It took me two-and-a-half years to become comfortable with my new job title and managerial role. Before the baby, our marriage responsibilities had been largely egalitarian. When our daughter was born, I became the Center of the Universe for the Most Intense Person I have ever met (or have yet to meet). Our roles changed from Husband and Wife to Mother and Father, and we handled the change with all the grace and aplomb of two sleep-deprived baboons.
A few months into my new role, my husband got his dream job. Weeks later, I found myself 1,200 miles away from anyone I knew, alone in a cul-de-sac south of the Mason Dixon line, with a high-needs 10-month old. Her myriad needs did not include sleep.
I’ve known women who always knew they wanted to be mothers. As for me, I always figured there was a pretty fair chance that I would most likely be a mother someday. By the time my husband and I did decide to have children, our friends were already well on their parenting journeys. Watching them made us think that this kid thing might not be so bad after all. I decided that motherhood was something I was going to throw myself into full force.
The adjustment was harder than I thought it would be.
Being a stay-at-home mom is like living in an alternate universe. I believed deeply in what I was doing—and I still do—but I was not prepared for the intensity of what I had signed up for. I am lucky enough to have a supportive and outstanding partner, but it is difficult for those who have never experienced it to understand the soul-sucking isolation of seeing no one over the age of 18 months for 10 hour stretches for days at a time. Nothing prepared me for the condescension and backhanded ‘compliments’ doled out by strangers (and sometimes friends or family) over the very real sacrifice that my partner and I had chosen to make.
I struggled every day, for two and-a-half years, not to fall down the rabbit hole of despair called What the Hell am I Doing with My Life?!? I loved being there to see my gorgeous, infuriating daughter learn and grow and become who she was meant to be. It is an honor and a privilege.
But choosing something, and living with that choice are different things. When I chose to stay home, it was not because I lacked personal goals and dreams and aspirations for myself. What it meant was that I decided to put those dreams and goals and aspirations on hold for an indefinite amount of time. This decision turned out to be the most emotionally and mentally difficult thing I’ve ever done. There is no one giving you a pay raise for successfully keeping another person happy and alive for the calendar year—or a margarita after the baby barfs down your back in the middle of the night.
The problem with babies and toddlers is that you get them all in one go, rather than doled out in manageable chunks. Two and a half years in, just I as I had finally come to terms with my new role as full-time mom, I began to start the very part-time process of working on my own dreams, one sentence at a time.
Four cross-country moves and the birth of another baby caused me to put those dreams back up on a shelf, but I made sure to keep them where could still ‘see’ them when things in Mommyland got rough. With the second child, I knew that that the New Baby Alternate Universe was smaller than it feels.
This time I didn’t despair that my dreams for my own life were put away forever. I knew just where they were, and that I was strong enough to pick them back up again.
My kids are both school-age now. They need me less and less every day, which is both heart-wrenching and liberating. I want them to stay the age where they still think I am terrific and lovely and wonderful, but I also long to throw myself fully into my own passions and dreams. I am doing my best to try to soak in the last of their littleness while re-awakening all the things inside myself that I had let hibernate for what, at the time, seemed like forever.
Now, looking back over the last 10 years, it is somehow both a long stretch of time and hardly anything at all.
Can we “have it all”? Honestly, I don’t believe that is possible, in the way that our society currently thinks of it. A career, children, marriage, a house, a rockin’ hot bod—all these things are separate full-times jobs, and there are only so many hours in a day.
Everything in life is bartering and exchanging and sacrificing and rejoicing, hoping to keep the balances somewhat level. To be the best at something requires throwing all of yourself into that thing. I don’t want to sacrifice my family on the Altar of My Dreams, nor vice versa. So, my dreams will take a little longer to come to fruition than if I had thrown myself at them ten years ago.
Sometimes I worry that a dream deferred will translate into a dream lost to me for good. I’ve already let one life dream go.
Fortunately, I’m very excited about Plan B and Plan C. I wonder if any of these dreams will pan out. Is it too late? Have I leaned out too far? I hope not. I refuse to throw my hands in the air and give up. My dreams are still there. They might be a little dusty, but they are as big and as real as ever. I’m looking forward to the day when they come true, and I can’t wait for my girls to be by my side when it does.
If I could go back in time ten years to that exhausted new mom who was questioning what it is that she was doing with her life, I would tell her: You can have it all. Just not all at once. Try to be happy right now, in this hard, exhausting, overwhelming, awe-filled, sometimes boring, time. What feels like an alternate universe where time has no meaning is actually finite. This too shall pass, probably before you are mentally prepared for it to. Be all in. You will have time for you, just not now. Your kids will become independent—not now, but soon. You will have time to work on your dreams. It feels like forever away, just like a kid waiting for her favorite holiday or birthday, but it will come.