Photo: Jordan Manfredi

I listen to way too many podcasts—the ones that make you feel more aware, upset, unsure and fascinated. I meditate sometimes and I drink enough water. I’m definitely putting in the work to try to remember who I am, in addition to being a mom, a wife and a business owner.

My “to-do” list, like most caregivers, is long. It lives in my phone and on my mind and if I forget it, it pings me back into submission. It keeps me busy—doing and going, going and doing my way to a satisfactory life. And it makes me feel 82% numb and substantially less alive.

The routine dulls my senses and for a not-new human like myself, it bores me to death sometimes. Sincere gratitude aside, being a mom of young kids is majority monotonous and minority former-self fun. Today, as I was driving home from a meeting, I realized that I had a full tank of gas, my suitcase and not one but two credit cards. I thought, “I could just get away for the weekend, run off and be alone for a full 48 hours. The kids would be fine, my husband would understand.” In fact, he was the one that told me, “I can’t make you happy.”

I wanted to drive far away today and to leave my problems behind. The idea perculated fuzzy in my head, as my fomer-fun self suddenly perked up, like a breath of fresh air had entered my lungs and was pumping life back into me. But as regularly programmed, I instead reverted back to my “to-do” list and pushed the novel-yet-non-sensical idea aside.

Annoyed, I drove back into the mind-blowing experience of modern motherhood. I was driving myself numb and not doing anything about it. Why? Because motherhood is unconditional and transformative. It’s damn beautiful and in that beauty is also a breakdown, an experience of the soul. And because as mothers, we’re trained not to rock the boat. Heck, we are the boat keeping everything afloat.

Deep inside my sticky sense of resentment, hand-dipped in disappointment, I heard my husband say it again inside my  head: “I can’t make you happy. You have to do that yourself.” He was right. This, “But what happened to my life?” baggage wasn’t his or theirs to carry. It was mine, all mine. There was no one left to blame. So now what?

I noticed a motorcyclist driving in front of me and he was masterfully pulling up his front wheel and rocking a wheely. I was at once, in awe and in admiration and also moderately concerned for his health and well-being. We exchanged a thumbs up as I drove by, congratulating him on his fearless feat and in that flash of a moment, I saw a twinkle in his eyes. They were sparkling like sunlight on the water. They were eyes of someone who was happy in that moment. It was that undeniable look you have when you’re doing something that makes you feel alive. When you’re not asking for anyone’s permission to live out loud and disappointing the world by not caring what anyone else thinks. Carl Jung calls it, individualizing, a way of being open-hearted to life.
That’s what I’m looking for. That look, that feeling.

I then have another idea and refuse to let my “to-do” list dictate my decision. I ask Siri,  “How far is Coney Island from here?” She answered, “12 miles.” I veered my car off and decide to take matters into my own hands. To dedcidedly be happy by doing something that actually makes me happy. It was pretty simple: I was going to hit the coasters, because I love riding roller coasters. I took myself on the date night I’ve been so desperately missing and I ended up riding the Thunderbolt front row next to a mom and her daughter. We held hands and screamed our heads off. When I picked up my souvenior picture to remember this version of me that I’ve longed for, I noticed something in my eyes looking back at me. It was that same shine. There’s the me underneath the “to-do” lists and it’s just waiting to come out if only we can allow ourselves to unappolgetically do whatever makes us happy, no outside assistance required.