There was a time, not very long ago, that writing in this blog was very important to me. I would clear off my desk and set to my writing task as if it was my vocation. It was my voice and outlet and connection with the greater world. I craved acknowledgement that I existed, however meek and feckless my Internet utterances carried forth.
But over the past few months, I’ve been engaged in other assignments and neglected this space rather intentionally. For one, I have a real job, and for another, we’ve returned to Maine where family and friends are always nearby. I don’t crave the same validation I did nine months ago.
That’s not to say I don’t have my same existential questions, my yearning for happiness and truth and peace circle around me still. I have days I wonder why I’m not completely at ease with my life, and why I can’t be happy just because I wish it so. I still wonder what success looks like on me. Though I’ve had fleeting moments of triumph and insight into the world, I regularly question whether I’m on the right path in life.
Mostly, these questions abide with the day and surrender to the back corners of my mind. They do not plague me with insecurity, and I’m not an aimless 20-something anymore. I have a family, and work that satisfies. We have a beautiful home on an island, and I can see the ocean from my bedroom window. These were the things I wanted, and now these are the things I claim as my own. Simple things and important things.
I couldn’t let this year close without one final thought to carry me forward into 2014. I need more blind trust and faith that things are going as they should. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our quiet body processes. Rest and recovery, digestion. Crying. Functions of the body that we can’t consciously activate, but occur through our capacity as human beings.
I have goals and dreams for what my career and family life will look like in the future, but I think that I need to stop holding so tightly onto these projections. Because undoubtedly, there are parasympathetic happenings in the universe, occurrences for which we cannot know the causes. We will have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, and failure happens no matter how hard we work at something. Letting go and believing that it is not defeat that defines me, but the ability to wake up the next day and to continue to work hard does.
While I’m unclear how often I’ll continue to write in this blog, be sure that I’m working hard on other aspects of my life. We have some amazing and exciting intentions and schemes for this next year, and all I can do is hold on to the people I love, work hard, and wait to see how things work out.
(I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.)
There are possibilities everywhere, and it is hard not to let the mind wander toward exciting uncharted territory. There are the possibilities we actively seek out, taking their shape in goals, cover letters, bruised wrists, and brazen moves out of state. Then there are the possibilities that we can only wish and pray into being. We all wished to win the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket though), we wish natural disasters don’t occur, we wish for lovely weather when our far away friends visit; and I wished that I said the right thing in the right conversation that would have landed an offer of employment.
The HR rep greeted me warmly, and reminded me to “just breathe,” which I brashly shrugged off.
I could have used another breath.
I sat down parched, then thankful to see paper cups of water in front of each place. As the deputy director was going over some initial details, I gratefully sipped my cup. It slowly dawned on me that, in fact, there was no paper cup of water for me. I had just touched my lips and tongue to the executive director’s cup. Burning with apologies, I tried to move on from my error as the interview trio politely shrugged it off. There was probably a way I could have recovered from that egregiousness, but whatever it could have been was beyond me. Those interview questions I should have practiced would have come in handy then.
I walked out of that interview more defeated than I’ve felt in a very long time. I wallowed for the evening, and the next day. I perked up here and there, convincing myself my errors really weren’t all that bad. But they were. Oh reader, they were heinous.
This was April 1. For many reasons that I hope to go into with another post, I joined an instagram yoga challenge. So when I finally got that email that said, “thanks, but no thanks,” I had something else to think about. It was a moment of unseen, though very deliberate, creation, and it has re-ignited my buried passion.
I’ve done more yoga in the last two months than I have in many years…maybe ever. It has helped me realize that job was not my dream job, it was just a job. Looking back, I see my hesitations.
Self-sabotage of the best sort.
How did that spark inside me that trained to be a yoga teacher five years ago get so obscured? It is a little strange for me to be on the cusp of the next decade of my life, and still not know precisely what my career will look like. But I’ve been opening to new possibilities that I never would have seen if I got this 9-5 job I lusted after. Teaching yoga. Getting a 2nd Masters. Going to the beach every beautiful day with my son. Volunteering with the troubled local school system. Going to France and to live in a little cottage by the sea. Meeting and celebrating my new niece this summer.
Anyways, I felt like I needed to document this episode of my life, and thank you for reading. It is reassuring to know there is no such thing as a dream job, for me, right now. That position for included zero discussion of creativity. And yoga, definitely no yoga in the job description. So I’m settling in for a summer of possibilities manifesting, and setting the stage for a happy next decade of my life.
