My youth was once a pleasurable state that I couldn’t imagine not having: firm butt cheeks, righteous displays of self-centeredness, cute boobs, unclaimed ownership to a world of messes that I didn’t make and had no responsibility to fix, smaller pores ... you get the point. Being young is a pinnacle of robust time, where the world seems to celebrate you or envy you, both are desirable. And, in retrospect, I fully enjoyed it all while completely wasting it. But that’s okay, I couldn’t have known then what I know now (cue Rod Stewart).
Life is becoming increasingly valuable to me. There is a word for this. I learned it a couple of years ago while sitting in a psychology class that I wouldn’t have given two shits about when I was a teenager. Generativity is “a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation.” This feeling extends to people outside of the immediate family, and according to this savvy guy Erikson, begins at about age forty.
I think, for some, this growing obligation to the world at large stems from becoming a parent. There is a crazy amount of empathy that runs through our veins on any given day when we are doing normal mom stuff. We’ve already cried over long-division, had our first crushes dis us, been mortified over wetting the bed, or frustrated by an elusive pair of shoes that always disappears. Kid problems. How often do we check back in with the little person we once were, to help our own children navigate their current feelings? Everyday. Aaaand ... sometimes not at all.
The flip side of being a selfless, lifter-upper of dashed children’s hopes is when you are being an exhausted, overworked, time restrained, probation officer of children who, for the love of all things holy, cannot make decent choices on their own, and you slam the uncleared breakfast dishes into the sink like the Hulk and cry over your lost liberty as a human who once didn’t have to bend over backwards to make the world go round. Crazy as it sounds, in this outlandish moment, you may feel brief empathy for someone else entirely; the person who raised you. It's an angsty empathy, but nonetheless, you might come across the vague feeling that you once caused someone this much grief. In that moment, as you hover over the past, an understanding hits you in the face, and you call your mom and tell her you love her.
Generativity had me at 25 and pregnant. The thought of being a mom was like whoa, and the only thing to do was know more, and not a minute too soon because Haven came out of the womb asking questions. In her articulate, tiny voice, “Mommy, what’s rainbows doin’? What’s waterfalls doin’? What’s ladybugs doin’?..." Her way of asking me to explain the world. She relentlessly (and thankfully) made me the way that I am. The great pursuit of knowing things has led me to fall helplessly in love with the people of this world.
I hope that the full force of my generativity will unfurl like a superpower when I hit forty. I have an insatiable appetite to learn all the things, and then tweak the recipe for knowledge into something palpable for a generation of humans who were just like me and couldn’t see the delicious world spread before them like a buffet of empowering ideas. (Really dedicated to this eating theme) I hope to serve some food for thought to starving minds. That sounds like a pretentious thing to say, but who cares. It feels like it might be a calling, and a really loud one. My family is making sacrifices to allow me to continue going to school. And, it’s time consuming and challenging as fuuuuuck. And, every step of the way I am envisioning how I will share what I have learned.
The biggest detractor in my quest to learn is that tangled trap, the inter-web, the time suck of all time sucks. I go to check a message on my phone and lo and behold there is a brief pause when the kids don’t need me. Suddenly, I am filling that vacant moment in between servitude and support, scrolling through beautiful pictures of other people’s lives on the internet. And then damn! There is no time left to do that thing that you had hoped to do, that elusive “filling of the cup” that you keep reading about. Nope. Someone has just barfed in the hallway, and there are no clean towels, and you just burned the pancakes. Go.
This last week I was graced with the presence of my brilliant Aunt Judy. She is a fifth grade teacher, whose class uses iPads for a majority of their work. She related the time we spend on media to a progression of stages:
Scrolling through pics on Instagram, trolling comments on Facebook, feasting your eyes on a lovely Pinterest, or getting riled up over a tweet; these are all step one- ‘input’. How many hours a day do I spend inputting an activity that is ultimately mindless?
Step two is to ‘process’- to critique or analyze what our eyes have glazed over looking at. If there isn’t anything to contemplate about step one, get out of there! It’s a trap! I kid, but seriously, keep this leisure activity to a minimum. Asking questions about the content we give our time to is vital.
And finally, there is step three- ‘output’: turning all that thinking into something, choosing a cause, a conversation, a manifestation original to your own self. Think Henry David Thoreau here, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
As a mom, it’s superfluous to say there is just too much to do. The tiny blips of free time that we carve out for ourselves have got to be used to serve us. Back in 2009, just after I had birthed my third baby, I was engulfed by the social media of MySpace. I felt seen, finally. All this selfless, lonely motherhood stuff, could be acknowledged and commented on. I could express myself to people while wearing pajamas I had been comfortable in for three days straight, crusted breast milk down the front, and my hair a greasy mess, but who cares?! I was beautiful in that pic I just posted. But, I felt like shity-ass MySpace was stealing every little break I got. And, by the end of the year, I had erased it and bought a ukulele.
In a couple of days, I could play three chords and sing along. Proud singer and song-writer, these are the lyrics to that first jam:
Screw you MySpace
I can play the uke
And still have time
For the Bo and Duke
Practice when they’re sleeping
And early in the morn
Not much time for Mama
When the babes are born
Screw you MySpace
I can play the Uke
And still have time for the Bo and Duke.
I have continued playing this song like an anthem when I need courage to pursue the things I love. Our lives are worth leading. We are doing a favor to future people, by cultivating our passions. Only then will we have the ability to set little fires under the tiny asses of future generations.