On Not Choosing (Or, how I made my daughter cry)

I knew she would be crying when I got there.

My daughter gets angry, gets defiant, gets big and loud with fury, but she doesn’t really do vulnerable all that often. And when she does, she bursts into tears with the bigness of the sadness, and buries her face in my chest, or lap, trying to be swallowed up so something else can be bigger than this emotion, than her.

When I walked in, she jumped up from her teacher’s arms and ran to hide her face in my dress.

I had missed the Mother’s Day celebration. She and her class has been practicing for weeks, a song, a poem, a special gift for each Mom. Usually required to wear a uniform, she got to dress up in her pretty purple, blue and white flowered spring dress. She had been so excited, she doubled, tripled checked that I would be there.

And I missed it.

“Where were you?,” she asked, as she tried to catch her breath and wiped her face on my dress.

I wanted to cry “It wasn’t my fault! I got caught in traffic! There was a tractor trailer…two!… and they…it was a mess!”

“I’m so sorry,” I said instead.

Because it was. It was my fault.

I asked her what she thought when she saw I wasn’t there and her eyes got big with that sadness again. “You said you would be here. But I know you’ve been busy with work? So maybe you decided to do that? But you said you would be here. So then I was, I don’t know, confused?”

Grab heart. Squeeze. Twist.

A huge priority of mine is flexibility. My life is built around the idea that at any moment, any day, I can choose where I want to be. I am my own boss. I get to say no when I want. I make my own hours. I work wherever, whenever I want.

Except I don’t.

Unless, of course, I actually choose.

And I hadn’t chosen that day. Or recently, even.

I was overcommitted like a mo-fo. Deadlines for consulting clients barreling down, early morning coaching calls, texts and emails with lawyers about the sale of my house, poorly delegated tasks that I ended up doing myself anyway.

These were the things I had chosen. All at once.

While trying to ALSO get to my daughter’s Mother’s Day celebration.

My daughter handed me my gift.

A handmade book: “All About My Mom”
It had an introduction page. A page about my favorite color: purple (absolutely). My favorite foods: tacos (debatable) and bagels with salmon (quite possibly). It’s a riveting book.

The last page: “Things my mom does for fun”

I was a bit concerned about this.

Let’s just say that fun is something I’m working on. I tend to be a bit all business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fun person. But fun simply because it’s fun? For me? Nope, not quite there yet.

Apparently, she's picked up on that too, because here's what she wrote:

“My mom likes to take walks to the beach. She takes walks to help her clear her mind. I do not see her do it often.”

Oof. Fun parent fail.

This winter, as I was desperately trying to find some sense of self in this city, in this house where I felt I had no space and when I felt I needed immediate access to actual nature, I decided to wake super early and drive to Manhattan Beach (it’s like a 15-minute drive from our house – Brooklyn is magical!)

It was so windy and so, so, so cold, I walked, bundled in hat and scarf, to the water’s edge, took one breath, turned, walked back, got in my car and drove away.

I got home and my husband asked “how was that?” and I said “fucking cold.” And that was that.

But my daughter saw it.

It was a choice: something she might not see that clearly from me, or as she said, “often.”

But in that moment, I was saying no to a bunch of things – warmth, for one – and also an easy morning with my family, leisurely coffee drinking, lounging in PJs on the couch, folding laundry, whatever the hell else I do on Sundays, and I was saying yes to one thing:

What I want.

To clear my head.
To see the vastest expression of nature I can access in this city.
To be alone.
To choose me.

And she saw that. And deemed it publication worthy.

Isn’t that what all the good stuff we love in the world is made of?

A clear choice. Of self.

When you stop allowing yourself to be pulled in 1000 different directions and instead allow yourself to choose what is at your core, your next steps clarify:

The screenplay you want to write.
The business you want to build.
The family you want to make that feels different from every other family you’ve ever seen.
The work that makes your gut clench and your toes tingle and your breath full and your heart pump.
The words you want to speak.

These things will not get made if we do not choose to make them.

Many of us are scared to choose ourselves. Maybe we’re scared because we think that at our core we could be lazy, or arrogant, or untalented, or selfish.

But you’re not. I’m not. We know this about ourselves.

We’re just tired…
            Because choosing others instead of ourselves is exhausting.
Or we’re angry….
            Because we have neglected our own needs.
Or uninspired…
            Because we do not take the time to fill ourselves up.
Or lost…
            Because we are just straight up out of practice of listening to our heart.

What would be different today if you chose you?

What would your to do list look like?
What would you cross out?
What would you add?

And what if you spent a week, a month, a year choosing you, what would be different then?

How much might be possible?
What might you create?
What would your choices bring the world?

What are you going to do today that chooses you?