A few years back, when my three kids were nine, seven and four, I hit one of those turning points. A demarcation. I lived in Minnesota at the time, in a school district where summers were looooong, and I remember sitting at my computer one hot July day, looking out the window at my kids running around on the lawn, completely independent. They no longer needed me to tie their shoes or wipe their bottoms, rock them to sleep or buckle their seat belts. In many ways, it was a time to celebrate my own independence. Finally, I had some air to breathe, a little corner of quiet. Sleep. Oh, the sleep! It was everything I’d been yearning for.
Yet I felt unsettled, unmoored by my impending freedom. For the better part of the previous decade, I’d been a mom of little kids. Sure, I’d done other things while they were small, but in many ways the tying and wiping and rocking and buckling were the actions that defined my days. Defined my life. The future was yawning (and I was well rested), which begged the question:
So what was I gonna do now??
What I did was get pregnant again. Halfway through my third child’s kindergarten year, we welcomed our caboose—our fourth and final child—whom my husband called our “hobby baby.” He’s been darling and fun (and crazy and exhausting). But this post isn’t about babies. It’s about choices. It’s about that time in your life when you stand on the dividing line from one phase to the next and find yourself wondering who (whom??) the heck you are supposed to be.
Perhaps it’s my age—I’m thirty six—but I feel like recently I’ve had an abundance of conversations with women my age about how to handle the next phase. The “kids are all in school . . . now what?” conversation. And inevitably, in almost every conversation, somebody says this:
“I want to (fill in the blank) but I’m afraid . . .”
I want to go back to work, but I’m afraid the other stay-at-home moms will judge me.
I want to have another baby, but I’m afraid I’m getting too old and too tired.
I want to go back to school, but I’m afraid I can’t hack it.
I want to stay home full time, even with the kids gone all day, but I’m afraid some will think I’m wasting my time.
And so on, and so on. And it’s not like I have any corner on wisdom or have received any special conferment of authority (other than being born the oldest child in my family and therefore have an irritating penchant for big sisterish meddling and advice-giving), but despite the fact I don’t know you (well, most of you) and you don’t know me, I still want to say this:
You hereby have permission to do whatever you think is best.
Do you want to go back to work? Part time? Full time? Does the thought of getting back into (or entering for the first time) the world you left when you had your babies fill you with excitement? Could you really use the money? Have you talked about the pros and cons with your husband? Have you prayed about it, and do you feel the spirit is stirring your soul, telling you now is the time, that this is something you should do? Then do it. So your sister will judge you. So you’ll sometimes feel guilty that you can’t visit teach during the day. But you know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.
Do you want to stay home full time for now? For ever? Even though the kids are all in school and you know you’re not having any more? Do you feel you’re at your best when you’re within the walls of your home—productive, happy, in touch with your family and neighbors and friends? Then why are you searching for jobs you don’t want? So your mother-in-law won’t look down on you for “wasting your education?” So when you go to your 20 year reunion you’ll have a paying job to talk up? You know those aren’t real reasons. You feel, deep down, it’s best if you stay home. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.
Do you want to have another baby, even though the other kids are so much older and it doesn’t seem practical? Should you have donated those baby clothes to the DI years ago, but you can’t (or won’t) because it just doesn’t seem quite right? Have you prayed about it and felt the spirit tell you that another baby might not be practical or easy . . . but another baby will be just what you need? So your husband might take some convincing. So you’ll have to lose that baby weight (again). So you’ll be tired—bone tired, soooo very tired. But you just can’t shake that feeling that it’s the right thing to do. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.
Do you want to go back to school after all these years? Whenever you find yourself on a college campus, does your heart spin around in your chest? When you buy your kids their school supplies do you yearn for a notebook of your own, some really nice ballpoint pens, a pack of multicolored note cards? You loved school so much when you were young—but you know you’d love it so much more now. You would appreciate it. You would soak it up. You’d approach it as the blessing it is. So it might seem impractical to the ladies you serve with on the PTA board. So it might be scary to have deadlines and grades and assignments and tests. But in your heart you know it would fill you up. And you’d be good at it, too. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.
None of these decisions is easy, which is why we’re so often paralyzed by fear when we have to make them. When we reach a crossroads in our lives, it inevitably opens up the possibility that we’ll make a mistake, that we’ll zig when we should have zagged. But I also believe that the best—no, the only—way to make big decisions in our lives is to try our best to take fear out of the equation. Fear of failure, fear of judgment.
I stole this from Anne Lamott, but I like it, so I’m using it: Pretend like those voices chattering judgment or fear are mice. Imagine taking them by the tail while they’re squeaking away and plopping them inside a nice big mason jar. Now screw the lid down, tight. You can see them in there scratching around, screeching, probably, but you can’t hear a thing. Just silence. Ahhhh . . . silence.
(Oh, and in three and a half years, my hobby baby will be going to kindergarten. I know my mice will start chattering up a storm. We’ll see if I can take my own advice . . . :-).