Friday, August 3, 2018

What are you doing with your life?



Lately I’ve been feeling the pressure. Pressure to know. Pressure to decide. Just pressure in general.

I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing, perhaps because it’s summer and, with the kids around constantly, the only thing I can muster energy for during my alone times, which, by the way, I hire a sitter for in case you’re getting some crazy idea that I have magical children who give me personal space of their own accord, is reading. Reading only takes marginal effort. There are minimal thoughts involved, beyond the subconscious imagination types that produce the mental movie reel that runs alongside the novel’s plot.

I am practicing diligent avoidance with writing too. I’ve been wondering, for perhaps the billionth time, what is this writing thing for anyway? For so long I’ve felt these undeniable urges to pen words to a page, a fuzzy vision toward something bigger someday in the future, but the details have yet to be made known to me. In the meantime, I question, what is the point?

Two years ago, I attended a writing conference and it was there that I received the clarity and courage I needed to return home and quit my paid job. It was there where I was urged to identify “my reader” and then “write only for her.” I was told that all my words, social media posts etc. should be formulated with my reader in mind. While this bit of advice has, I think, resulted in some stronger final drafts of my essays, I’ve discovered that it is much, much harder to put forth words with any regularity. Short works take me weeks which turn into months, and it isn’t because my content is necessarily more complex. I think it’s actually because I’ve been editing myself out. I overthink each piece because I’m thinking of “her,” my reader. I want to make sure my words don’t come across wrong to this person, or that person, or offend this mom or that one. I have opinions, but I remove them because I know not everyone will agree and I don’t want to cause a ruckus on the internet. By the time I hit “publish,” I wonder if my words have been edited so severely that they have lost some of their meaning. Certainly, they have lost much of their depth and raw emotion.

I wonder if maybe this is the reason I have been struggling with writing. Suddenly I am writing FOR someone else. Someone else who does not compensate, who is often silent. And the words and their intent lose their luster. I am no longer putting words on the page for the joy of seeing words strung together. I am no longer stepping back in surprise as the words pour out and I think, “Huh, I never realized I thought that until now” (writing is black magic this way).

Writing that was once a mind-clearing, therapeutic outlet feels forced and inauthentic. Since I am writing “for my reader,” I feel the pressure to have a strong conclusion, a purpose to all my pieces, a take-home message to tie it all up in a nice bow. But there are many days when my life is just messy. There are no bows there for tying. My anxiety takes over and I can’t shut it down. I rage at the children. I practice avoidance with my husband. I leave the laundry for days upon days upon days on end. What I'm realizing is that I don't enjoy writing when I'm writing for "her." And so I'm going to switch gears and go back to writing again "for me." I don't know where that will lead me.

I was talking to some girlfriends, most of us moms in slightly different stages of early to mid-motherhood. We were discussing that largely celebrated (and for some slightly dreaded) day when our youngest child enters elementary school. When the earth goes around the sun for that final lap and the heavens hand you kid-free daytimes as your impending new reality, well-meaning humans begin to ask, “What are you going to do with all your free time?!” And then the inevitable follow-up question that, quite honestly, I wish to ban from existence is an eager, “Are you going to go back to work?!” It’s almost as if all of us overly exhausted moms haven’t been doing work of any kind for the last decade (insert major eyeroll here).

I hate this question because it operates under the assumption that I, as a mother, a) should have my upcoming life figured out and b) should obviously be prepared to do something with my time. I mean. We all will do something eventually but what makes me shudder is the assumption that we are all just antsy to head out and earn a paycheck again. Talk about pressure!

As my girlfriends and I went around and shared our thoughts about the future, we each had a unique idea on how we might spend our time once the kids were all of schooling age. There was some talk of hobbies, others talked about how their financial contribution to really benefit the family. But one theme was consistent: we all felt SO MUCH pressure to know what we were doing. And none of us had an answer.   

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine you just finished running a marathon. You are hot and sweaty and sore and dehydrated and tired, and you definitely stopped thinking clearly about 23 miles back. The only coherent idea you possess is as follows:

I need a chocolate milk. I need a chocolate milk NOW.”

This thought circulates through your brain on repeat and you can consider nothing else until you amend the situation and find said beverage. (Trust me, I know. I ran a marathon once.)  

Despite the fact that perhaps you aren’t at your very best in this moment, someone hands you a Cliff Bar and tells you, if you are worth anything to anyone, you’ll reverse the route you just completed and run another 26.2 back to the starting line without so much as a rest or potty break or a hip hip hooray or minute to hydrate or tend to your blisters or missing toenails. No, there isn’t time for such luxuries. Once must always earn their keep, mustn’t they?

