So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.
A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.
I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.
I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.
…in no order of importance:
- Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
- Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
- Sitting outside on the patio all year long
- This place. And the view from this bar
- Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
- The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
- Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
- The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
- My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
- How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.
It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.
(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.”
Earlier this week, I was chatting with a friend who has a 6 month old baby. She returned to work after her maternity leave just as I left my job to move away, and though our circumstances are very different right now, we have a lot of sympathy for each other, mainly because having a child is hard work no matter how you spend the day.
When I went back to work, leaving my infant made me sick to my stomach if I thought about it too much. However, I was unquestionably fulfilled, stimulated and excited by the activities I did at work. But in the lulls of the day, especially when I looked up and saw a parent with a child my son’s age heading into story time, I longed to be that parent. Now that I am that parent, I look longingly at the librarians working behind their desks, busily involved in something greater than themselves. This is a big flip from my mindset six months ago, and I’m having a bit of trouble forgiving myself for taking my job for granted. At the time, my job so often felt like a means to an end, it gave us financial security, health insurance, professional credence. But now that my job is staying home with my child, I’ve been longing for the intangibles that a career provides. I miss the random witty chats with my co-workers and patrons, the grown up routine I created (involving 6am gym sessions and 9pm bedtimes), the healthy balance of time with my family and time away, dedicated lunch breaks, quiet moments at my desk, adult conversation, professional growth.
There is a lot of angst from American women that our country has unfairly short maternity leave policies. I might get chastised for being anti-feminist, but if we women want to be treated fairly in the workplace, how can we ask for our job to be held for 6 months or a year off while we care for our new family members? I think instead of longer maternity leave, we should be pulling for the fathers to take paternity leave–6 months is a very reasonable age for a new person to be cared for by others (mom takes 3 months, dad takes 3 months). The world will keep going. If we choose to leave our jobs for a while, that is a perfectly respectable choice, but more than 3 months, I think, is asking too much. I’ve heard confessions from lots of new mothers about how they were ashamed by how excited they were to get back to work after their leave. And that is where I am right now. Not on maternity leave per se, but itching to get back into the world of big ideas and projects and meaning.
In a perfect world, of course, I’d job share with my friend in Silicon Valley. We’d each work 20 hours a week, and spend the other 20 hours with our little boys. Maybe we’d even share child care duties so we could avoid the inexorable costs of nannies and day care. I can’t imagine I am the only one who feels like I need to be contributing to the turning of the world’s gears to feel value. Yes, raising a child has its rewards, but it can feel stagnant on those days he wants to go down the slide 50 times in a row. People have bad days at their job, too, but at least you walk away at the end of the day to something else.
Related: What would Betty say?
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.
I go about the business of daily life now in miniature variations of its former rigid constitution:
Twelve minutes of yoga here. A shoulder stand on the nursery room floor there. I try to include a proper (pro-rated) savasana too.
Baby sized meals. Often eating whatever is leftover on my ten month old’s plate.
There is only time to do quick errands, between nap time and lunch time and story time.
The dog gets walked on a short leash now. Even though we’re far from any traffic danger, it lurks in other places, like shallow ponds and swampy marshes (snakes and alligators, not traffic, are the main concerns here).
We food shop for one or two days at a time— we only have two arms to carry things inside, after all.
In the end, everything adds up to regular portions. I have acquiesced my control over things, for now, which has made it essential to do things in bits and spurts if I want to eat and breathe. Life is a series of short, intense moments—of learning, play, and tears.
There are other things, though, that I am consuming at a much more rapid pace:
Books. I’m quickly reading literature again. Like 2 novels a week, devouring it, staying up late and waking up early to greet my titles.
Wine. A bottle every two or three days. It sometimes feels like life is a vacation. Husband prefers his icy Yeungling (maybe the novelty that it is available here) but sometimes he’ll share my bottle.
Showers and baths. They feel so good, morning and evening and sometimes afternoon cleansing watery rituals.
Sleep. I know should be letting my hard working husband sleep more than me. He’s the one at work for so many hours everyday, after all. I’m home: shopping, decorating, eating, napping, playing, and reading. But, he insists on letting me sleep in the mornings so he can play with our boy. Its hard to argue with that.
Phone calls. I always used to be the one who texts back to respond to a voice mail. I’ve talked the same amount in the last two weeks than I have the whole rest of the year.
This last month was about final times, goodbyes, boxes and packing tape, living out of suitcases, eating quick meals, waking up in strange rooms, and starting again in new places. I’m encouraged by our decision to move, and the change. Even though I knew, months ago, that this was the right thing for us, it is still sometimes hard to feel confident diving into unfamiliar territory.
I used to rely on my daily activities to derive a sense of balance. That is impossible now. Life as a Southern Housewife is a jumble of inchoate ideas for routine and activity. Its easy to feel like I’m having a bad day when my Vriksasana gets blown out of alignment because the baby wakes up early from his nap. Or I get hung up thinking its too late for lunch, too early for dinner. But, I try to remember to breathe, and that these are small troubles with easy fixes. So I’m relaxing into my new life here, aware that Friday nights may not be able to include a double yoga practice, but they also will never include sitting in smoggy traffic on the expressway. It is a welcome trade off after five years of city life. And honestly, even though I can count on four fingers the names of people I’ve met down here, I feel at home.
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?