There’s one Sonic on the Island where we live.
Thank goodness for this Sonic and happy hour as a young mom.
We go there a lot - especially if the girls wake up early from their naps and dinner time seems extra-longish away.
We’re frequent customers.
And so are the seagulls.
We pull into the Sonic and the flock of seagulls scatters, cawing in consternation. They make so much din that our order’s barely heard over the intercom, and they fight incessantly over crumbs of tossed-out french fries. One time we saw a car of tourists pull over on purpose - just to heave their fries out of the window and witness the cloud of gulls descend. I’ve noticed some hobble on one foot, the other webbed toes casualties of cars that came too close. Their feathers are mangled. The ocean, the sand, the source of life is just across the street, but they live here, shuffling over cracked, sun-baked pavement and perching on dumpsters. Wads of chewed gum peeling off the sidewalk. They cry and they cry and they cry.
One afternoon our little family of four was there for a large lemon slush, a large vanilla diet coke, and a small lemon slush/water, a “treat for me, for MEGGIE!”
The seagulls were there, too. I rolled down my window as we waited and listened. From beneath my shades I muttered: “You know, I just don’t get these seagulls. How did they get stuck here like this, how can they want this to be their whole life - scrambling around for some measly fries - even if they are Sonic fries? (the ONLY ones I crave when I’m pregnant)”
I grew some conviction.
“I mean, if I were a seagull, I wouldn’t want to be here. I’d want to be soaring over the ocean, diving for fish. I’d want my feet to feel the sand. I’d want to smell the salt. Why do they do this? If I were a seagull, I’d want to be a seagull!”
AV cooed from her carseat and kicked a rattle. Meggie bebopped to her current favorite playlist - the Genesis song. And Kyle didn’t really answer. He listened, as he always does, but I think he knew it was another one of my rhetorical musings.
Or maybe his Navy, military, doing-what-he’s-born-to-do-always-dreamed-to-do, flying mind doesn’t go to the places of Sonic and seagulls and sand.
Because here’s what it really meant:
Sometimes I’m like these seagulls.
No, I am one of the Sonic seagulls.
I’m 28-years-old, married for almost six years, the mama of two precious daughters. I’ve graduated from college, earned a Master’s of Science degree, held down some jobs, helped others. I’ve moved eight times over my life - five times since being married - and loved deeply. I’ve studied God, read God, accepted God, been changed.
But in all these things, these wondrous things, I feel like something’s missing.
I’m really good at doing what I think others expect of me, being who I think I should be. And even though I’m doing now what I want to do, indeed the work in raising my girls that I feel I’ve been given to do, called to do, I don’t think I’m living the fullest life like I could.
My earliest memories of dreams involve writing. I used to fall asleep every night in my little girl bed, tucked into a sweet alcove under our North Carolina eaves, a pad of paper and pen on my pillow - just in case I’d have an idea for my story in the middle of the night. Characters would play across my closed eyelids as I slumbered, and it was a game to find for them the perfect words.
In my freshman high-school Honors English class, I turned in a 20-page paper - which was supposed to be five MAX - on the House of Tudor because I was swept up in the drama of Mary. The teacher’s feedback: TOO much, TOO flowery scrawled in red across the beginning paragraph. I got the same on my research report on camels in the fifth grade. And the same on my first collegiate submission in Civil War Literature - my undergraduate college’s sole goal to beat out the unnecessary language.
And once I even named four potato plants that my Grandaddy taught me how to grow in an old hay-bale after friends I’d made up for a story.
Everything turns up as a story to me; it’s what I love.
I’ve gotten dangerously close before to realizing this dream. Of being A Writer. Like when I was accepted to a graduate program in Creative Writing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola - our first military station for Kyle’s flight school. Before I started, though, something tragic happened in my family and I got scared. Of what, I’m not sure, but I quickly changed plans.
I went with what was safe, but also what was second. I loved school, was a good student, wanted to help people, use the scientific side of my brain. And I wanted to prove to my family - many of whom thought that if I got married right out of college that I’d be only a wife and cease to be Shannon - that I could be a wife AND get my graduate degree, be a professional.
I applied to a counseling program and got in. Started there, and when we moved, applied to a Ph.D. program in the counseling psychology field. I was accepted into that program, and began a new life as Ph.D. student. I loved my clients and enjoyed class. But still that missing, missing.
My womb also yearned for a baby. Writing and babies - that was my original wish. But I felt like I had given my life away to my studies, to my work, and we just couldn’t have a baby. I was working 15 hours a day and Kyle was gone - the last phase of flight school.
Then, there was this one night - ONE NIGHT - two years into our marriage where the clinic couldn’t squeeze my appointment to renew my birth control around my crazy graduate hours until the next month and we weren’t “prepared” and we took each other’s hands and said no matter what happened - and really what could happen? - we’d welcome anyone IF “it” happened...and Margaret Lillian was breathed into being.
The night that changed our lives as we knew them.
I finished my master’s, but not the Ph.D. and when we found out we were having another baby a year or so later, gave myself happily and wholly and wonderfully completely to the raising of them, my precious girls.
But still something missing.