Surely Hafiz can’t be wrong:
“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”
I’ve had a terrible habit lately of taking things for granted. I make weekly trips to the aquarium, the beach, the pool, and the farmers market with my son, and rarely do I pause to wonder if it is going to be the last time. Last week I interviewed for a job I know would suit me…I might be offered the position and suddenly be a working mother again, facing different adventures and routines.
I was thinking about this today on an afternoon walk. We live in such a beautiful neighborhood, we can walk out the front door and be engulfed in forest and nature moments later. Before we moved I always longed to get out of the house and look at the natural world, but living in the Boston area made it complicated. The parks we lived near were surrounded by highways, and even Boston Common couldn’t offer the serenity I get from forests. Today we easily got to see the real world: deer, squirrels, butterflies, snakes, spiders, flowers, frogs, a great spectrum of earth. I’ve been expecting a phone call all day though, so I had my phone with me. The baby had fallen asleep, and the dog was obediently trotting beside us. My hand seemed magnetized to my phone. Like just because I had it, and just because it was possible, my hand tried to check my email. I caught it, put my phone back in my pocket and took a deep breath of gratitude. I have few responsibilities, and few people rely on me right now. These days are surely numbered, whether I get a job next week, or two years from now, I know I will not get to spend all this time with my son, my dog, and the woods forever. I mustn’t wish for change, when one day I know I’ll be longing for these carefree–and yes, even boring–days of stay at home motherhood.
We ended up taking a very long walk. I fell into a trance, hypontized by the beautiful afternoon sun and clouds, the warm breeze. No mosquitos to chase away. I stared at the treetops for miles, wondering what I could do to have this view forever.
We’re moving in less than a month. Besides that temporary sojourn to the Netherlands, this is the biggest move I’ve ever made. I’m legitimately allowed to bring everything this time, (except my house plants–more on that to come), and I have three live beings to care for, unpack, and help acclimate when we become Southerners. I’ll keep busy tending to our new home, hanging pictures, potting lavender, finding reading spots, testing out bathtubs. I’ll visit all 16 branches of the Charleston County Public Library System. I’ll organize my bookshelves by some new aesthetic postmodern cataloging standard. Maybe I’ll bake bread.
But the truth is, I’m scared to death about staying home all day with the baby. And before I launch any further into descriptions of what I hope my new life as a Southern Belle will be like, I feel the need to explain myself. Partly out of socially induced guilt (I have lots of friends who tell me “this is the best time to be home with baby,” or “a mother is the most important teacher to a child,”), but mostly because I used to love life as a lady of leisure. I didn’t get my first meaningful, moneymaking job until I was 26 (two weeks shy of 27, actually). That is barely two years ago, but so much has changed in that time. I’m a wife and mother now, and I’ve embraced my responsibility to provide and act as a role model with focused and tenacious gusto.
You see, growing up, my mother never worked. And yet she was present for fewer of my field hockey games and swim meets than my friend’s parents who worked as lawyers, magazine editors, and pilots. I regularly had to hitch rides home with these families because my own mother was too busy with her own life. Its not that she was a bad mother–on the contrary, she was superbly nurturing and caring. But she didn’t represent the archetype that traditional “stay at home mothers” portrayed in my small New England town. She is an artist, and by definition emotional, flighty, and self-absorbed. That she was teaching me about feelings, life, and the great world was irrelevant to me when I was a child.
I wanted her to be exactly like my friend’s moms who didn’t have jobs. I wanted to come home to freshly washed sheets, elaborate dinners in the process of baking, to find her on the back porch catching up with a neighbor over a pitcher of lemonade. Instead, she’d be shut off in her wing of the house (we were forbidden from entering if the door was shut). Sometimes we wouldn’t see her until hours (and as we got older, days) after we’d gotten home. Sometimes we’d see her after making our own dinner, she’d glide into the living room with her friends–the gay jeweler, the rambunctious Greek book artist, the waitress-cum-writer from their favorite restaurant. My sisters and I were doted upon by my mother and her friends during these impromptu parties. We had our portraits painted dozens of times, I had a jewelry collection to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s by the time I was 16, (not to mention I was introduced to my first real Librarian–a mentor who still serves me to this day).
This was not the traditional life I wanted, but I know it was also not the artistic life my mother wanted. Her parents refused to pay for her to go to art school, so she studied archaeology and met my med school bound father instead. When he died, she was left alone with three young daughters to raise. I cannot even imagine how terrifying that must’ve felt–suddenly being solely responsible for parenting three children. I know she did the best she could. The same friend that told me mothers are “the most important teachers” a child can have also told me that as mothers, we have to find our own balance and take care of ourselves.
