There are people who are competitive, and then there’s me.
Naturally competitive personalities seek out challenges like league sports or group activities to keep others abreast of their progress. They post weight loss photos, gym photos, and my-kid-is-reading-at-age-4 photos. The most driven and motivated find ways to compete with themselves, pushing their minds and bodies to publish papers and collect race medals.
It seems all life is a game, and I prefer not to play. The people in my life are supremely talented in a variety of avenues, the best example being my sister: blond, perfectly manicured, exceptionally fit, very successful Boss Lady in the naturally competitive tech sales field, and always knows the hottest new venue for small plates dining and hipster cocktails. She manages a team of eleven salespeople (whom she occasionally makes cry) and her quarterly numbers are the envy of all the managers. She gets up before 5am to crush an intense workout before working 12 hour days to keep her eleven “babies” in line. Her boyfriend is lovely, and they are always doing something fun on the weekend to unwind (he is also in tech sales). Every facet of her life is an area in which I cannot compete (apart from Hubs, who is pretty fantastic).
If I went to the gym every day for a year, I couldn’t keep up during one of her workouts. I worked in sales and the anxiety triggered auto-immune flares on two separate occasions. The aforementioned disease, along with perpetual pregnancy and nursing, have done serious damage to my alcohol tolerance. I don’t bother with manicures, because sooner or later I’m going to touch poop. And of course, my hair is mousy and in desperate need of a root touch-up to hide the ever-encroaching grey.
When I know I’m out of my depth, I surrender immediately. While Sarah is probably too busy to see me as competition, I remove myself from the equation before it even comes up. I recently got a FitBit and became FitBit Friends with my sister and my dad. I really went nuts the first couple weeks and almost edged her out in weekly step counts, but then I got a terrible sunburn, six new scary moles, and shin splints. The pressure to keep up was an unnecessary burden, so I switched to the bike and let everyone know I wouldn’t measure my success in steps, because I don’t get any while cycling in the gym. I found my own avenue to avoid competition anxiety that I’m fairly sure Sarah didn’t even register. She competes with herself; last quarter’s sales, last week’s run.
That’s always the advice we’re given as anxious people: don’t compete with others because everyone is different. Focus on yourself, and on your own goals. That advice also sends me into a tailspin of panic, because what if I fail? What if I’m not even as good as myself? I recently completed the Whole30 Challenge, but I didn’t tell anyone about it until I finished in case I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t take ‘before’ pictures, because what if ‘after’ looks the same or worse? I like to think I’m sparing myself negativity I don’t need by not setting myself up for possible failures, but how will I know if I succeed? What is success without defined goals?
Comparing apples to oranges is what gets me through each day. Sarah is very successful at work, gets bonuses, attends sexy work functions with cocktails and networking, and sometimes travels to visit clients (to Ohio, but still). My job is very different and demanding, so I can’t compare myself to her. Sarah has been fit since the day she was born, and I have an incurable case of Motherhood that has ravaged my organs and, even if I didn’t get shin splints every time I went for a long walk, my falling bladder would preclude me from any exercise where downward force in excess of the Hokey Pokey dance occurs. These cankles weren’t made for walkin’. But, until she proves otherwise, I can imagine that Sarah isn’t also phenomenal at spinning, and that’s just my thing.
Instead of sitting at home doing nothing so I avoid failure, my goal of late has been to find my own path. No, I’m not awesome at sales, but I can use my breasts to calm a baby until he falls asleep. No, I can’t handle more than one cocktail, but I can bust out paleo chicken nuggets that even my picky baby will devour. Can I sprint around Town Lake twice without collapsing in a heap? Not on your life. But I went for a hike in the mountains this week, and that was pretty tough. Do I have the very cutest Audrey Hepburn pants for work? Ha, my clothes are covered in someone else’s snot. But I did get a balaclava for protection during dust storms.
To me, it seemed like Austin belonged to other people and I was just a visitor. That city is for young professionals like my sister who are starting to make good money but don’t have kids yet. Or for retirees who are too cool for Florida, like my parents in their swanky condo. Austinites are health food fanatics, avid joggers, yoga practicers, and organic produce shoppers with compost heaps in their backyards (and those showy I COMPOST signs in their front yards, the braggarts). There are lots of things to do, but the list of options is much shorter if you have kids and didn’t develop your own must-have iPhone app.
