in colorful little shops in cities whose names I can hardly pronounce.

I wanted to go back to school and write about it.
I wanted to prove that I was something big. I wanted to be accomplished in literature or songwriting or politics or something else that made a difference and made the world a better place.

And I wanted love.
The kind of love that gets better over time and makes me better and better over time, too. I wanted time to spend alone together, telling secrets and learning the ins and outs of everything no one else gets to know about us.

I wanted to look back at these years and be proud of where my time was spent, of who I had become. And I wanted to have something to show for it. I wanted my “best years” to really mean something.

But, instead,
I chose to wake up today and— for the millionth time— almost finish a cup of cheap homemade coffee while the kids finished their jelly toast at the counter. Then I chose the Fruits of the Spirit and “This Land is Your Land” after morning prayers while the baby chewed on toys not approved for children under 3.

Later, I chose to open a world atlas the size of a small universe and teach a lesson about water particles. Then while cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning up the messes that came out of nowhere, I chose to sing while the kids circled and kept themselves busy with things I don’t honestly understand.

Tomorrow, we will pack a lunch and find the woods. The kids will take the trail and the baby will ride on my back and we will duck under branches and pick berries while we walk. They will be brave and climb higher than they should and I will be secretly afraid for them, but I won’t let them know.

At night, we will sit for dinner at our full table with mismatched chairs and one kid will eat everything and another will eat nothing and my husband and I will try to roll our eyes without them noticing. With pajamas on and teeth brushed, we’ll try another chapter of the book that goes on forever. And then we’ll pray together, pray for them, pray for us, and say goodnight.

My husband and I will let out a sigh in unison. We both work too much. There is too much to do. And it’s still not done. But the day will be over and we will have survived and our kids (we hope) will know they are loved. We will enjoy the silence without resenting each other for it because there will be time tomorrow, maybe, for talking and touching. He will fall asleep, and I will consider the book I’m supposed to be reading.

This is not what I imagined my life would be.

It is far more domestic. Far less impressive during first introductions at dinner parties. Its nights are earlier, and the company it keeps is quite a bit younger. I am more tired than I knew possible.

On the hard days, the days when I yell too much or cry alone in secret while I’m supposed to be taking a shower, I sometimes resent this life. And I let myself dream about what other life I could have found elsewhere. I imagine another me somewhere, wasting time browsing the bookshelves or trying on shoes, wasting money on the new café down the street or a bottle of wine shared on the back porch with friends.

But then I gather myself and open my eyes to the life I’ve chosen, the life I’ve been given. And I choose to, again and again, waste another precious day of the best years of my life on a job that takes every ounce of me and repays only in diapers and sloppy baby kisses and “Mommy will you tie my ballet shoes?”

And then I’m thankful for a life where I end each day both completely empty and forever full.

Liz McEwan

Liz McEwan

Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. She’s raising four young children in Cincinnati, Ohio’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Follow her at The Walking Green and on Twitter at @thewalkinggreen.
Liz McEwan

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  • It’s such a dying to self when our children are young. The piles of dirty clothes. The dishes. I had my daughters back-to-back, a young mom in her mid-twenties. I cried in the shower too, Liz. Your story mirrors mine. They will grow up so fast. My girls are in college now. One is 22. And you know what? I still cry in the shower, because now, they’re far away. Godspeed.