My brain seems to work differently post-children….and not always in a good way. I try to stay “informed.” I really do. I try to read articles and papers and books. I try to speak intelligently and look up information about things that interest me. I try – really, I do – to keep my brain active. But I’m also a Stay At Home Mother who gets swept up in fixing plates of food, then feeding said food to children, then cleaning it up off their faces / hands / table / floor / ceiling / bums / ears – you get the idea. The laundry. The incessant picking up of toys from the floor lest my ankle break as I tumble over them. Whether you have one or two or five, staying home with children full time shifts the way your brain works. I can barely remember to pay my library fines and reschedule the doctor appointment that overlaps with the kindergarten tour that I found out about just a week before it happened….because I couldn’t ever remember to look up the tour information when I had a minute to sit down. I have a desk and a To Do list….but they’re buried under overdue library books and magnetic building blocks.
I am fully aware that my children will not always need me in this way. When I went to El Salvador a few years back, I was in the midst of a breakdown. So many of my plans for my future just weren’t working out – in my emotional doldrums, I found myself clinging to Evelyn like a security blanket. “I’m home with my daughter. That’s the most important thing. No one can question me about that choice.” Which is almost true. No one questioned me….except me. I knew I wanted something different – that I was becoming enmeshed in an unhealthy way in my daughter – that I was losing myself in Motherhood to a degree that made me question my sanity. It was time for a change, and I knew it, and I started making those changes. Evelyn went to preschool….and she loved it. I volunteered in various places….and loved it. When we moved to Seattle, part of the goal was to balance our lives in a way that would allow me to go back to work, and if we were lucky enough to find ourselves with a second baby, we’d figure that out as we went.
Yet again, plans change. This time I’m much more flexible. I don’t set as much faith in my plans anymore 🙂 I’m happy to be home with the girls – to see Claire change and grow – to watch her personality emerge. It’s a gift and I’m thankful. I’m also looking ahead, though. I know that eventually I’ll want to go back to work. And the thought is so stressful. In the brief time that I spent looking for jobs in Seattle, the process was overwhelming. VERY few women get their careers back after taking time away, especially in an economy like this one. I’ve now been out of work for 5 years. It’ll be a few more before I really look to go back, as I want to give Claire another year or two before she enters out-of-home care. But I know that the process will take awhile – my credentials as a social worker didn’t transfer. I don’t know that I really want to reenter that field anyway. If I have to essentially start over as a social worker, should I just start something new? But what DO I want to do?? And how to decide?
Common wisdom – Do What You Love. I can’t stand this advice. It’s so much pressure. You should absolutely find time in your life to do what you love….but do you really have to love your job, specifically? It implies that your job defines you. If I love singing with the symphony, do I really need to become a professional singer (as if I could!)? If I love food, do I really need to become a chef? When you’re in your 30s and trying to figure out how best to go back to work in a few years, the last thing you need is another existential crisis. “Who am I?” More like “What’s the point of that question?! I just want to contribute to my household and set an example for my girls!” I have so much in my life that fulfills me – does my work really need to be a labor of love, too? How am I supposed to find such a calling if I don’t already have it?
“If you love it, it’s doesn’t feel like work.” Really?? When your coworker pisses you off – or you misfile the paperwork – or you’re overwhelmed with deadlines across the spectrums of your life – it doesn’t feel like work? It’s such a romantic idea…..in reality most of us get days where we love our jobs – moments where we feel competent, maybe even really good about our career choices. It’s hard – you work at it – and if you aren’t lucky enough to get paid doing what you love, you work to fund the activities that you do love. I thought I was alone in this thought. Between dropping Big Kid off at school and taking Little Kid to the Y, I heard this segment on NPR and found it immensely comforting, especially the listener phone calls. I don’t need to love what I do. I can just do it. Sometimes it’s OK to settle – to muddle through. If I wind up in a surprising place, perhaps I will even find ways to love it over time. It really does happen. I hope I find something that I don’t hate, certainly. But rather than finding a passion to pursue for money, I can find something that challenges me – that provides for my family – it provides an outlet for me in some way, but doesn’t necessarily feed my soul. It doesn’t need to define me. While going back to work will certainly change our lives, it doesn’t need to change my identity or lead to a career that will change the world.
I have no idea what I’m going to wind up doing. If I could get paid to do what I love – listening to music and traveling and reading books and taking walks and playing with my babies and eating food – that’d be great. I think it’s unlikely. There aren’t many job openings for Food Critic these days and, while it may change down the road, I don’t have the energy to open a full-time photography shop right now. But I’m not going to worry about it. It’s on my mind, and will be for awhile, but I’m not ready to go back full-time yet, anyway.
My girls will grow up – they will go out on their own – and as much as I want that for them, I also need to make sure I have a life of my own to pursue. I want to
set the example for them of an engaging, rounded, fulfilling life. I want to show them that they can pursue their interests in a wide variety of ways and can find happiness by “doing what they love,” whether they find that in their day-job or not. Until then……I’m off to start some grilled cheese. In 30 minutes I fully expect to be watching my little one proudly smear it in her hair….and laughing with her.