I recently took my kids to the playground in my Aunt’s established, desirable neighborhood. While waiting for my Aunt to arrive, I noticed the women at the park were really young, fit, and seemingly unaffected by Mom Bladder as they frolicked in the mulch. After much observation, I realized they weren’t Moms, they were nannies. Holy shit, I can’t be seen here, I thought. I’m too chubby and old to be a nanny and too unemployable to be a highfalutin working Mom. How old do you have to be to feel comfortable in your own skin on the playground?
And then we moved to El Paso, Texas. I’ve been given the opportunity to move many times in my life, and it’s very freeing to have the option to remake yourself each time. Like, when I was a kid obsessed with Christina Ricci in Casper and decided I would introduce myself to new friends as Kat instead of Katherine. Or when I went to college and decided to be somber and pretentious and, as a result, was temporarily friendless and miserable. European brooding does not translate well to dorm life. When we moved back to Austin, I couldn’t exactly emerge from a cocoon a brand new butterfly, because most of my family lived in Austin already and knew me pretty well. When we moved there I was already pregnant, so my days of reinventing myself were over, at least for the moment. I was the Pregnant Lady, and soon to be the Mommy.
My family helped me constantly with the kids, with the house, with the car; anything I needed, my parents, sister, uncle and aunt were right there. I don’t like to be dirty, or really, to be outside at all, so Dad took Jack to the sandbox, Mom took him for a walk, Aunt Karen took him to the playground. Now, though, our house is a nine-hour drive from my family, and it’s just us. It’s been a Come to Jesus time in my life, because I want to be a good mom, and I didn’t really have a grasp on what that meant.
When we arrived to the little rental we would be living in until we closed on our house, Jackson was very emotional. He didn’t like the “little brown house”, it’s too small, where is Nana? I want to go to the Thinkery (children’s museum in Austin). Robby was 24 hours away from starting a new job, so I made a decision. For now, I would be Everything is Awesome Mom. We went to the zoo, to trampoline parks, to dancing fountains, to get new Crocs, on drives through the mountains, and to every fast food restaurant with a play place in a 40 mile radius. Every day, my goal was to show the kids how great this new city was, and how lucky I felt to be here. And maybe it worked on me as well as the kids, because I really was excited, and I loved the days when Jack just wanted to drive back and forth through the Franklin Mountains while Archie slept in his car seat.
Without my outdoorsy family members to pick up my slack, I’ve also had to become Outside Mom, equipped with sunscreen, hats, spare clothes for after water-fountain play, and, horror of horrors, shorts. I was heavily pregnant during two Texas summers and never once wore shorts, which demonstrates my commitment to leg coverings. Taking the kids to the zoo, having to squat to apply sunscreen to little noses, and needing to dry quickly after getting too close to the fountain requires shorts. And you know, it turned out fine. I do a lot more laundry and we take more frequent baths, but we have fun outside, and even planted some vegetables that will probably wither and die in two weeks, but it’s all about the experience for the kids, right?
As I’ve forged my own path and simultaneously become more like the other mothers in my life, I’ve been more aware of my own needs. I want to write, even though there is a mountain of competition for mommy blogs and self-publishing is easy enough that there are thousands of books about motherhood. My book will be for me, and it doesn’t matter if no one reads it. I like to hike, and it doesn’t matter that I’m not the fastest, because I don’t hike to break records. I hike for the view and the solitude. I want to do things for my kids that I don’t necessarily enjoy, because I know they will have fun, like camping in the backyard. I want to learn how to fix things so I don’t have to rely on professionals or call my Dad in a panic.
And I want to love the Borderland the way this place has loved me, because I’ve already gained so much from living here just six months. The landscape, the emphasis on hard work, the attitude of family I feel from the teacher at school who gave me her personal cell number because she knows I don’t have family nearby. The protective neighbors who told us they are former military and now nurses, so they are armed if we need help, but can also bandage us up if we fall down.
My family can have Austin, because even though I loved living there, it wasn’t my place. El Paso feels like home right now, and as painful as it has been to move far away from family, being alone with Hubs and the kids here has made me a fuller, more balanced person. When there is pressure to be everything for my kids, I might not get it exactly right, but I’ve found that I was more to start with than I thought possible. It’s not a competition, but New Mommy is kicking Old Mom’s ass, which feels like winning to me.