Family Life

New Year, More Me

Today, I was walking with my dog and thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I love the starting over of a new year. I have always felt its metaphorical power and been drawn to the idea of a new beginning, another chance, a reset button. From the time I was little, I’ve put a lot of thought into each new year, making lists of resolutions as far as my optimism could see. Last year was no different, and I began 2020 (the year of my 40th birthday) with three major resolutions. The first two were A) to read 40 books and B) to lose 20 pounds. I only ended up reading 25 books and losing 18 pounds, so luckily for me, my third resolution was C) to offer myself more grace…

For most of us (all of us?), 2020 was a doozy of a year, and after being inside my home with a husband, three kids, three cats, and one dog for the better part of 10 months, I feel differently about my resolutions this year. Although my family has probably weathered quarantine better than most, what I did not manage to do well last year was carve out much time to Be Ellen. In a house with eight other creatures, space for internal reflection is not easily had, and keeping everybody fed and clean and educated all day every day certainly led to somewhat of a loss of self for me. Over time, sporadic feelings of entrapment and boredom from the monotonous caretaking escalated, until it became pretty evident that there has not been enough ME in my life lately.

I was mulling all of this over today as my dog tugged me this way and that on a trail near our house. I watched her sniffing and pulling on her leash, greedily lunging at all of the bushes and birds just out of reach. I thought, maybe she too is tired of the same activities with the same people never more than a few feet away. Maybe she longs for space and room to be herself, to remember herself after such a long year. (Maybe she would also like to pee alone for once.) So I leaned down and unclipped her leash, much to her surprise and delight. Off she flew into the day! She darted through mud puddles, leapt over brush and bramble, sent birds carrening skyward as she relished such liberation. She would race as far away as the furthest tree and then come speeding back to circle me once more in a frenzy of joy. I marveled at her fanatic enjoyment of this freedom, and at the same time her automatic return to me inspired by some invisible boundary she created for herself. We kept on like this for over an hour: me, lost in my thoughts; her, lost in the joy of sunshine and swamp.

By the time we made our way back to civilization, rosy-cheeked and mud-caked, I clipped the leash back on as we headed toward the car. My dog walked lazily beside me, content to be attached once more. I realized that a good outcome for this new year is not necessarily measured in the number of books read or in the amount of goals achieved, but perhaps in more hours spent in the sunshine and the quiet, in moments spent exploring my own freedom…and then in the joyful returns, when my invisible boundary has been reached, to that which tethers me.

(I’m going to lose those last two pounds though.)

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