When I was younger, my dream was to have enough disposable income to have someone else clean up after me. That’s as far as I got. When I started college, it was about doing what my parents wanted me to do. I didn’t want to go. My mom wanted to send me to Thailand for the summer and I refused. (It was about a boy and not my smartest move.) I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was one of those students that kept taking electives, hoping it would point me in a direction. It pointed me in many directions and nothing was really calling to me. (In hindsight, taking your core requirements will do the same and keep you from wasting time.) I ended up taking classes on and off for so long that by the time I got my BA, the kids starting in the fall were born the year I graduated high school. My 20 year reunion is in less than 2 weeks.
When I became a wife and mom, my goal was to be really good at that and put my family ahead of myself. I wanted to support my ex. Unwinding after work was his right, even though I was exhausted with an infant. He wanted to disappear for a weekend of paintball, then it was deep sea fishing and eventually his rap concerts and I stayed home with our kids. It never occurred to me to have a night with the girls. When I finally did get “me time,” it was time spent running household errands alone. (I know how to party.)
I got a call earlier this evening from a friend having a freak out moment that I’m really familiar with. He was bothered that so much of his identity is tied to his relationship with his kids and the people in his life and he realized he didn’t do anything that was just for himself. He was so involved in the success of those around him that he forgot to sort out his goals and line up his accomplishments.
My first freakout like that happened in my early 20’s. I was a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and had no idea who I was anymore. I lost touch with the girl that loved shooting pool, smoking cigarettes, drinking with friends, beach days, and hiking to Sturtevant Falls from Chantry Flats. Even when I was doing those things I was unsure of what I loved, and what I was doing because it’s what my friends were doing. I could handle being home alone but not being out alone.
In early marriage and motherhood, it was so easy for me to get caught up in being who I thought I was supposed to be. This person took care of the house and did it with a smile. I looked at motherhood as something that didn’t fit what I grew up with. My mom went to work, then came home for snuggles. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. My Dad stayed home with me or both parents worked alternating graveyard shifts so one of them was always available.
As a new mom, I tried to follow what my ex had as an example growing up because he loved his mom and I wanted to be like her. It’s hard to fit an ideal that was never yours and that was colored by the fantasies of a little boy that may not have a clear understanding of the realities of motherhood from the perspective of a mother. Her input (innocent as it was) always made it seem like I was failing. I just couldn’t do it the way she did. It nearly broke me. I sometimes joke that I will do my best to ruin every relationship my kids ever get into by being amazing now, but really, I only hope they find someone to love them like I do. I hope to never make a woman or man feel like they are lacking because of the ideal of what I view as my daily shortcomings. Yes, I have boys, but we live with the expectation that gay or straight, I will always love my kids.
When I looked at my life and realized it wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like, I tried to work within what I was capable of to transform my life. I started small. I got curious about subjects and would spend hours reading about topics that interested me. It started with bees and gardening, jewelry making, cross stitch, crochet, scrapbooking, and for a while I started making soap with fat and lye. Eventually having lye in the house was way too scary because I had small kids. I still have my soap molds, and have happy thoughts about getting to the “trace” stage and may pick it back up one day. (You’ll just have to look up soapmaking.) This helped for a little while.
Eventually, I went back to school. I needed to finish. When I went back it wasn’t about my parents. Finishing school became my goal. I wanted my degree. I wanted to earn that class ring. I never got my high school ring because I always expected to go to college. When I decided to go back, I remembered how much I loved being in the classroom. I loved the discourse and the moments when one person would make a profound observation that would shift my perspective into a new interpretation. I loved that feeling. A man that can shift my perspective with a sentence is one of the first things I look for in dating, and why I often spend my kid free weekends alone. (Reaching the bar I set is a really tall order but he has to be smart.) My education is the one thing that was all mine, and could never be taken from me.
I had another moment of awakening earlier this year. I wrote about it here. I had been doing things the way I was taught for so long that it became my expectation. When I had the freedom to do it my way, it took a while to realize I could. That realization felt like freedom.
My big midlife crisis happened when my ex had his moment of realizing his life didn’t look the way he wanted it to. When he left, I was lost. I could handle the things I was already handling. I had the bills in my name. I had been the handy person around the house, or I knew who to call. I knew how to exist in the ways I needed to. What I didn’t know was what I wanted my life to look like. I didn’t know what my life should be now that I was only obligated to my boys and myself. It was scary because I had to figure out what I like to do in my free time now that shared custody means I have so much of it. I’m still figuring it out. I was recently asked what I like to do, and I listed my usual field trips, but I’m still searching and I hope I never stop searching.
I was listening to house music again for the first time in decades on Friday. It felt like urgency. I couldn’t stop dancing in my seat and it probably looked like I had to pee. It probably made me feel like I had to pee. But it was amazing in the memories it brought up of raves and dance crews (shout out to the Kinky Dolls . . . anyone?), being known and handed drinks when I entered a party . . . Yeah, and then there were some things that don’t need reminiscing. The music was a reminder of a time I had forgotten in the dark alleys of motherhood martyrdom.
I spent so long being a wife and mom. I was a student, then I graduated, and I had decided my kids couldn’t become orphans to the stacks, so my next goal of law school will happen once my nest is empty. I had fluid ideas of what I wanted to do on our next camping trip or what my next job might eventually look like. I had to start figuring out where my happy places were.
I started bullet journaling. I really should get back to it. You can look up bullet journals online and there are many amazing variations. It’s about finding one that works for you. Mine ended up in a three ring binder with different sections for my goals. I had a daily “to do” list. I had a calendar. I had long term goals and 18 month plans. I had a list of books to read and movies to see. I had financial plans and outlined the way I wanted to shape my existence.
The daily to do list was a list that was marked in some way each day. It wasn’t enough to write a list that got crossed off. I had a box next to each item and I would mark those boxes as in progress, completed, rescheduled (with a date), and cancelled (with a really good reason for being cancelled). I was accountable to myself to work toward my goals every single day. Right now I have a cork board with my long term goals listed. The bullet journal had deadlines. My white board has short term plans for me and the boys. But the bullet part is what was driving me to do more each day. To get back into it, I would need time to daydream. I need to visualize what I want my life to look like.
It won’t be solitary. I can do solitary, but I’m ready for partnership. I’m ready to support and be supported. I won’t fear what was and color the future with it. I’m sure I’ll find him because I’m open to looking in a way that I wasn’t a couple of months ago.
It will include road trips and local adventures. I’ve never been to San Francisco or Catalina Island. I want to explore and be a tourist.
It will include my boys, but there will be things that are just about me and maybe friends or a special someone because motherhood doesn’t mean I need to be a martyr. (If I say it enough I’ll believe it and the guilt will fall away.)
It will include mountain sunrises and streams and beaches at sunset.
When my friend called tonight, I was excited. There is so much power and possibility in realizing that your life doesn’t look the way you want it to. There is so much potential in that realization because not everyone can see the disconnect. He arrived at a place where he can slay dragons and rescue princesses. He gets to be his knight in shining armor with Prince Charming hair and damsel in distress and that is the greatest gift he could give himself. I’m excited to see what his life will look like in the next few weeks. More than that, I’m excited about the ways I get to start my planning and plotting again.
A midlife crisis isn’t the end. In my marriage, it was the end that opened up an amazing start. It’s a place to embark on your next phase of amazing. It might suck in this moment, but this moment tells you where you’ve been and which direction you get to lead in. You get to lead your life!
Have you ever had a dream you let go of? What’s stopping you from picking it back up?