My great fear: that I’ll lose myself in my own ambitions. OR: I’ll lose my great goals for life while I’m busy playing baby games.
I know balance is the key to not falling into either seesaw pit of these extremes. But balance has been a tricky thing for me to grasp throughout my life. It usually takes me some trial and error. Like just now, two weeks before putting my career on hold indefinitely, I am getting into a groove with my writing, reading, spending time with my husband, with my child, running, sleeping, & eating. I’m even able to sit and breathe for a few minutes every day.
So, lovely lookers of my lexicon: please do not judge me too harshly, or write me off too quickly as a selfish person when I say I’m not super psyched to be a stay at home mom for the next phase of my life. But great things never came without some adversity first, right?
The biggest moment of life might be waiting to happen tomorrow. Rarely for me does preparedness necessarily yield a satisfying outcome. The special outfit I pick out for an important meeting may provide the confidence needed to walk tall, but in my experience, it is usually only after working with my head down and getting very dirty that important changes happen.
My husband just got this amazing job opportunity last week. The idea was proposed on Wednesday afternoon, and by Friday morning all the papers were signed and hands shook. When you know you’re capable of more than you’re doing, sometimes it is hard to sit still and wait for the next chapter. Husband had been actively reading the first few lines of several new scenarios for a while, but some things were not falling into place. And then, just after he’d decided to take a break from forcing change, it was as if the world sensed his readiness to consider a totally revolutionary idea, and jumped at its chance. He’s moving South for a month to do some consulting work. All the sudden, he’s incorporated, and I’m getting instructions about what does and doesn’t qualify as a business expense (bottled water, yes; diapers, no; Gap.com, maybe).
Does change pop up for anyone else the same way? We’ve been humming along in our little life for a while now. The newness of being a family unit instead of a married couple is starting to fade. Even though there are constant changes to baby Rex’s routine, I have anticipated them. We have teething supplies, we’ve baby proofed, and the sandman is coming to repossess his yawns because of my huge sleep debt. These are exciting changes–first teeth, first steps, first night of sleeping 8 hours–but expected changes. The big things, like the conversation when I learned librarianship is a career, or the day Kevin mentioned the phone call from an old partner, those are the unexpected and brilliant parts of life that motivate me to keep working hard to get the results I want. Change is one of the scariest things we humans face. But without it, would we know that the spiky leaves of an artichoke plant give way to a delicious heart?
It is difficult to remember that the life I had two years ago was real–fresh out of grad school, planning a trip to Italy, not really thinking about what I wanted beyond pizza and sunshine. Here I am now, planning my life as a single mother for the next month. I’m preparing for it, but life will nonetheless be hard and stressful at times.
So please forgive me if posts are not as frequent or quality. As usual, I will do my very best.
Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I read it in college, not understanding a bit, but obediently spouting back the theory to my feminist professor. Now, I’ve read it more seriously, and I’m fascinated. This book is a gem. Even though it is said to have ushered in second wave feminism and we’re here riding the 44th wave, it is still so applicable. I think people would pay a lot less attention to disputes over how women should live their lives if everyone attempted to understand what Friedan was trying to say.
Its taken me over a month to read this deliciously dense book. So I thought I’d save you all some time, and offer a little overview of my main takeaways.
It is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban housewife, the continual demands on her time. But the chains that bind her in her trap are chains in her own mind and spirit. They are chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices. They are not easily seen and not easily shaken off (77).
In the 1960s, women were expected to be fulfilled by having babies, a family, and a well-kept house. Society told females that the greatest good was to nurture, and in the decades following the World Wars, this makes sense. People ached for the comforts of home; Women, as the sex to bear children, felt obligated to fulfill real or imagined ideals.
I do not study psychology, but I believe this desire to meet expectations was fueled by two fires: the need to be validated, and the biological urge to procreate. If instead women were encouraged to seek a career (and validated once this was achieved), perhaps we wouldn’t have an entire generation called Baby Boomers. Today, over four decades since Friedan exposed women’s great dissatisfaction with their role, I see that society still has not moved on from this obsession that women be nurturers.
I’m not complaining though, not now, not at age 28. Maybe when I’m 48, and past my child bearing years, I’ll feel differently. Friedan was 42 when she wrote The Feminine Mystique. When I first started telling people I was expecting, one menopausal woman tried to relate with me: “Don’t you just feel so special?” As usual, I did not get it at the time. I was in the throes of misery most days, too busy to feel anything but self-pity. But I understand now. With the entire world speculating about when Princess Catherine will produce an heir, how can we young women not feel a little bit of self-satisfaction that we share this same life? Today we no longer have a feminine mystique, but a pregnancy mystique.
