Changing the Story

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There once was a girl.  She had dreams.  Big dreams.  When her elementary school friends were answering the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Mommy”  she answered “President”.  She hit a few bumps and finished her college degree when she was 27.  She was married then.  And when the offers came in from big 4 accounting firms, she started thinking about how she was going to go law school and how she was going to make partner and do great things.

But she didn’t.  Her husband didn’t want to move to a big city,  He had a good job with his family’s local company.  He worked hard and liked the community where they lived.

So they stayed.  She took a smaller job and in a couple of years, got pregnant.  They discussed having one parent at home and it made the most sense for her.  So she quit her job and spent the days fixing up the little home they purchased so it was ready when the baby came.  The baby came and a little over a year later she got pregnant again.

A lot happened in those early years of babies.  Days were busy and full and hard and the girl who wanted to be President one day wondered how she got into the place she never expected.

Today, those babies are 8 and 6.  She’s registered for classes only to drop them.  Sometimes a few weeks in and sometimes before they even start.  Her husband is busy and her kids are busy and someone needs to hold all the pieces together and life is more peaceful when she isn’t trying to juggle classwork with kids’ doctor appointments and yard work and making sure dinner hits the table on time.  She bristles that this is her life.

Because she never wanted to be just a mom.  Or just a wife.  She’s better than that.

But that’s just part of her story.  It’s the story she’s woven together of who she should be.  It’s a story of gold stars and achievement and this character she’s created when she gets scared she isn’t enough just on her own.

Sometimes she’s scared to admit that she’s happy being domestic. She’s not happy all the time of course, because it’s hard.  Washing dishes and folding laundry and picking up toys for the 100th time is mindless and repetitive and no one is handing out gold stars. No one notices how smart you are busy making beds.

But if you ask her to describe where she wants to be in three years she’ll tell you that she wants a warm and cozy home with children who know they are loved.  She wants time to enjoy her books, and journals, and yarn.  She wants a few close friends to share the good and the bad and the simple and the hard.  She wants to curl up next to her husband at the end of day, productive tired and sleepy content.

She doesn’t want to be President.  Or finish her MLIS.  She wants to be just a wife and a just mother.  Joyfully. Unabashedly.  Content.

She wants to embrace that her story has changed.  And that the universe has written her a story so much better than the one she wrote for herself.

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  • My grandmother always says that things work out the way they are supposed to. Which I found highly annoying when I was young and things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to. I’m still not sure she’s right, but many things have worked out the way it seems they should. I do think that has much more to do with the stories I tell myself than with any kind of objective reality.

    I am glad that your story is a satisfying one to live. It’s one I envy. I know that no one can really know another’s whole story, and that all stories have conflict (or they aren’t stories, right?), but I wish I had been able to raise my children in the ways you are getting to raise yours, and that their father was someone I wanted to curl up with at the end of the day. There is no “just” anything, I don’t think. I think what’s more important is how you do things, not what you do. And, Jacqueline Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” I’ve always agreed with that, for whatever that’s worth.

    • I’ve never been a fan of the phrase that things work out the way they are supposed to – maybe because I feel like there are a lot of things in this world that people deal with that no one is SUPPOSED to have to tolerate. I think we can look back at a mistake or terrible event in our past and connect the dots to a really good thing in the present because it helps us make sense of the really bad thing, but sometimes I wish we could skip the really bad thing.

      I DO count myself blessed to live the life I’m living now, but you’re right, our story has it’s share of conflict as well. I tend to share the good and the picturesque and the happy because those are the things I want to remember. I have lots of posts in drafts that are whiny and frustrated and full of the hard stuff, but I’m loathe to publish them for a few reasons. 1) It isn’t always just my story to tell. I’m a bit of an open book, but not everyone in my family is comfortable with that level of openness. 2) Most of the people who read the blog are family and friends that live too far to see me on a regular basis but like to see pictures of life here and the kids. They REALLY don’t want to hear about the day I stomped and pouted and cried myself to sleep at night. (And when I do publish those posts I get lots of phone calls with advice and suggestions and concern and I hate that).

      I’ve found the internet to be a bit of a double edged sword that way. I love peeking into the lives of others but I have to remember that I am only getting the glimpses that they are choosing to show me.

      • Oh, yeah. I’ve also struggled with that whole “way they are supposed to” thing, especially when I think of the horrific stories so many people in this world have lived. I’d like to skip the bad things, too. And I will admit that I get awfully peeved with those memes that go around about how all that stuff made me the awesome person I am today. I know there’s truth in that, but sometimes I think it’s in spite of, not because of.

        And I hear you, too, on the what to share questions. I have really struggled with knowing which stories are mine to tell and which aren’t. I tend to land on the side of not telling if I’m not sure because I think there’s generally no harm in that, but I might do harm if I go the other way. And because I generally don’t like the sympathy response.

