Saturday, September 17, 2011

What I Want To Do When I Grow Up by Melanie

{Insert overused movie cliche here.}
So, have I had writer's block for four months? If by "writer's block" you mean two kids plus a baby, a husband that's always hanging around, an insane summer and not a lot to say that's intelligent, then yes.  My mind has been consumed by the needs of the moment for months, and the thought of tackling any sort of higher level thinking has brought me nothing but exhaustion.  Even now I'm struggling with what to say here, but the writing bug is back.  There's a portion of myself that enjoys being completely invested in my children, not just in the sense of caring and loving but in time spent.  That portion of me still gets excited when late August back-to-school time is getting close, and looks forward to buying new composition books and pencils. Somewhere in all that excitement I realize that in a way I'm jealous of my children, barely scratching the surface on living their lives and heading off everyday to spend their time learning new things, surrounded by their friends.  I have the personality of an eternal student; I am never satisfied unless I'm studying something. The trouble is the practicalities -- being a student doesn't exactly pay much.

I have been been married for nine years, and I have been a homemaker the entire time.  I didn't really plan it this way, but the whole concept of choosing a career has always scared me.  I mentioned once in a previous post that just from casual observation it seems like my generation has a fear of relationship commitments, yet I have continually sought out deep commitments in every relationship I have, to the point that I think I intimidate people, because friendship with me seems too complicated.  Yet, as invested as I am in every interpersonal relationship I make, I have never been able to settle down and choose exactly what it is I want to do with my life.  Reading that would come as a surprise to anyone who knew me when I was eighteen; at that point in my life I acted as if I knew everything that was set before me, and my life would simply be a matter of connecting the dots.  But, while I was able to fool even myself much of the time, it was only an act.  I majored in music, and while it's true that I am unfulfilled without music in my life, I really only chose it because I had confidence that I was good at it, something I couldn't say for any other subject I enjoyed.  E had a similar experience when he chose to go to music school.  While he was probably quite sure that he would be successful at many different subjects, he had talent in music, and as we have both observed, when a person has what others perceive as "natural" talent in an art form, the people around that person tend to believe that that individual should pursue that natural talent to the point of excluding any other abilities or inclinations that are seen as more common.  More on that another time.

My initial college major was music education, but truthfully I never intended to be a music teacher.  Like Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland's Opus, I thought of teaching as something to "fall back on" if performing didn't work out.  My plan was to begin school as an education major, and then re-audition as a performance major after benefitting from a semester or two of college-level vocal instruction.  For those of you unfamiliar with music school vernacular, a degree in "performance"= the expectation that one will become a professional musician.  Everything changed in my first semester though. I realized really quickly that I was mediocre at best compared to the other sopranos at the exclusive conservatory-like school that I'd chosen mainly because it was just for singers.  E came along in the middle of that realization, and my sudden dive in self-esteem probably played a big part in making me just crazy enough to agree to marry a man eight years my senior who I'd only met a few months prior.  Falling in love changed everything, as it tends to do.  From that point forward my only real goal was to finish college so E and I could get married and raise a family.  I did graduate, in fact I took accelerated and summer courses so I could get done faster, and only completed a degree in "music".  Again, for those of you unfamiliar with the vernacular, "B.A. in Music"= "not good enough to perform, uninterested in teaching, not serious enough to do any more work".  So I finished school a year early, and was married and trying to conceive a baby before my degree came in the mail.

After almost eight years of parenting now, I know that this is not really what I want to do with my life either.  I know it just as well as I knew that I didn't really want to be a teacher, but that I'd be one if there wasn't anything else out there for me.  Parenting has become what I "fall back on".  And truth be told, I am no better a parent than I would have been a teacher.  I don't really enjoy it all that much either.

Let's be clear here.  It is perfectly acceptable to not enjoy parenting.  When I say that I do not particularly enjoy parenting, I am referring to the job of parenting.  The things that a parent must do on a daily basis, the stuff of life with kids, the practicalities that it seems like I'm always complaining about on this blog.   I am also only saying that I don't always enjoy parenting, not that I never enjoy parenting.  I love my children and value them far above my own life, which is why I do the job anyway.  They need me to do the job in order to fulfill the objective of childhood, which is to grow up.  What I'm trying to do here is define a separation between a parent's feelings about his or her children, and his or her feelings about the stuff they have to do in order to raise them.  For example, I love HT, I love watching him grow, I love watching him figure out how to walk, I love cuddling him, I love reading him books, I love his little face and his chubby belly, and I love imagining how simple his brain functioning is right now, and how complex it will be when he's 5, 15, or 21.  I do not love being bitten on the thighs because he is teething and wants my attention, I do not love changing dirty diapers, I do not love having to scold him for trying to eat cat food fifteen times a day.  But all of that stuff is just as much a part of parenting as cuddling and reading, and I find that there are really just as many parts of this job that I don't like as there are parts that I do.  Is it all worth it to give children that I love the care that they need? Of course.  But it's perfectly OK to not enjoy the job of parenting.  There are so many moms (and probably dads too) who seem scared to complain about the un-fun aspects of parenting, as if the fact that they don't like having spit up running down their arm means that they don't love their child enough.  Hogwash.  While there are some who are able to overlook the bad parts more than others, and many who won't admit to there being any bad parts, no one likes having spit up running down their arm.  Look at it this way, would you clean all those dirty diapers or get all those stained shirts or do all that scolding and demanding and disciplining for a kid you didn't love at all?  If your answer is no, then you're like me, whether or not you admit it.