I’ve done my best trying to be what and who and how I think I should be - for my parents, for my grandparents, my husband, my children. I drove myself batty with a drive to finish graduate school - for myself, yes, - but also because I knew it was what my parents expected, what would make them proud. And, then, I tried to be 100% the Navy wife that I thought Kyle wanted: someone absolutely supportive, following his dream, always saying “yes” to the deployments, the long hours, the unpredictability.
I’ve tried, oh I’ve tried, to be the kind of homemaker that I felt my children should have, that they deserve. The meal plans, the chore plans, the crafts and cookies and play dates. I do love all these different roles, but I realize now that I’ve been trying and trying and trying to make myself be who I thought I should be and not who I’ve been created to be. And, oh, how guilty I’ve been feeling. All the trying and making and pushing and the shoving and the cutting out and the saying no have all made me really feel like one thing: a failure at everything.
I’m not cut out to be a full-time career woman.
I’m not the best military spouse.
And I’m certainly not Betty Crocker.
Because when you’re doing what God’s created you to do, the rest just kind of takes care of itself, right?
Today, Kyle and I loaded up the girls into our van after a monster-long nap for Miss AV, picked up Chick-Fil-A, and set up a picnic at the botanical gardens. And we did something there that we haven’t done in a long time.
And I told him, “I know this is what is meant for me. It’s not somebody else’s wish or hope or plan for me. It’s what is there for me.”
He asked me, “if you could live anywhere or do anything - money or time is not a factor - where would you live and what would you do?”
After all this time and all this struggle, turns out the answer’s easy.
“Well, first of all - I’ve GOT to go home. I’ve got to get back to the Southeast (and I named a few states in particular). I’d live in a big, rambling, country house - not even necessarily in a neighborhood - there’d be space and woods and lots and lots of trees. An abundance of azaleas. This house, it would be bursting with our children. An absolute houseful of children and I’d be their teacher. But, there would be a tiny nook there for me to write. I’d care for and teach our children and write. Not just for my blog, but stories. A couple of nights a week, I’ll have a job using my counseling degree in some fashion - I’d want to be in women’s health, a pregnancy clinic, or birth education. You’d have a flying job that you love - but something both predictable and flexible. We’d have our own vegetable garden in the back and a yard full of animals. A chicken coop, some ducks, and an old barnyard cat. Douglass the dog, of course, and maybe a lazy old sheepdog. On sunny days I might even hang the laundry on our clothesline. A porch swing, a rocking chair, a magnolia tree with snow-white blossoms, silky and frothy and petals like summer. Wild honeysuckle.
That’s what’s missing. That’s what’s me.”
And then we talked about how we might do it. Make it happen.
It starts with a writing class that’s taken me almost a year to gather the courage to even sign-up. Remember this? I wrote about this class the night before I woke up with 2 minute contractions about to deliver Alice Virginia in our bedroom. I got my books for this class in the mail yesterday, and I’m already dreaming up my first assignment: a children’s short story due June 4th. This class teaches you to hone your skills and how to break into print. I’m so excited about it I can scarcely talk about anything else - or breathe. It feels so right.
Like I’m finally responding to that within me that my Creator put there - way back in the caverns of my mother’s womb. Like I’m finally giving in and saying, “OK. Let’s do this your way.”
And not just this. But I’ve started running. Crazy, I know. Especially for y’all that know me really well and KNOW how much I despise running. Because I really do. But, it’s what works for this time and our budget and, by golly, I’m going to get my figure back - however mangled by two ten-pounders that may be. I’m delving deeply into the Word, going back to basics, listening.
My nose held to the air, breathing.
I’ve been satisfied, mollified, distracted by the fleeting particles of french-fries, the traces of salt reminiscent of the real fish. I’ve done things or forced things that make me feel like I’m doing a decent job of “my duty,” but I almost missed the ocean. I almost missed the sand, the sun’s reflection on a school of scaley-fish. Graduate school and all the rest of it - they’re not my real fish.
And I want the real fish. I want the real fish.
Since we moved to this new place a little over a month ago, I’ve been searching for a reason. We loved Oklahoma. We loved our friends who were family in Oklahoma. We loved our life there - if it weren’t for this amazing opportunity for Kyle down here, we would’ve freely chosen to stay there forever. We’ve trusted that the homesickness and the longing for there was all for a good and perfect plan.
But where is the good? WHERE IS THE GOOD???
Maybe it’s partly this:
I’m tired of being a Sonic seagull. I’m tired of settling for the french-fries tossed out by tourists.
I want to honor God by doing what he created me to do, and when I sing for joy in the shadow of wings, teach my children to do the same.
I want to be a Seagull seagull.
I’ve caught a whiff of the ocean, friends.
My foot’s a little weakened and weathered from a run-in with a semi, and my feathers sure are tarnished and blemished and ruffled, but I’ve caught a whiff of the ocean, and I’m going back out to sea.
What about you? What are your dreams? What have you been created to do and are you doing it? What are your roadblocks or what are your biggest encouragements? What needs to change for you TO do what you’re created to do?and just for fun...a picture of my girls and me on the day I decided to follow the rest of my dreams.
More from parenting