I stand on the balcony and stare out at the mountains. It is so quiet here I can hear myself breathe. I can hear the birds softly chirping and the rustle of the flowers that sway gently in the late afternoon breeze. I feel my hand reaching for my cell phone.
I forgot to remind my husband about the baby's eardrops. I forgot to tell him that Shani doesn't like cream cheese in her sandwich anymore. And what if he doesn't remember that Ephraim won't go to sleep without his blanket? Will he remember to defrost the lasagna for dinner? Will Kayla remember to clean her newly pierced ears without me there to remind her?
But my cell phone is tucked into the closet, and I don't want my husband to feel like I don't think he is capable of taking over. He is probably fine. Besides, the sign in the spa said: No cell phones and no children under the age of 16.
It is too silent here. Almost eerie.
I decide to walk along the red cobblestone path that circles the hotel grounds. As I walk, I revel in the stunning sunset and the fresh air. But after a couple of minutes, I begin to feel uncomfortable. Here I am, free to finally take care of only myself -- no one whining, no one pulling on me, no meals to cook or laundry to throw in the washing machine, no lunches to make or noses to wipe...just me. And for the first time since my wedding, I am all alone, and I am shocked to realize that I don't know how to speak to myself anymore.
And could it be, that despite all my achievements, both as a professional and as a mother, that I don't even really like myself? I try to shake that thought from my mind and enjoy the beauty all around me. After all, I reason, I am a very happy person. People turn to me for advice.
I allow myself to admit the unadmittable. I don't like myself.
But as I allow the silence to penetrate my mind I allow myself to admit the unadmittable. I don't like myself. And the frightening part -- and it shoots at me in the middle of this field of pastel flowers in the middle of nowhere -- is that I have no idea why.
With all the noise and hectic pace of every day life, it is always so easy for me to ignore myself. And for some reason my masters in psychology always keeps me confident. Healthy, loving marriage -- check. Happy, growing children -- check. Warm, clean home -- check. Nutritious meals and spiritual atmosphere -- check. Happy mommy? Well....mommy is content. But for some reason.....happiness seems like too tall an order.
I want to run. I miss running. I miss speed. I miss exhilaration. I peer around me as if I am about to sneak a forbidden piece of chocolate. "No one is here," I whisper to myself, and I begin to run. Slowly at first but then faster, through the trees, past the tennis courts. I run faster until I cannot breathe; until I am one with the wind and the setting sun and the soft, green grass. I run until I can no longer see or think or feel, and then I stop.
I realize that for the first time in a long time I feel...alive, and I ask God, "How can a person who wants to climb mountains stand in a kitchen and make scrambled eggs? How can a person who longs to run for miles and miles sit in the living room and help with homework, clean up spilled milk and change endless, dirty diapers? How can a person who graduated from an Ivy League university, who wanted to save the world, who spoke in front of hundreds of people, how can she spend most of the evening packing lunches, setting up outfits, reading bed time stories, saying Shema, reading another story, getting another cup of water, and just one more story and....now the baby is up. What do you do when you would rather go sky diving than wake up sleepy children, make breakfast, brush wayward hair and walk to the kindergarten on the corner?"
As I sit there on the edge of the field, hearing the furious beating of my heart, I think maybe I'm in the wrong profession? Maybe mommyhood is not for me? But even as the thought creeps through my mind, I know it cannot be true. I must be doing something wrong.
The next day I am lying in the solarium reading a book, and I find my answer.
As desirable as contentment might be, however, it does not constitute happiness. Absence of a negative feeling does not constitute a positive feeling...While being free of discontent may be fine for a cow, it does not suffice for a human being. (Happiness and the Human Spirit, Rabbi Twerski)
I think about all the times that I have been comfortable, even grateful for plain, ordinary contentment but feeling somehow like something was missing. I read further: "Being the best we can be may vary with time and circumstances." I wonder "How can I be the best that I can be when I feel imprisoned in a role that feels too small for me?" I feel guilty even as I think that.
Raising children isn't a trivial goal. Being a wife and a home-maker is praiseworthy. But why don't I feel it? Why do I feel more alive when I am running in an empty field or climbing rocks at dawn? And then God shows me the answer as I turn the page, "If we can do little but we do it wholly, we have a better chance at happiness than the person who can do much but instead does little." And the realization hits me right there in the silent solarium.
The same energy I use to reach the top of a mountain, I can use to listen to my child. The same way I can run until I am one with the wind, I can stretch my soul until I am one with His Will. Using the same mind I used to get an "A" on an Organic Chemistry exam, I can manage my household as if it's one of the Fortune 500s companies.
"Is this what you got an Ivy League education for? To change diapers?"
Why should my home, which in some ways will last forever, be run with less ambition and seriousness than a financial venture that will be gone in a century or less? And for the first time in a long time I allow that voice to surface and ask the ancient question, "Is this what you got an Ivy League education for? To change diapers?" I let the question hang in the air for a moment, my book clutched in my arms and my white terry cloth robe wrapping me in a long forgotten cocoon of comfort. And then I find my voice. It whispers, "Yes. Yes. This is why God gave me an Ivy league education. This is why God made me a marathon runner."
This has never occurred to me before. I had always put my academic and athletic achievements into a different corner of my mind. But now I realize that this is a mistake. I can climb mountains while cooking dinner. I can cross the finish line in my own living room. All I have to do is focus and put my whole heart into whatever I am doing.
Later that night I sit in an over-stuffed armchair next to the brick fireplace and listen to a 65 year old woman speak about her life. When I tell her that I have several young children, she sighs and with a far away look in her eyes she whispers, "I wish I could go back and do that again." She speaks so softly and so wistfully I can hardly hear her. "Do what again?" I ask. She straightens her scarf and looks towards the window. "Raise my children again. I spent all those years wishing I was somewhere else and now that I'm somewhere else, I would give everything I have to go back and be a better mother. We wish away those years, only to beg for them back."
On the way home from the spa I stare out at the mountains that cradle our ascent to Jerusalem, and then I read one last precious nugget, "The measure of our happiness lies in our self-fulfillment, in being the best that we can be, even -- maybe especially -- in tough circumstances. Being able to analyze our present circumstances and develop ‘a new yardstick' for the measurement of our value is the key to our pursuit of happiness."
I think about the marathon awaiting me in my home, and I begin to train my body and my mind to run the longest, most beautiful race I have ever run. I step out of the car into the noisy street, filled with the laughter of children, and I see a distant finish line weaving its way towards eternity.