I must have spent too much time in academia, because fall always feels like the beginning of the year to me. There's something about buying spiral notebooks and No. 2 pencils that feels like a fresh start, much more so than the post-holidays letdown of January. I've lived most of my life in the South, where the summers are too hot to do anything except make another pitcher of iced tea, and September generally brings a hint of cooler weather that dispels the lazy lethargy of summer. In the fall, I'm more focused and energetic, bubbling over with new plans and eager to implement them.
Although you couldn't tell it from the muggy weather, fall is nearly here, and the new school year has started. We've bought all the school supplies, backpacks and lunchboxes; three sets this year: one for Drew, who's starting second grade, one for Franny, who's in pre-kindergarten four mornings a week, and one set for baby Alec, who's going to Child's Day Out two mornings a week. Twice a week, I have four hours to myself. For the first time since I quit my full time job, I actually have time to think about who I am apart from my children.
I've had a part time job for the past few years, but my main role has been stay-at-home mother. While Adam has been the primary breadwinner, I've been the one who could wait around for the washing machine repairman, ferry the kids to all their activities, and volunteer at the school. We didn't plan for our life to be The Feminist Mystique redux; we fell into this situation through despair at ever finding the right childcare situation and my dissatisfaction with my job. But it was never meant to be more than a temporary arrangement, and now I find myself wondering about the next step.
These early years have been more consuming than I ever could have imagined. With each pregnancy, I felt a turning inward that made everything else seem less relevant. I feel as if I've been in this disconnected state for years, and now I'm finally coming out of the fog. I'm still focused on my children, but I'm remembering that I have a life and interests beyond them.
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With the kids at school, I've embarked on a long overdue round of spring-cleaning (I suppose it's really fall-cleaning now, isn't it?), partially brought on by the decision to move Alec out of our bedroom and into what was my office. In order to get his room ready, I had to sift through the mini-archive of papers I wrote for college classes and yellowed promptbooks from plays I've directed, not to mention the two bookshelves worth of out-dated textbooks. For the first time, I felt ready to acknowledge that I'm never going to seriously pursue theatre again, and I tossed most of it in the trash.
Then, full of energy from the successful office to bedroom conversion, I started clearing junk out of our bedroom, in an attempt to make space for all the things that used to be in the office. With an uncharacteristic ruthlessness, I discarded almost everything that no longer fit - the garish Esprit sweaters from the '80's, the bridesmaid's dresses worn at weddings for couples who've long since divorced, my dress-for-success suits from my corporate office days, and anything below a size 10 (I'm still hoping to lose the baby weight, but there's a limit to my optimism - if I actually do get into single digits again, I'll celebrate by buying a new wardrobe).
While I worked, discarding the shells of former identities, I kept wondering, "what next?" I'm thirty-four-years-old and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I sunk $40,000 into a graduate degree in theatre, which appears to be virtually useless. I spent four years doing telecommunications in a department that no longer exists. It's been five years since I held anything like a real full-time job. I don't know if I can find a job. I don't know where to start looking for a job, since I don't even know what I want to do. Go back to school and borrow more money, in hopes that I'll be employable with more degrees? Find another telecommunications job? Find something that will pay the bills and focus on writing? There are so many possibilities and so many steps that must be taken to make any of them concrete, it's daunting, and it's tempting to take refuge in the familiar, stay at home a few more years, make Play-doh for the preschool class and sing "The Wheels on the Bus" until Alec starts kindergarten. But the uncertainty will still be looming. What next?
And to be honest, as much as I've
enjoyed this interlude with my children, that's not really what I want.
I don't mean to denigrate the work I've been doing - I think the time I've
invested with my children is priceless. But I'm ready to do something
more intellectually stimulating than rocking babies and mopping floors, to
leave the house and do my job and know that no one will come along and undo
it as soon as my back is turned. I've spent five years learning my
children and helping them discover who they are. I'm looking forward
to learning who I am now. I can feel new hopes taking shape,
coalescing out of the bits and pieces of threadbare dreams. I don't
know how to get from here to there yet. I'm floundering, trying on new
ideas, flirting with new identities. I don't know who Iím becoming
yet, but I look forward to figuring it out.
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