I have spent most of my children's childhoods dreaming about what I will do as their needs decrease and they become less demanding of my time, energy, and mental capacity.  I've come up with a few ideas, but haven't followed through on any of them.  A year ago I came pretty close to committing to getting a masters degree in ethnomusicology, and even took four semesters of classes and began a thesis, but I never managed to shake the nagging feeling that I was just taking the courses to keep myself busy, and that in the end I would just be back to the same old choice -- teach the subject, or find something else.  There aren't any ethnomusicology factories where I could work.  I could pick a different subject, since there are a thousand that I would love to study, but they all lead back to the same place.  I think the part that I hate about this the most is that my parents told me this would happen.  When I came to them and told them that I was not going to get the education degree, and that I would be getting a B.A. instead, their immediate question was, "What are you going to do with it?"  I told them some lame story about how I could do anything with it because I had a balanced liberal arts education. It's what my advisor told me to tell them, and it's probably a script that liberal arts schools have written down for all advisors to memorize for when parents call concerned about what little Johnny is going to do with a bachelors degree in medieval glassblowing.  The truth was that I was going to do nothing with it except graduate early.  So here I am, investing a lot of time and energy into helping my kids find out what their interests and affinities are in different areas, all the while feeling like a hypocrite since I know that for most people, the interests and affinities they discover as a second grader have little to do with what pays the bills when they're in their thirties.

In the end, the fact that I even have the freedom to think about these things and to even consider making a decision that would lead to my actually acting on any of my interests or skills is a blessing.  I have all the freedom in the world to continue leading my charmed little life, sitting in my house in front of my computer for hours on end, loving on my babies and thinking about all the other interesting things I could do, and never do any of them.  Despite my parents' missteps, and despite my vague college degree, I have managed to come to this point having exactly what my parents did not have -- choices.  Whether or not my parents had a choice in their future employment is debatable, but I do not think they saw a choice.  My father is a farm owner because his father was a farm owner, and my mother is his wife because she fell in love with him when she was only 14, and she is a farm manager because my father is a farm owner.  It was really no different for E's parents. They worked a variety of jobs to put food on the table, and they did those jobs well enough to put two children through college, both of whom have now exercised the luxury of choosing a career to which they felt called.

Though admittedly much of my blogging is a transcript of my thought streams that I often hope will help make my decisions a little clearer, I now have no idea what I will do with my life, and I'm pretty sure that I will never see a day when I can tell anyone exactly how I'm going to occupy myself for the rest of it.  Maybe tomorrow I'll sign up for spring courses and start that ethnomusicology degree again, or maybe I'll never take another class.  Maybe next year I'll decide to put Henry in day care and start working at the Department of Transportation again, or maybe next year I'll still be sitting here blogging and playing facebook games in front of the computer until 2AM.  I do know that my children need me, even when I don't like what I have to do for them, and that that would be enough to keep me busy, if unfulfilled.  I also know that the lack of fulfillment is just a feeling, like any other feeling, and that in truth I have just as many moments of fulfillment as I do unfulfillment.  So maybe the real goal is to take hold of the fulfilling moments, and make those the ones I write about.


  1. Mel, you make me laugh--how well you sum up the music major's vocabulary and dilemma.

    I wonder if our generation's freedom of choice is exactly what is so paralyzing for those of us who still aren't quite sure what we want to be when we grow up.

    And thanks for being real about parenting. There are times when I so look forward to someday being a mom and then I think, "Do I REALLY want to have to deal with vomit and potty training and temper tantrums?" Glad to see that those thoughts are not a sign that I'm not mother material :-)

  2. It's always easier to not have a choice, isn't it? Yet there's no freedom in that. I have a real hang-up about time, and I think that's part of the problem of choosing for me. Just about anything I can think of that I'd want to do would involve investing serious time, both to do it and probably also to prepare to do it. But I worry about investing that time only to discover that it wasn't worthwhile.
    And if you'll accept my judgement, I'd say that a person who KNOWS she won't enjoy dealing with vomit, potty training, and temper tantrums is a person who is more ready to parent than someone who thinks either that she won't have to deal with those things with her child, or that they aren't a big deal and everyone else needs to lighten up. Like I said, there are a lot of parents who feel like complaining about caring for their child means that they don't love their child. I think it's OK to separate the two issues.