Last week I took you for a checkup at the doctor’s office and you both got a few shots. Picture me sitting on the exam table one of you in each of my arms, clinging to me, hot and sweaty with tears and quaking sobs. My heart both breaks and swells into a million pieces in those moments, so strong is the love I have for you.
Afterwards Vera, I told you that you were very brave.
“No mommy,” you replied. “I wasn’t brave because I was scared.”
“But that’s exactly what being brave is,” I explained. “Doing something, even when you’re afraid.”
You didn’t reply, just nodded solemnly and stared out the window thinking about what I’d said.
I’ve been thinking about it too. I’d never quite put it to words like that before. This thing called bravery.
The truth is that I’m afraid all the time. I’m scared of everything.
I fear that I’m not a good enough mother, that there are a thousand missteps I’m making along our way. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do all the things I want to do, write the books I envision, get to all the places I want to go. I’m scared that I’m not a good enough friend, that I fail to put others before myself. I fear for my work and my housekeeping abilities. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m scared that I’ll be lonely again one day. I worry about my health and my culinary abilities. I afraid of hurting people, of not being in the places I’m supposed to be. I’m afraid of being judged, afraid of judging. I worry sometimes that the words I write aren’t as real as they could be. Sometimes I realize I’m not breathing, and I’m afraid that one day I’ll stop altogether.
Despite all of those swirling anxieties, I get up every day and plunge forth, wading through the thickness of my life. Leaning into it all as though there is no other choice.
So, by my own definition, is that bravery?
Living my life, even though I’m afraid to.
I sold my second book this month girls. It was a profound moment in my life. Vera, you were at school, and Jules you were taking a nap, when the call came in from my agent that Penguin had made an offer. I hung up the phone and wept for a solid twenty minutes.
Just stood in the living room by myself in the middle of the day, looking around, and weeping. All I’ve ever wanted since I was a little girl was to write books, to be a real author, and something about selling my second book, confirmed that dream as a reality.
I wept too, that my parents are not here to witness my accomplishments, the taste of that desire as bittersweet as you can imagine. And then I wiped my face, woke up you, Jules, with a hundred kisses, and picked up you Vera, from school, and swept you both off to the beach where the world was wide and wonderful and real.
I’ve been traveling a lot these last few weeks. Leaving you both at home in the care of your doting father, while I head out into the world. It’s felt amazing to be alone. To be quiet, to be unsure and lonely and scared. To be in a hotel room in a strange city, tucked into a big bed, all by myself. To wake up in the morning and speak to no one for the first couple of hours. The opposite of motherhood.
I’ve missed you immensely on those days, in those places, but I’ve also gulped down those solitary moments, drinking as much as I can before returning to our life together. These days have been important to me, and I have this funny feeling that they’ll be important to you as well. Not just when you have these same experiences, but that your mother did.
There’s nothing quite like traveling alone. It requires bravery. Stepping off an airplane in a foreign city, renting a car and driving down a road you’ve never known, eating dinner alone in a restaurant, putting yourself to bed at night, only to wake early so that you can hike through an unfamiliar forest, the only sound your own footsteps.
If there’s ever a moment in your life when you’re feeling unsure of who you are, take a little journey like this one and you’re sure to remember.
I think that’s one of the bravest things you can really do in life. Remember who you are.