"Begin as you mean to go on." - British saying
I was thinking about this quote earlier in the week. I’m sure everyone starts something new with good intentions. A new job, having a child, moving to a different neighborhood, all of those events cause us to plan how we want to proceed. But somewhere along the way, it changes. I know for a fact that when I had children I began as I meant to go on.
I began by making my own baby food. I started with the good toys, basics like wooden blocks (from responsibly harvested forests, of course) and an easel with paints and brushes. But it didn’t last. The kids wouldn’t paint on the easel, but they did a pretty good job on the walls.
The baby food I made was, in a word, disgusting and it was not surprising that a lot of it wound up on the walls with the paint. And while the blocks were a favorite, I think it was too much to expect that they would create bridges and skyscrapers. They spent quite a bit of time banging them on the metal can they came in and throwing them around.
What happens when we begin things in a certain way, and it doesn’t work? So many times we get caught up in how we meant it to be. We cling to the idea of what we wanted, what we remembered feeling, and how we thought things would turn out. I started down the road to being a parent and making a family with all kinds of intentions, most of them good. Then a block hit me in the face.
It’s the same with jobs. I went to college, so that I would have more opportunities in my career. That is how I began, with big-shouldered business suits, a shiny new briefcase I got for graduation and a plan to take on the world.
And I had a good time in those exciting first years at a “real job”. Not everything I did was rewarded and praised, that’s how the world works, but even the mistakes I made, taught me something.
For instance, do not show up for a Monday morning staff meeting complaining that you lost your good pair of heels in the cab home from your friend’s bachelorette party. People will stare at you in awkward silence.
When I had a family, things changed. I stayed home, because that is how I meant to go on, present in every moment. After a while, that just didn’t work. Not for nothing, not every precious parenting moment needs a witness. I could have done without being around for the first loose tooth, the first bee sting and I definitely wish I had skipped the first mommy and me gym class. What a bunch of self-righteous perky little twits that group was. And the moms weren’t exactly nice either.
Back to work, but I was perhaps the worst example of a corporate mother ever. The slick working moms I had seen in all the magazines were starting to tick me off. My blazers were covered with baby puke, my briefcase held diapers and wipes and I even gave up my snappy high heels for flats.
That is when I knew it wasn’t happening. So it was home again, then I worked part-time, and then I had more kids and all the while I kept trying to figure out why I was going on as I had begun, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
It’s not that my intentions were wrong. It was the place and the method that had to change. There are thousands of ways to be a good parent, to live a happy life and be well. The trick is to know when it’s time to begin anew, to take a different path to the same goal. It’s no easy task, but staying on the same road, all the time, is not for me.
Recently, I went to lunch in Boston with a friend who had made the corporate world her own and had raised kids too. Not wanting to look like the frumpy suburban soccer mom, I threw on a suit and some heels. The difference was now I picked the bright red suit I never thought was business-y enough before, and I paired it with some kicking high heels. We had a great time, and we talked about how we had begun and where we wanted to go. I am not there yet, but I am on my way. And if I make a wrong turn, so what? I will begin again.