One of the differences between 1963 and 2012, is that today I do not believe the only way to continue to find meaning in my life is to have more children. Now it is my choice what I want to do–I mean, it was a choice for women in 1963, but not a socially accepted one to choose career over motherhood, or ever career and motherhood. I’m happy we had a baby last year. Now the hormonal drive that used to clutter my thoughts is quieter. I can focus on my career, on my marriage, and fittingly–my family. I know I may want to have another baby someday, but the urgency isn’t there quite like it used to be. I unexpectedly got pregnant in early 2011, which ended in a miscarriage. Until then, the ability for my body to conceive was something I was vaguely aware of, but with ten years of preventing pregnancy under my belt, it took some time to change my mindset to the other direction.
Then there was this hope that came from knowing I was pregnant–a previously mysterious mystique that I was suddenly privy to. But after three weeks it unraveled into a despair from learning the fetus was not going to survive. This fostered in us a baby exigency. If I lived in 1963, after my body healed from the trauma of a miscarriage or childbirth, I probably would be left to focus on having more children. In 2012, the option to make one’s identity motherhood exists for many of us, but for complicated and various reasons, we may not accept this role.
According to this tool on Salary.com, should a stay-at-home mom actually earn cash, she’d get $112,962 per year. Curiously enough, if a mother works out of the home, her median salary is $66,979. Why is there such a huge gap between the two?
I do not like these infographics: one depicts how “stay-at-home moms juggle 94.7 hours of work” each week; the other, that “working moms juggle 57.9 additional hours of work at home.” They completely upend the important work Friedan established. And, I’m confused. What are “working moms” doing with those additional 36.8 hours each week? I can think of a zillion things I would like to be doing, but in reality, I’m working too. Thankfully, I enjoy my work a great deal, and I’m not here trying to add to the raging Mommy Wars going on in the media, but to draw our attention back to a wonderful woman who made an important point decades ago–that women, despite a biological destiny to produce children, have choices.
Looking back at the college professor who first introduced me to The Feminine Mystique, I’m not sure if I should be agitated that she expected me–a young, naive teenager–to understand this book, if I should feel embarrassed that I so obviously missed the point, or if I should be proud that she thought me capable of understanding (and perpetuating!) this fundamental role shift the female gender had so recently wrought.
An entry level attorney makes over $90k. A professor of accounting at Suffolk University makes about $119k. A nurse practitioner should make around $100k. A librarian? $63k. It seems disrespectful to say that a stay-at-home mother is more valuable than a woman working outside the home. I think Betty Friedan, who died in 2006, would be saddened that a woman’s worth is still valued higher when she is her own domestic worker.
A friend asked me today if I still blog.
“Yes,” I wanted to resoundingly reply. Though knowing well that it has been over a week (or two??) since my last entry. I unexpectedly was able to leave work earlier than planned, so now I’m sitting here, opting to produce instead of consume (i.e., write instead of read). A fundamental change in how I indulge in a free evening from one year prior. But this is what I see as a major (perhaps even the) future role for libraries: places people go to for inspiration, facilitation, education, creation, production, preparation, generation, fructification, formation… (did I just write the sequel to this song perhaps?) How appropriate–Olympic trials as a metaphor for the new role libraries have in today’s world.
But as usual, I digress…
Life these days has been……..bound by a routine of chaos. (Got that???) Gym, juice, nurse, commute, listen, respond, evaluate, act, commute, eat, brush, sleep. Throw in a random great night of sleep, some cake, a few bottles of wine, and there you have the main ingredients of my life. Oh, and work. Right….
I had a job interview yesterday, and despite my highest aspirations for an offer, I’m sadly only now admitting that I just don’t know how it went! The head HR rep described the perfect person for the position as someone who can “thrive in chaos.” Darn, I wish it was appropriate to go into one’s personal life during an interview! I juggle all my life’s balls with such ease at times it looks like I’m playing toss with the angels. I can interrupt myself on Tuesday, and continue mid-sentence Thursday without skipping a beat. And yet, I meditate. I am (generally) calm. I do not drink coffee.
Anyways. I intended a photo blog post tonight. But I think I illustrated well the beautiful mess that is my life right now–28 years old, two years into marriage with the man of my unexpected dreams, raising a six month old infant together (and a six year old dog), early in my career and wild about prospects and aspiration, planning our first home purchase….I’m falling more deeply in love with life the more chaotic it becomes.