Yesterday I took my daughters for a walk around our neighborhood after dinner. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed my four-year-old, the baby of the family, to walk instead of ride in her stroller. On this day, after holding my hand to cross the street, she ran up ahead on the sidewalk, spreading her arms wide and skipping as the breeze ruffled her dress and blew her ponytail.
She makes similar movements at home, holding her arms up high and swirling to whatever music is playing on the stereo, or singing in a high-pitched voice, making up her own words.
At what point do we lose that freedom? I wonder. If I, in my late-30’s, were to skip down the street or spin and make up words, I’d be seen as a crazy person. Wild happiness, joy, a lack of inhibition, is seen often as lunacy. But does it have to be? Why can’t we hold on to the free inner child within us at the same time as we take on adult responsibilities?
One of the things that attracted me to my ex-husband was his scorn for conventionality. In college, I’d go to the library to read his newspaper column each week (since I didn’t yet own a PC), and my heart swelled in agreement when he renounced the idea of graduating college, getting married, having the requisite 2.5 kids and the picket fence and garage, working at an office job that stifled a person’s creativity. In his words week after week, where he criticized the status quo, I recognized a kindred soul. I didn’t want to do the same thing as everyone else, either. I wanted, in some way, a life that was different, magical, passionate. And that’s, perhaps, a big part of what drew us together.
And yet we ended up following a life of conventionality anyway, I suppose, because the force of our society—the idea of a happy fairytale—was so strong. By the time I was 24, I was married. By 26, I owned a house. By 27, I had my first kid. Now, a decade later, I’m outside of convention as a divorcee, trying to figure life out on my own. I have to eschew what I thought my life would be and reinvent it from the ground up, after a few tumultuous years of feeling like I’d never again find the ground.
What would I choose, if, like my daughter, I walked down the street feeling buoyed by the current of the breeze, spinning to the music I created in my head, stopping to look at flowers that grew up from people’s lawns? What would I choose if I had no knowledge of the status quo, of wealth, of expectation?
What am I going to do now, to take a line from poet Mary Oliver, with my “one wild and precious life?”
Wild and precious though it may be, my reality is that practicality has to take precedence. Because of my work schedule, for instance, it’s not often I get to take a leisurely walk with my kids. We are out of the house by 7 a.m., and after work and dinner, I’m often too tired or too busy doing dishes or orchestrating baths or cleaning up to take an evening stroll. Choosing to live outside of convention means finding a balance between making a living and finding other areas of life for the kind of magic and passion I’ve always dreamed of. It’s why I write on my lunch breaks, or stop into my favorite café for coffee or tea, just to sniff the merest semblance of inspiration before I head into work. It’s why I read novels and meet up with friends and learn about crystals or explore shamanism, grasping at things that reach beyond earthly realms.
But last night, while my older daughter took pictures of flowers and the leaves of trees, and my youngest daughter knelt down and pointed out mushrooms on the grass; while we swung hands and jumped over cracks in the sidewalks; while I looked in the windows of houses and made plans for my own future, one that’s individual and purely my own; while we went home and filled bowls of ice cream and sat on a blanket outside, together, I felt happy. I felt proud of what I’ve achieved, the ways I’ll continue to grow, the opportunity to show my kids a life that is rich and textured and full of love even though it’s different.
Sitting outside in our bare feet, watching the clouds turn pink on our little patch of grass, I felt free.