  • This is a post that could have been written by me, with minor modifications, of course. I have felt all of what you’ve written here; as I think you already know, I’m a SAHM whose youngest could now easily become a “latch key kid”, and I could go “back to work”. (If only I could figure out WHAT and HOW…) Even after 19 years of motherhood, I confess I still am of mixed emotions about the choices we made as a family, and still sometimes find myself thinking “how did I get here?”. Of course, when I look at each individual choice, each point where I could have made a different turning, I always come up with “how could I have made any other choice?” and I know I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m extremely lucky: I have a wonderful husband who sees what I do as “work”, who appreciates that I gave up my career so he could further his, and who sees us as a team. I do love being at home, doing all the domestic stuff, but at the same time, I do yearn for something that is entirely my own, something I don’t have to work so hard to justify as being meaningful or important. I sometimes feel like the women’s rights/feminist movement — while absolutely, 100%, without a single doubt, a necessity — inadvertently swung the pendulum too far to the other side, to the point where women who choose to put career second are dismissed and even demeaned. Why is it, I wonder, that when a woman on a mountaintop in South America hand knits mittens to sell, or when factory workers in China mass-produce mittens, that THAT is considered “work” but when a SAHM knits mittens for her children she’s just having fun? (And speaking of First Ladies (as per Rita’s comment), I remember when we were living in the US, Hilary Clinton was questioned as to something about the child-rearing of her daughter, and she remarked very disparagingly something like, “What?! I was supposed to stay home and bake cookies?” — and I thought to myself (I was probably baking cookies at the time, haha), “Why has it become a bad thing to bake cookies for your OWN children? Would Hilary Clinton have dismissed BAKERS working in a BAKERY? No! But a mom baking cookies is fair game!” It’s maddening!)

    / cooling down / 😉

    I’m very curious (because library science was something I toyed with way back when, but I unfortunately allowed roadblocks and naysayers to dissuade me) — how have you been studying for your MLIS? Online, or have you been going to classes part-time?

    • I think there are quite a few of us who could write this post (with minor modifications, of course 🙂 ). In fact, this post was inspired because of a conversation with a friend who had recently made the decision to give up a hard earned career in medicine so she could stay home. I think it’s really hard when you’ve always seen yourself as an academic or professional to realize you just donated your last work suit because you hadn’t worn it in over 8 years and you drop your kids off to school while still wearing pajamas as often as you don’t. I’ve had a LOT of time to process that part of my life but I always said, “once they go back to school” and now they’re in school and I’m realizing I’m still needed and I’m having to process this new choice.

      With my MLIS, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s program is completely online which is both a blessing (because I can take the classes without being in Milwaukee) and a curse (because I LIKE attending classes in person). It’s a good program and I really enjoyed the classwork I DID take.

    • AND I was my own nay-sayer. I was going to go on to get my MLIS right away but after looking at the starting salary of a public accountant with undergraduate degree versus the starting salary of a librarian with a master’s, I decided I’d stick with accounting until I paid off my school loans!!

    • AND you’re very correct that it can feel like women who work outside the home denigrate the work we do at home. I’m realizing though that those women are often the vocal minority or get “soundbited” by the media to perpetuate the mommy wars. Conflict sells.

      I’m very grateful for the women around me who work hard because I want my daughter to know that both choices are equally valid and important.

      Thanks for your comments, Marian. I always look forward to your perspective.

      • You are absolutely right — conflict sells. I think the mommy wars aren’t quite as bad as they used to be, and it’s becoming more “whatever works for you and your family”. I have to admit I may be overly sensitive to it; my own mother got very angry when people dismissed women’s work as not being “work”, and yet she simultaneously seemed to diminish the importance/value of motherhood. I grew up with the mantra “always be able to take care of yourself”, and yet here I am … that’s likely why I still sometimes find my position disconcerting!

        Also completely agree with the importance of teaching our girls to become strong women, and to find a career (which they hopefully love). Maybe they’ll leave it to become SAHMs, but motherhood isn’t a guarantee (or even a desire) for every woman. It would be doing our girls a complete disservice to “sell them” one side over the other. I do think, though, that the promise “you can have everything” should be tossed in the garbage, or at least modified to reflect reality.

        • Yes! Yes! Yes! I was very fortunate to be told that choices have opportunity costs so I had to make them carefully. I hope BOTH of my children know that no one can have everything. My grandma and I were joking the other day that while it’s gotten MUCH better for women in the last 50 years (as my husband folds laundry), we still very much pat men on the back for that involvement and expect it from women.

          My mom actually worked outside of the home and she is one of the biggest supporters of me staying home. She’d support me if I went back to work but her thought is “You put in so much work when they were little, why go back now that they are in school and you have time to yourself?! Especially if you don’t have to?!?” I love her for that.

          But I also get “always be able to take care of yourself” though honestly, at one point in our marriage, my being dependent on him as a provider is ultimately what saved us…so…I guess like anything else, it just depends on what side of the coin you look at it. 🙂