I have always been an over-ambitious and obstinate masochist. I have fought with that, and prided in that, I’ve denied it, and worried I’ve lost it. It has been my downfall on many occasions and, just as often, my only saving grace.
I’ve written before about this proclivity, and also about how it seems to be inadvertantly diluted by parenthood. But I had a revelation at the start of last week.
We were on our way back, just me and Mak, from a trip to France for an old friend’s wedding. We’d been on an epic train journey; we’d visited Paris, climbed the Eiffel Tower, cruised the Seine, watched orangutans play in the Ménagerie, before heading South to party in Cannes, swim in the Mediterranean, and make new friends in Burger King. Then we returned to the North, on the top bunk of the night train, to spend the day in the Grande Gallerie de l’Évolution, before finally heading home, backpacks stuffed to bursting with dirty laundry, snacks and souvenirs.
It had been a beautiful, colourful, infuriating, anxiety-inducing symphony of experience. I’d felt like a failure on several occasions, and equally I’d felt deeply affirmed at times. It was a fairly bold decision to take sole charge of a six year old ball of inexhaustible energy on a whistlestop overland trip to the South of France, but I regretted it far less than I thought I would. And, now, we’d made it; we were safely aboard our final train, in our home country, enjoying an apple juice and a beef stew, and chatting about the video game Mak is definitely going to make this year.
I was pleasantly exhausted and relieved it was over, and I was already conducting the analysis of my mistakes. About three hours of almost constant chat into the journey, Mak excused himself politely to go to the toilet, so I knew he must be equally exhausted. After he left, a woman sitting near us leaned over and said she just had to tell me what a great job I was doing, what good parenting skills I have, and what a lovely young boy I was raising. All I could do was say thank you repeatedly, until she put her headphones back in and retreated to her seat.
If that compliment had come at any other time, I would have been grateful and touched, and reassured. But it came after six days of relentless, imperfect striving, of museum closures and broken air con, sleepless nights worrying he’d fall out of bed, multiple conversations trying to fix my own fuck ups with inadequate French skills, and constant fear I wasn’t up to the task of being this kind of mother. It also came while I was sure I was too spent to be parenting effectively.
It was like the stones slid into place and a secret passage was revealed. This is where I’ve been putting it all. Parenthood didn’t dilute my ambitions, it just became my new target. It’s ridiculously obvious, of course; I shouldn’t have needed an epiphany. But I think I’d been fighting the notion that this was somewhere I could direct the most intense part of me. And hearing someone say that something good had come from it, when the whole time I’d been wringing my hands over whether I was even okay at this job, changed my perspective profoundly.
So now I can walk down this secret passageway of personal fulfillment. I can accept that this is where I want to test myself, and push myself, and it’s not just about the outcome for Makaloo, it’s about the impact of the endeavour on me. There need be no tension between ambition and parenthood; they are one and the same.