While playing soccer with the kids in the park one afternoon, our shadows stretched long ahead of us in the grass. I marveled like I once did as a child as it followed me wherever I went, a constant companion, a 2-D mirror of my body’s actions. Then I felt a bit sad for my shadow and its inability to strike out in its own direction, its colorlessness, the image of Wendy stitching Peter’s shadow back into servitude weighing heavy on my mind.
The fall is always a busy time. I find myself making bargains with myself – I just need to get through fall break which turns into I just need to get through Halloween then B’s birthday then the neighborhood yard sale then fall sports season then B’s birthday party then the soup swap then Thanksgiving… There is always something right around the corner. Another task. Another commitment. Another time suck. All things I normally love. All things I have chosen. All things that make our family the active, giving, fun entity it is.
So why is it that I suddenly felt like a shadow to my own family? A colorless entity just dragged around from ball field to soccer pitch to grocery store to school conference to playdate…I no longer felt like a participant but merely a means to an end. The one to purchase the birthday presents for the upcoming friend’s party, the securer of class snacks, the chauffeur to games, the maker of appointments. I have been checking things off boxes without truly participating in any of them. Or so it felt that afternoon as I watched my five year old jump over my shadow, completely oblivious to the mom inside.
At a neighborhood board meeting last night, I was explaining to a neighbor friend why I missed a mutual friend’s party this weekend and alluded to all these commitments that seem to have run roughshod over my calendar and he, wisely, told me there was an important word I needed to learn: No. While I think there is truth to this, looking back on these busy, busy weeks, I see there is not much I would really like to have declined. They are mostly activities I typically derive joy from. But somewhere in the middle of the busyness, I let the inconveniences override the fun, the what’s next overshadow the what’s now.
This is not to say that I didn’t have a blast cheering on my boys in their respective games or join in the five-year-old’s victory dance at a particularly surprising strike at a friend’s bowling party or revel in the chaos that was Halloween night with my boys and visiting niece. But I did tend to end each day feeling simply relieved to have survived and bracing myself for whatever was on the calendar for the next day.
Instead of saying no, I need to say yes. I need to remind myself why I choose the things I choose. I need to prioritize those yeses and embrace them, own them, live them. I need to approach a yes as a gift, not a burden. And yes, if I can’t find the joy in that yes than it’s a yes that needs to be a no.
I wrote most recently about perspective. I think that’s some of it. But I think as women/caretakers, we need to remember that we aren’t just the shadows to everyone else’s needs, we are the leaders of our own.
Sometimes being the shadow is okay. As long as we remember to sit down and keep it company for awhile. Even shadows can get lonely.