It’s 3:09am and I’ve suddenly had the realisation that I knew so much more about myself and who I truly am (and what I enjoy) when I was 21 years old.
Back then, I didn’t care so much about trying to fit into society and it’s prescribed boxes. I stayed up way too late, ate all the wrong food, skipped lectures, and slept in more often than not – but I was happy. I didn’t feel guilty when I slept in past 10am after an all-nighter. I didn’t feel like a failure because I didn’t have all my ducks in a row. (I guess I always thought they would fall into line automatically as I got older).
Fast-forward 10 years later, and I feel guilty all the time. I feel guilty for not spending enough time with my child, and I feel guilty for not putting enough into my business. I feel guilty for snoozing through my alarm clock, despite the fact that I’ve been working into the wee hours these past few days. I feel guilty because I’m not sitting behind my laptop at 2pm and am attempting to pay some much-needed attention to my child instead – but I’ve somehow forgotten that I was behind my laptop, hard at work, at 2am (much) earlier that same day. I feel guilty for not being enough.
I try so hard to fit into the typical 9-to-5 mould, but it doesn’t work for me. I write so much better late at night. I can’t focus or concentrate on writing first thing in the morning; I need a lot of time to wake up, get ready, and plan my day ahead. It’s a completely different story late at night, though – somehow, I can whip up two blog posts, a press release, and a content calendar for a client in a matter of three or four hours. Something that would take me at least eight full hours if I were attempting it during the daylight hours. It might have something to do with the fact that there are so many more distractions during the day, but if I think back to my time at varsity, I realise that it may just be who I am. Back then, I was a fully-fledged night owl. I stayed up till 3am or 4am reading my English set works (when I wasn’t out watching a live band or dancing the night away, that is), and always wrote my essays late at night. Days were reserved for attending lectures, doing research at the library, catching up with friends, and naps. I loved it. But that’s all fine and well when you’re a 21 year old student, but what about when you’re a business owner, a mother, a wife, an adult?
Our culture dictates that we wake up early, start work at a ‘reasonable’ hour, spend a large chunk of our day focused on said work, and somehow fit being a mom, a wife, a friend into whatever time is left.
But what if your natural way of being just doesn’t fit into these prescribed norms? What if you battle to fit it all in? I work better at night, so why have I been working against my natural rhythms and trying to force myself to become a morning person (and then I still can’t manage to fall asleep any time before 11pm)? Why do I keep on taking on more and more commitments, to the detriment of my personal relationships? Because guilt – that’s why.
I’ve become more and more aware of just how hell-bent I am on fitting into this mould that society has prescribed for me. You know, the one that says that I should be doing some form of productive work-related thing between the hours of 9am and 5pm, that I should be a good little wife and make sure that the laundry is done and neatly packed away (I’ve never managed to stay on top of this), that I should be whipping up some wholesome, nutritious meal from scratch every evening, that I should be a responsible adult who doesn’t stay out too late, drink too much, dance too wildly, turn up the music too loudly…
Truth is, I don’t go out much at all these days, and I hardly ever sit down to enjoy a glass of wine. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that good, responsible moms don’t go out on the town too often, and they certainly don’t get too tipsy either. And despite the fact that I did ballet for 15 years (and even dabbled in modern dance), I don’t think I’ve actually let loose to a piece of music since I was 25 (and, even then, I bet you I needed a few drinks to bolster my confidence). Would you believe it if I told you that I rarely listen to music, despite the fact that music was such a huge part of my life when I was younger – and that I’m married to a musician?
Lately I’ve found myself battling to reconcile two very different aspects of my self: the Chereen that’s always wanted a very safe, settled existence, versus the Chereen that needs something a little different. The one who craves a more solid, comfortable way of living: a mortgage, two kids (maybe more), adult dinner parties with fancy wines and a gourmet, home-cooked meal. The other side of me yearns to break free from society’s expectations of me.
Yes, I’m a mother, but that doesn’t mean that I have to stay at home on Friday nights and that I can’t dance sexy.
I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating these thoughts over the past week or so (driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg gives you more than enough time to analyse your life), and I’m starting to wonder whether my depression doesn’t somehow tie into these expectations that society has of me – and my inability to fit in and live up to these expectations?
I’m not the perfect mother. Sometimes, when my son’s been tantrum-ing just a little too often, I come back at him with a tantrum of my own. Sometimes I just want to call up the babysitter, go out, and dance on a table… Yes, I’m 31. Yes, I’m a mother. Yes, I’m married… but I’m not dead, and there’s still plenty of life left to live, without having to succumb to society’s rigid expectations of me.
“Every pain, addiction, anguish, depression, anger, or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy; some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.”
– Jacob Nordby –