HELLO TO ALL THAT

I think it’s safe to say that Aries are independent types. Do you feel me on this, my fellow Rams?

My own independence has always been a badge of pride, if not protection. I’m almost 33, and I think about myself at 23, walking back to my car at night by myself. It was a thing I did all the time, bold and naive.

“Oh I see. You tough,” a guy remarked to me once as I made my way alone down Red River, all big strides and icy demeanor. “You be careful,” he called after me.

Nothing bad happened, not that night, and not ever. Maybe I was tough? But more likely, just lucky.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be part of a unit: part of a couple, part of a family. I’m married to a fellow independent, and was raised by parents who took their respective individualities very seriously. “If one of us wants to take a trip, and the other doesn’t want to, then that’s OK!” my Dad cheerfully used to say. “No use forcing someone into something they don’t wanna do.”

But I’ve been noticing that it’s not like that everywhere, in all couples, or all families.

Some people do default to the other’s plans. And not out of weakness, either – they take turns doing it. And I wonder sometimes if this is generational. Millenials (of which I count myself a borderline member) are so used to building their own mini media empires online, via Facebook / Twitter / etc., that merging with another isn’t quite instinctive. Their own, singular identity has been the product of so much work and effort, that it hinders one’s ability to merge.

Which is why becoming a mother has been so interesting.

Me & Nico

Sunday before last.

Not that I’ve tried very hard, but so far, I’ve found relatively few new mom narratives that don’t echo one of these two themes: either A) having a baby gave my life meaning! or B) it challenged me in ways I never thought possible! And the thing is, cliches are cliches because they’re true, just like these two are. Having a baby does give your life immense meaning. Having a baby does challenge you, dramatically.

I don’t want to dismiss these, particularly because lots of new parents have it really hard. Single moms, single dads, single-income families, and that income is just barely enough. It’s hard to have emotional nuance when you’re struggling.

So these mom narratives are out there because they’re real and they’re inflected with circumstance, but if I can navel gaze for a moment, here is my own mom narrative: I’m still learning what it’s like to merge.

Nico is 10 months old now, which means she’s been out of my body longer than she was in. Her personality quirks are consistent enough to call them traits, and they include: liking people, the outside, and other babies; not liking being sprayed with a sprinkler, being put down on the ground, and dogs. That last one I think she got from me. I still see wolves inside of the big ones.

She’s a baby, but she’s one of my favorite people to hang out with, and I mean that genuinely. Not only because she is caps lock SUPER FREAKING CUTE, but because the contours of her emerging soul make sense to me. It’s not like she never cries. She does. And she’s constantly shoving leaves in her mouth and peeing while naked because, well, she a baby. But – and I say this knowing full well my capacity to project – she also has a kind heart. She amuses herself. She loves being tickled, and hates it when you suddenly walk away, and I get that.

So there is all this abundant delight. Nico is not a hard baby, not someone I’ve got to escape from with emergency date nights. And yet, I am still learning what it’s like to be a a part of a whole! With her, and with my family.

Where does it come from? I’m not sure. It could be American, could be only child, could even be zodiac (but who really knows with the zodiac). I’ve got this weird rebellious streak that asserts itself in funny ways, like a dry erase board I keep on my bedroom bookshelf with Monday through Sunday’s workout plans: “Monday: silks, stretch. Tuesday: stretch, abs, butt.” That kind of thing. Nico doesn’t mind it now, because I can put her on down on the ground for most of this stuff, but what about when she’s walking? Talking? Not so easy to plop down while I do my thing? I have a feeling I will chafe. I’ve had it since pre-pregnancy, before I had anyone else to plan around, my quiet defiance against parenthood’s strictures.

There are other headstrong acts, too, things I do to prove I’m still fundamentally a free agent. But the thing that Nico knows, and I am still figuring out, is that it’s often less lonely to just yield to the people that love you.

But, how hard that is! For somebody addicted to calling the shots of her own life. For someone who wants both spontaneity, and control.

A few years ago, when I was interviewing more musicians than anyone else, I remember speaking with a now-famous pop star whose songs were just starting to trickle in. We were getting ready to turn on the camera, and I told her: “I’m going to ask you about your tour, what you think about Austin, all that, but I can ask other things too. Is there anything else you want?”

She looked at me and, having only heard the last part of my question, responded:

“A someone. A baby! I’m super traditional, you know. I never really wanted to be famous. I want all the old-fashioned stuff.”

And that never left me, “the old-fashioned stuff.” Here was this person who was as free as you could possibly be, if free = lots of money to do what you want, a staff to help execute it, and a public to cheer you on. But there were a precious few tangibles that were tougher for her to attain, the kinds of hard-won things earned only by ceding some of your freedom, and leaving enough cracks in your schedule and identity for them to grow through.

There was a time when the life I wanted resembled something like Sex & The City, with coffee dates and fierce independence and ladies doing it for themselves. Sometimes, I look around and feel like I’ve achieved exactly that. But there was always a thread of sorrow in that show, wasn’t there? The longing for companionship and perhaps even family, coupled with the fear of finally getting it?

It’s really scary to merge. At least, for me it is. But I’m leaning in that direction all the time, and getting to know the freedoms available there.

Me, Ross, Nico