As an American, I find it very strange that I’ve learned so much about freedom since moving to Austria. Not in a “freedom of speech/religion/assembly/expression” kind of way, but freedom in the sense of personal liberation. I don’t actually think it was important that I be in Austria to make these discoveries — I think I’ve had to be out of my comfort zone and stressed to a point of actually letting go of unimportant things (which is so very hard to do). I think that could have happened almost anytime and almost anywhere, but for me, it happened to happen here.
Here, I’ve learned to accept that I’m going to get things wrong. That was true at home, too, but I fought it. At home, I tried to be “together”, I tried to be slick, I tried to do it all and look good doing it. Here, I am so much more willing to accept that it’s a lost cause and just let go do the best I can in the moment. I don’t know the convention of how things are done here. I don’t know the logistics of how things are done here (I’ve finally figured out how to use the ATM — sorry, bankomat — so that I don’t have to put my card in two or three times in the course of a single transaction). I don’t speak the language, so that’s like 1000 uncool points before I’ve even started to communicate with someone.
I’m having to find my own way of doing things here, too. I have less help, more time alone with the kids, and everything I try to do is more of a challenge. I’m having to focus on what is important — on what is really, truly, important to ME. I’m having to discover my own priorities and determine the best way to execute them. There isn’t even the illusion of enough time to do everything I want, go everywhere I want or do things as well as I want. I just can’t. In the acceptance of that comes the responsibility of determining what IS important and spending my time on that. I’m learning to just do enough instead of trying to do it all. I’m learning to just do well enough instead of trying to be perfect. Everyone gets fed and cleaned and loved and read to. Boo-boos get kissed. The dog goes outside. The house is not yet a toxic waste site. Sounds good to me!
The pressures are different here, too. The moms do things differently. They worry so much less about their kids falling down and getting scraped or bruised or even breaking an arm. They don’t worry about only introducing one food at a time to screen for allergies. On the other hand, they bundle their children in the cold weather or the rain like they’re going to dissolve. It just shows me that the things we choose to worry about are fairly arbitrary. Things that would cause an American mother to gasp in horror would go unnoticed here, and things that would make an Austrian mother stare accusingly (they’re not so big on the gasping) would make an American mom scoff. So, I worry less that my 3 year old isn’t potty trained and still drinks from a bottle, and I’m grateful my 10 month old doesn’t need to eat plain pureed chicken on the extremely remote possibility he has a poultry allergy. People can stare and gasp all they like.
I’m accepting myself, too. I’m good at some things, not at others. I enjoy doing some things, and not others. It doesn’t make me a bad mom, wife, daughter, sister or friend. It just IS. It doesn’t mean anything. The distance from my structured environment at home is giving me permission to just be who I am. I’m judging myself less and less for not being good enough, for not being slick enough, for not doing things right, for not doing enough, for not doing it all, perfectly, 100% of the time. (I find I’m also judging others less for the same things.)
And all of that is ok. In fact, it’s incredibly liberating. I’ve never felt so divorced from my concept of what I ought to be doing or how things are supposed to happen. In so many ways, the pressure is relieved — pressure I’ve felt my entire life, but most acutely since becoming a mother. These concepts of perfection weren’t even mine, and I didn’t know. For the first time, I’m experiencing the process of deciding what’s important and allowing myself to be just who I am. And that isn’t sad, it’s wonderful.