This weekend I traveled to go to the wedding reception of a dear friend and saw a person I hadn't seen in years. He was one of the first friends I made when I moved to New York City in 1999. Ethan is a friendly guy, and was probably the first friend of many people that have lived in the city. We were never b.f.f., but since the Mormon world is small, we have kept a loose association over the years. This was the first time I had seen him since I had my daughter. We talked a little and we danced (more about this later).
When we talked about old times he said, "You're much softer now."
"What do you mean?" I said, even though I knew.
"You were always nice when I knew you in New York. But you had a harder edge to you." He looked at me as if to ask, what happened?
I smiled and pointed at my daughter. "It was her," I said. "It was a complete transformation."
I hate to sum up the last four intense transformative years of my life in one sentence, but it was the best I could do during the break between songs.
In truth, it was many things. Part of my "hard edge" before becoming a mother had to do with my having lost my mother at age eleven. I was a survivor, a fighter, and for the most part, since then I had to take care of myself. While not all women experience the instant love of motherhood, there seems to be some kind of magic for a motherless woman when she becomes a mother. Hope Edelman interviewed dozens of Motherless Mothers in her book of that title and many of them say that becoming a mother filled a huge hole in their being and healed them a way they thought impossible. I definitely experienced that.
Another reason for the softening is that I am a little more God-broken now. But that, too is because of her. It was because of her that when my husband left at 12 weeks pregnant and I had to chose between becoming bitter or becoming better, I chose better.
I gave my will--no small prize--to God, and have had many of my sharp edges smoothed away or hacked off.
It's tough to break old habits, though, and I remember at one point, a few years ago, I wrote the word SURRENDER on note cards and taped them all over my house.
When the notes fell down, I came up with another reminder. I started ballroom dancing. Someone in the stake was offering free classes Wednesday nights to whoever showed up. I decided that I would go for two reasons. I enjoy simple pleasures, and watching my skirt twirl is one of them. Also, I thought it might be a good exercise in surrender.
I danced years ago in college, and back then I thought I was pretty good, but looking back, I don't think I was a great partner. I knew all the steps, but I was terrible at following. I was always trying to second guess or lead my partner. This time, I focused more on being led and not on the steps. That meant, if I got an unskilled partner, I just let it play out. Instead of resisting his mistakes and making him feel stupid, I just followed him and we created our own interesting dance.
If you haven't ever ballroom danced, the thing you need to know about being led is that it is not the same as being pushed around. You have to have tension in your arms. You have to push back a little. If you have no tension, then the space between you and your partner collapses. You become mush together and he can't lead you. On the other hand, if you push back too much, it is just a struggle. There can only be one leader, and she has to trust him. It's a good metaphor for marriage, too.
Back to the wedding reception. Ethan happens to be really into ballroom dancing in the last few years, and though it has been a year since I went to class and I don't remember any moves, I do remember how to follow. He was pleasantly surprised to find that I could dance and after 2 or 3 dances in a row, in which I think he was testing me, he said, "Wow, you follow perfectly." I just laughed. I didn't tell him it was because I had a baby, or that I am God-broken now. I just closed my eyes and let Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" wash over me and let him twirl me till it was time to go home.