“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
How often do we ask our kids this question? Through the years my kids have given many enlightening and often hilarious answers. Once, my son told me he wanted to work as a “ninja-neer” like his daddy, and I wonder if he imagined my husband sneaking around an office building, clad in all black, covertly calculating pressure vessel valve diameters! But regardless what they tell us when they’re preschoolers, we know that the answers we get from our kids when they’re young are probably going to be very different from what they will eventually do. Time changes them.
Shortly after graduating college, getting married, and moving to Oregon, we found out that I was pregnant. I was ecstatic to devote myself to family life. Ten years later I still am…mostly. Turns out, time changes moms too. As my children grow and need me less and less, I wonder if – or when – I should go beyond my first calling as a mother and wife.
Growing up I always wanted to be a doctor. My mother worked in a hospital, and I loved visiting her at work. Everything was orderly, purposeful. The people who worked there had important jobs to do, and the doctors had the most important jobs of all. I was just a latchkey kid who loved science, in a working class family, and really yearned to matter. So naturally, being a doctor became my dream.
Yet, despite all of my high school and college effort tailored for a future in medicine, I abruptly chose not to pursue that life. I remember the exact moment it happened: senior year in college, page two of my medical school application. I know it sounds totally crazy, but I was overcome by an inexplicable peace and assurance that this was not my path. Now I have a somewhat useless degree in biological sciences, and a wonderful life with my family.
As I look at my future on the horizon of having all school-aged kids, I am more confused than ever as to what exactly I should be doing for employment. Or if I should have a job at all. Should I go back to school? Become self-employed? Find a job anywhere they’ll take me? What shifts should I work? Should I work from home? Should I start a career or just earn a paycheck? Will working mess up my kids or my marriage? Thinking about it is exhausting!
And as we get closer and closer to my youngest’s first day in kindergarten, I can’t help but feel panic rise up a little. You know, that anxiety new high school seniors and graduates feel when they realize they need a plan for their lives, and they need it NOW? I thought that was a young adult thing, but no. It’s also a mid-thirties, housewife thing, apparently.
To my husband’s credit, he’s been amazingly supportive and is neither urging me to go back to work nor expecting me to just stay at home for the rest of my life. But I know that if I don’t make a decision, time will make one for me: homemaker for life. Being a stay-at-home mom is a noble “profession,” a good life, and reaps huge benefits for families and the communities in which they live. But I know myself. I know that I will fight restlessness and boredom, and struggle with anxiety like a service dog with no one to serve. I’m terrified of finding myself wrinkled and frail and gray, wandering around the same house whose perimeters I have been diligently cleaning and maintaining, cleaning and maintaining, for the last sixty years, while my obsolete science textbooks gather dust in a box in the garage.
So to heck with anxiety and fear, I’ve got to start somewhere. It won’t be perfect, but I will jump in and find something. Who knows what that might lead to, or what opportunities will open up. I suppose I do have a few years to dwell on it. In fact, I think I might want to be some kind of writer someday…