I’m giving myself permission.
On Monday, I got up early, showered, ate a protein bar for breakfast, then escaped the city grid. The sky colored itself an achingly beautiful blue, the sun cast a soft glow on the slowly decaying landscape. I spotted several maples flashing flares of red. I drove an hour to what is known as the orchard region. Soon its quiet roads will clog with apple pickers and pumpkin, cider, and doughnut seekers. But on this day, it was still quiet except for the buzzing insects and bird calls and the crunch of gravel under tires.
I’d been invited to mountain bike on and around the orchard trails. We pedaled 22.5 miles along bumpy, unpredictable paths. I could have sailed forever through those sun-dappled tunnels of trees, along those fields rippling with corn and soybeans, the neat rows of fruit trees bursting with produce, the earthy woods and fields. I pumped my leg muscles until they ached to ascend the steep freeway overpasses and felt the flutter in my stomach on the high-speed rush of the descent into the woods. Sweat trickled down my back. Wayward grasshoppers smacked my face. The sun baked my already browned skin.
It was wonderful. This day, this experience.
I felt freer than I’ve felt in years. This summer I started bike riding again after a long break. I found a bike at a garage sale. Found another for Girl from the East. Together her father and I taught her to ride. Now, all of us rolling along on wheels. It’s almost beyond description, the rush of wind in the face, the feeling of almost flying.
Amid the sensory rush, I felt a poke. It was guilt trying to ruin my day.
Guilt about being on a bike on a Monday when I could be home polishing my résumé, or taking an online refresher course, or over at Michigan Works! getting career counseling, or painting our peeling porch railings.
The hell with guilt. I flicked it off my arm like an errant bug and kept pedaling. Guilt didn’t belong on this glorious September day. In Michigan, a day like this in late summer/early fall is a precious gem. You do not waste it inside unless you have no choice.
I had a choice.
Why should I court guilt? I may not have worked full-time with a salary and benefits in five years, but I can assure you I’ve had no down time.
Here’s how it went. In 2004, my husband and I began the international adoption process, which signaled the start of two years of non-stop paperwork, turning inside out every detail of our lives for strangers to inspect, navigating inter-country bureaucracy, and unexpected stumbling blocks such as an angry ex-husband against the adoption and how it would affect our daughter.
Oh, there was stress.
Somewhere between then and 2006, I initiated a legal matter with my employer. Most of 2006 was embroiled in this legal matter. It was very stressful. So was the adoption. Then I was transferred to a branch office far, far away from home and moved to the night shift.
In August 2006 came our adoption referral. We began preparing for the arrival of a baby, for our trip to China. We applied for travel visas. I prepared the final dossier with the necessary papers for the formal adoption in China and the immigration process at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou.
At the same time, I learned the outcome of my legal matter. The arbitrator had ruled against me.
In October 2006, I applied for and was denied family leave. Bone tired of the legal system at this point and ready to go to China and start the new chapter in my life, I resigned my position. My last day of work was mere days before our flight to Beijing.
When we came home as a family of four in November 2006, my husband resumed his crazy-busy life, Girl from the West went back to her seventh-grade school year. I, quite shockingly and suddenly, was home alone with a shell-shocked baby, ripped from the only world she knew.
It took several months for the two of us to emerge from the fog of our days and nights.
Last Wednesday my girl, who was absolutely ready to begin this part of her life, started all-day kindergarten.
“What do I do now?” I asked a huddle of emotional mothers at the first day of school coffee and doughnut mixer at school. “Go home and clean?”
“Yes. For now. Go home and clean and rest,” said a tearful mom.
So I did. I cleaned. But I did not rest. I felt guilty. I had no sense of where to begin.
Then it hit me: This is the first time in years that I’ve not had something large looming overhead, some oppressive deadline, or a constant demand for my attention and services.
I realize I need some time to get my bearings. I need to feel freedom rushing through me like the wind.
I need to taste boredom.