I step onto the scale for the third time in less than a minute. For some reason, I believe that if I do it more than once, the number staring up at me might change—and in the direction I want—but every time, it’s the same.
Every. Single. Time.
This nightly ritual has been going on for months. I know that one day, if I knew my daughter was doing what I am doing right now, my heart would break. It would ache to know that she was letting three little numbers sum up her self-worth.
But right now, the girl on the scale isn’t her: it’s me. And although the digital read out flashes three numbers that are so low, they’re only a handful away from being two, I am still so unsatisfied with them. No matter what I do, or how low they go, it doesn’t feel like enough. Somehow, I feel like I am too much and not enough all at the same time, and that feeling? It’s a feeling I’ve come to hate.
I hate that I’ve let three silly numbers become what’s important in my life. I hate that I’ve let them become the definition of me.
* * *
My daughter Zoey stands in front of our wall calendar, her little fingers gripping the last day of June. We have just gotten home, and I’m busy putting away the things we’ve acquired throughout our day and beginning to make dinner.
“Can I change it?” Zoey’s excitement can hardly be contained.
“But it’s still June,” I say as I empty her lunchbox. “July doesn’t start until tomorrow!”
“Yeah, but…” Zoey’s voice trails off as she starts lifting up the page, obviously not caring that about 6 more hours need to elapse before the next month starts.
“Yeah, but what?” I laugh.
“I can’t wait any longer. I’m too excited. July is the best month ever!” Zoey finishes lifting the page and hooks its small circle on the nail holding the calendar up. It appears that July is officially here in our household.
I stop what I am doing and walk to where she stands. Together we look at those 31 days as Zoey explains why July will be so awesome:
“Grandpa comes tonight and then he will be here for three days. And then it’s the 4th of July, and then….,” Zoey says, as she counts some of the empty squares. “Nine days later, Grandpa comes back. He’ll be here for three more days, and then seven days after that, Grammy comes, and she’ll be here for eight. And then I have my five-day art camp, and THEN the 24th is my birthday, and that’s when I turn SIX!”
* * *
As I listen to Zoey rattle off all of these numbers, I’m reminded of how, when we are young, the numbers that define our lives are—for the most part—happy, exciting, wonderful things:
There’s 3 days left of school until you have 100 days of summer… There’s excitement of your 6th or 13th or 18th or 21st birthday… There’s your 1 best friend and your 2 favorite colors and the 49 pieces of candy you collect in your Halloween bucket… There’s the first night you get to stay up past 10 o’clock, which is so much later than your bedtime it feels like such a splurge… There’s the 11 AM lunch bell and the 3 PM dismissal bell… There’s the 25 cents from the tooth fairy and the $1 for the ice cream truck and the $20 bill your grandma puts in your birthday card… There’s the 15 degree temperature and 12 inches of snow that turns into 2 snow days… And there’s the 5 more minutes you get to play before bedtime,
And when all of these numbers are added up, the 365 days of each childhood year are filled with learning, playing, fun, and wonder.
But then, when you hit fast forward and suddenly find yourself as an adult, the numbers seem to stop adding up to something wonderful. Instead, the numbers seem to start subtracting from the joy we feel in our lives:
There’s only 3 more days of vacation left before you have 100 more days of work… There’s the 29th birthday you keep having because you don’t want to admit your real age… There’s that 1 good friend you lost to cancer and those 2 moles you have that don’t look quite right, and those 49 other things on your to-do list that keep you from making a doctor appointment… There’s the meetings that last until 7 PM, the ones that make you miss dinner with your family… There’s the 2 AM bedtime and the 6 AM alarm… There’s the bank account that’s $140 short of being able to pay your monthly rent and the $25 overdraft fees and a $50 parking ticket… There’s the 15 degree temperature and 12 inches of snow that make you 2 hours late for work… And there’s the 5 more minutes you wish you had in your day.
And with these numbers subtracting from our lives, the 365 days of each adult year are many times filled with overwhelming stress, unhappiness, and fear.
* * *
As Zoey continues to explain the importance of the numbers that add up to define this month of her little, beautiful life—I, too, find myself thinking about the numbers that currently define my own:
I have been learning for 36 years, and I can’t wait for 36 more. I have an almost 6-year-old who talks like she’s 16, but I can still hold her in my 2 strong hands like she is still 5 months old when I shower her with 100 kisses each morning. I have 1 amazing mother and 1 incredible father, and I am the sister to 1 remarkable brother.
It has been 1 year since my divorce, a year filled with so much growth, self-discovery, and promise that it feels like it might as well have been 10. It has been 9 months since I started writing again, and this simple act has helped me heal, helped me create amazing new memories and new friends, and helped remind me of the value I have to offer. And this month will mark 1 year since I have stepped onto that scale and let it measure my self-worth.
And these numbers? Well, let’s just say I have no hate for them; I’m happy to let them define me and this perfect little life that I am creating.
One day, when she is old enough to understand better, I will tell Zoey that the numbers of her life- will never be too much. That they will always be enough. That she will always be enough. I will teach her that the numbers of her days, the ones that keep piling up on the scale of her one, precious life, will always, always be perfect, no matter what they add up to.
“So, what do you think, Mommy? Don’t you think July will be awesome?” Zoey’s voice snaps me back to the present.
“It will be better than awesome, Zoey,” I say. “It will be perfect.”
* * *
The scale sits up high, on a shelf in my closet, tucked back in a corner and far out of reach. It serves as a reminder of who I once was and who I never want to become again. Every once in a while I see it out of the corner of my eye, but I never take it down: My days of wanting to subtract myself from my life are long, long gone.
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