My mom used to put an old baking timer in my bedroom at nap time to give me a tangible signal for when I could revel again in my small childhood freedoms. This stroke of genius no doubt ensured she could watch the Young and the Restless without interruption, which was the only time I ever knew the woman to sit still.
Sometimes I did sleep, rising after like fresh bread from the oven, warm, doughy, and held together by a crusty shell made from the dreams I’d just spun.
Other days, especially the older I got, I sat watching that noisy timer move like molasses from hash mark to hash mark, willing it to break into at least a light jog. It never did. But slow as it was, the buzzy ring that trailed to a sputter and unshackled time once again would always come, and I, of course, always welcomed it.
Even though I resented being pushed into what felt like a freeze-frame in the middle of each day, sandwiched between the start and stop of that timer, I did some of my best thinking. It never took me very long in all my boredom and resentment to let my mind turn to how my life could be once I had more freedom as an adult.
There would be no naps, for starters. For the record, I’ve since made revisions and am now very pro-nap. Revisions are one of the many beauties of adulthood freedom.
But more than that, there in my room, I allowed myself to play out who I would be one day—what I would do, how I would feel—once I reached the total freedom promised by adulthood. It was easy then, and exciting, to see that I would have an abundance of choices at my feet.
Of course, eventually we all come to know that adulthood imposes its own confines, and it’s tempting to allow them to dictate the way we live indefinitely. But how many of those confines are real, and how many have we simply conjured for ourselves to keep from feeling too overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or scared?
When we finally arrive on the doorstep of our adult freedom, the idea of being the decider of who we are and what we can do can feel like a mix of too much responsibility and vulnerability. We’re suddenly gun-shy at the realization that choosing in the name of our true selves means taking ownership and risking exposure of who we really are. It means putting ourselves out there without apology, which even as an adult, is really frightening.
This realization is like climbing to the top of a high dive that looks like fun from the ground only to get to the top and have a much more visceral understanding of how high it really is. Jumping into the pool from there seems like a bad plan at that point. In the name of self preservation, we’re more comfortable, even if much less satisfied, to stay on the ground and tell ourselves we never had the choice to jump in the first place.
We’re willing to surrender our blessing of a choice to live unique, messy, full lives in hopes of avoiding painful criticism and securing a sense of belonging to everyone else but ourselves.
Make every sacrifice to look like her so that you are less of you.
Agree at the cost of honesty so that you can camouflage your voice.
Stay in the soul-sucking job, because failing at what you’d rather be doing will invite attention and judgement, even from yourself.
Keep up with the hustle, however meaningless, to stay within the pack.
In quarantine, I’m reliving my experience as a kid waiting for the baking timer to buzz in my room, albeit in a much more prolonged way and with some common core math teaching thrown in the mix. I’m remembering that I have more choices than I’ve been acknowledging in my adulthood. Embracing them as such and having the courage to change some of them to align with my truest desires is what will allow me to return to my whole self.
If we really want to belong, we have to belong to ourselves first. We can only do that by choosing our lives and our actions on behalf of who we really are, not what we’re trying to hide under, especially when the stakes are high. We have to free ourselves of all other expectation aside from what is good, and right, and true to ourselves.
When the buzzer goes off, and we’re free again after these slow-moving weeks, I hope more of us have come to realize that we’ve already been free in so many of the ways that matter. We just need to be brave enough to embrace it.