I’m in one of my happy places, leisurely drinking coffee on a child-free Saturday and thinking about how I will spend the next delicious 48 hours, and I’m listening to Christina Aguilera belt out “Fighter” from her “Stripped” album. All of a sudden, I get it. She’s thanking someone from her past who used to have a very negative influence on her, but all those experiences made her stronger. Wiser. Smarter. Made her skin a little thicker.
And so it is with me, too.
Over the past two years, I have evolved from feeling overwhelmed about my divorce and managing this new life on my own—to being a confident employee, mother and friend, who, on many days, has got this. Granted, there are plenty of days where I still feel overwhelmed—I mean, who doesn’t as we try to “balance” work, children, social lives, and family? Being overwhelmed as a mother, I often think, is the new normal. But, what I know for sure, to lovingly borrow one of my favorite lines from Oprah, is that I am showing up for my child. Truly and mindfully, showing up for her.
Every night, I pack her a healthy lunch with a special treat and a note. Every night, I listen (or watch) her read and I feel joy about her love for words and books. Every night, we choose clothes for the next day that will make her feel good and happy. Every night, I cuddle with her, kiss her face and hair, and I tell her to have sweet dreams and that I love her.
Since being on my own, I am struck by just how much stronger I’ve become. Not only for my daughter–because it’s often easier to be stronger for your child–but also for myself.
With this beautiful distance from the situation that buried me into one of the darkest places of my life has come incredible light. Self-possessiveness. Power. And yes, it has made me a fighter.
It reminds me of a powerful passage from Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio (for all of you American women literature fans), one that I used for a class presentation during my junior year in college. This novel follows the Holbrook family during the late 1920s as they move from the coal mines of Wyoming to a tenant farm in western Nebraska. One of the themes is about motherhood and sacrifice, a theme that very much resonates with me. Towards the end of the book, the baby, Bess, grabs a “fruit-jar lid” and begins slamming it down, over and over again. She is at once feeling her power in her ability to make something happen. To make this powerful noise. To be heard.
I stood up in front of my literature class, with a glass jar, and as I read the passage about Bess slamming her jar, I banged mine. I can do. Bang. My classmates were rapt. I felt completely in command and in my element. I can do. Bang.
It was one of my most memorable academic moments. I loved how I felt, and these days, during my best moments, I feel just as confident and powerful as I did back then. I can do.
So now I can elevate the most negative experience of my life to a new place. It has made me who I am today.
I am a fighter.