Ummmmm, say what now?!

Allow me to interject here, but has anyone stopped to consider the message this sends to a mother? She’s been through just a couple of major things in the past decade. First off, if she began as a career woman, motherhood likely propelled her toward job change – whether it was stepping out of the paid working world or trading a fulltime role for part-time. Even if she maintained her same position in the company, she experienced a considerable mental shift to create space for her new title of “Mom.” More than likely, she lost an identity or two, gained a new one, got run over a couple thousand times by unrelenting toddlers, had her body shrink and expand like a balloon (under all her layers it looks like a deflated balloon now too, BTW), and stayed awake far more hours than she slept. But heaven forbid she not have an answer to your eager query:

“And what are you going to do with your life now?”

GULP.

My “moment,” the day when my youngest enters kindergarten, is rapidly approaching (396 days to be precise), and I’ve been freaking out about it for, oh, the past nine years or so. This is perhaps why I’ve been considering and reconsidering and questioning what this whole writing thing I’m doing (and not doing) is about anyway. Is it a hobby? Is it a career option? Is it my own personal therapy? What am I going to do with my life?

One of my sweet friends said it so well when she summarized her future plans (and I’m paraphrasing), “Maybe I will just use the time to actually be a good wife and a good mom rather than barely surviving at everything I do.”

I LOVE that! It’s sounds so freeing to have space and margin, doesn’t it?

And so to her and myself and everyone else who has a plan for our "moment" (or whose plan is to have no plan!), I say, “Get it, Girl!” Let’s erase all this pressure and expectation and take things one day at a time, ok?

2 comments:

  1. So I never read blogs anymore. I'm horrible at it and alert all my friends with blogs that I love them very much but I'm just not a blog reader. I can't keep up with the pressure of reading every post! Anyway, I hopped on your blog today randomly and I'm glad I did! I was just talking about this topic with some friends a few nights ago. One friend's husband really wants her to go back to work when the kids are in full time school and she doesn't want to. Another one really wants to work and is waiting for her kids to all be in school so she can do so and pocket the money instead of pay for childcare and take home very little. I'm somewhere in the middle, although I do very much hope to never work full time again. We all agreed though that being able to continue staying home once your children are in full time school is the REWARD for all of the draining, crazy making, exhausting little years. Using your marathon analogy, it is the chocolate milk, massage and cool breeze after finishing a marathon. Not to say that there still isn't work involved but man, wouldn't it be great to do the work in a quiet house and maybe feel like a fully functioning human again? And maybe go out to lunch for a friend's birthday every now and then? Or get the cleaning/laundry/appointments/meal prep/everything else done during the day and get to be fully present with your family when they come home!? Maybe its because I had a mom that didn't work outside the home until I was 17 but I'm perfectly fine with continuing my life as a SAHM while my kids are in school. I honestly think it will benefit my family. And I've spoken with seasoned moms who said staying home actually became MORE important as their children got older. So there's that. During my discussion with friends, we all decided that my friend whose husband wants her to work should (at he very least) negotiate for the first year off. Let her have one year of staying home while no kids home during the day. Give her that reward and then they can reevaluate. I'm perfectly fine if you don't have things figured out and I give you permission to be also. :o) Love you!

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  2. "got run over a couple thousand times by unrelenting toddlers" This made me giggle.

    So...I totally get you. I had a blog, it was for me, my words, my stories, and my heart... then I stopped because I didn't think anyone was reading it and I thought, "then what is this for?" And now when I look back, I LOVE reviewing my old posts and seeing where I was at with motherhood so many years ago. Once in a while I get motivated and start moving my blog posts to a new platform and thinking I'll start writing again... but alas...it's not happening. My latest goal is to write blog posts for impact a life... got one done! haha

    As for what to do...I say- why the pressure to go back to work? It's not like all of the sudden you won't have anything to do while your kids are in school - it just means you will have a little more time to take care of the laundry, or to sit outside to enjoy the garden you've spent hours and hours working in. What am I doing this upcoming school year? I've already penned it in - I'll be going to yoga and barre classes every morning, before I do anything else. Well, after I feed the kids and get them all to school, that is. Then I will have that nice workout time...and will come home and shower... and it will be lovely. I can't wait for your 396 days to fly by so you can join me in this venture! ;)

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posted by kelsie