You will love and you will sacrifice

26Oct16

This line is from Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Parenting, which is brilliant and one of those books you think will be about one thing but also turns out to be about what it is to be human. My favourite kind of book.


I have thought about sacrifice as I’ve progressed through my yoga teacher training and left my kid, and my partner looking after her, for the 200 hours of the training but also through the many additional hours of travel and yoga practice and teaching practice and homework, as well as working 3 and a half days a week. As I reach my final assessments I have felt quite emotional about the culmination of what I have sacrificed and what I have gained. So many times I was unsure I was doing the right thing, as I left a baby screaming for mum and her tired father (again), about whether (that terrible test) it was “worth it”. I missed her like how missing is, you know it, from the inside out, from your molecules and organs and muscles and arms.

It was harder because when I started my course, teaching a room of people yoga for an hour was the most frightening thing I could imagine doing. It was a thousand times more nerve-wracking to me than speaking at events or presenting to 150 people, things I had done which involved talking about something less personal to me and where I knew what the hell I was doing. My feelings stemmed from the vulnerability of an observed beginner and the feeling that comes from being really seen by people, from the exposure of sharing something private that you have experienced as profound.

But I have learned not to be terrified, to trust my competence a bit more. And after my last assessment I ran to the station then jumped in my car and broke several speed limits to get home for bedtime, as parents do, to see her face of joy through the front window as they waited for me. I fed her and she fell asleep on me with all the lights still on, and I thought of how far I’d come and about “putting yourself out there” to be seen, about doing things that are hard but that make your life better.

I kissed her mop of hair in the dark as I lay down next to her. My bias is terrible, I think she is the most funny and interesting girl I ever met. And so far I have found this second year of her life a lot more enjoyable than the first. I think then I was still coming to terms with the total massacre of my life as I knew it and the torture of sleep deprivation (I find the subject of parenting invites extreme hyperbole) and though my daughter was by no means a dreadful baby, I would certainly not describe her as chilled. Now she is older every day I see the joy of her personality. Seeing your kid start to have preferences (I’ve never seen anyone so full of glee when you put bread in the toaster in the morning, or laughed so much when you ask your partner for some seasoning and she overhears and says “Peppa”?), or imitate you saying “ooh” and laugh and laugh, or join in your sun salutations, or dance with you in the kitchen to Paul Simon’s Call Me Al, has been for me a lot more joy-invoking than holding a small baby who doesn’t do much except wriggle and cry. Isn’t it weird that when we decide whether to “have a baby” we think about the baby, rather than the 90 or so per cent of the rest of their lives when they are people? We should be thinking about “whether we want to be parents”.

In All Joy and No Fun there is a bit about Daniel Kahneman’s differentiation between our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves”, the latter being more rose-tinted and inaccurate than our actual daily lives. He says even if our remembering self is less exact it may still be more important, because it is this side of ourself that judges our whole life, evaluates its relative success or failure.

I was thinking about whether the present-moment awareness that yoga teaches can narrow the distance between our experiencing and remembering selves, because being present in a moment is kind of attempting to experience and remember at the same time, or at least bring the awareness that memory provides. As well as the onerous and repetitive nature of  childcare there are many moments like this, moments of totally-present joy, which Jennifer Senior’s book is all about. Before I die, if my life flashes before my eyes, will my my best moments be holding a child in the dark? Will they be blowing raspberries or playing peekaboo with a teddy?

When Adam looks after her while I’m at work and they’re having a good day, he sends pictures of her tottering around in the park or looking out the train window. I think I’m going to die from joy, he says.

I am aware of the irony of distance in this second year of her life, that I have more time being a professional and having adult conversation and reading on the train and lunches in Soho (thank god, thank god for work, I often think) that afford me time to think about her in the great scheme of my life, space to miss her and energy to come back to her refreshed.

Being the person one little girl wants and loves more than anything used to make feel overwhelmed and trapped, and though it occasionally still does, now it is also the joy of my life, a personal miracle, one of the best feelings I have ever had. I suppose it is called love.

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