“We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got. It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not. We’ve got each other, and that’s a lot for love. We’ll give it a shot! Whooooaaaaa, we’re halfway there; Whoaaaa-oh! We’re livin’ on a prayer! Take my hand, we’ll make it, I swear; Whoaaaa-oh! We’re livin’ on a prayer! LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER…” — John Bon Jovi (and thousands of concertgoers who like to freakin’ rock)
For whatever reason, or maybe no reason at all, I feel like it’s time for a slow jam.
I’ve admitted to not being a “dates” person, but it has come to my attention recently that I think I’m sitting near an anniversary of sorts. Somewhere in the weeks past, or in the weeks to come, I’ve hit the “breakeven point” in my marriage. Read that one closely: not a breakDOWN, and not a breakUP, but a breakEVEN. I think I’ve officially hit the moment in time where I’ve been out of the workforce as long as I was in it as a married person. My husband has supported me financially for the same period of time as I supported him. Thankfully, he doesn’t keep score, because it turns out that I’m a lot more costly than he ever was. If this breakeven analysis were conducted using dollars instead of days, I would have gone into the red a long time ago.
I don’t know who is reading this, but I do know that a large portion of my current peer group never knew me as a worker bee. I haven’t always lived this life of leisure. *insert eye roll* I worked “real jobs” as a financial/real estate analyst/project manager/whatever-you-need-gal. I wore work clothes instead of workout clothes. I sat all day at a desk, in an office with a door. I went to all the meetings. I went out to lunch and had business dinners. I worked late in the evenings, and from home and on the weekends. I met the deadlines and printed the reports. I LEANED IN more than the Tower of Pisa. I really never entertained the thought of being a stay-at-home mom. I always wanted a family, but I was part of the generation of girls that were told they could do it all. On top of that I was the product of a single mom who did, in fact, do it all. I never felt slighted by my mom’s schedule and so I never thought a child of mine would feel that way, either. And, plus, the idea of staying home and doing kid stuff all day, every day, sounded mind-numbing and torturous. While I’m being all confessional, I’ll also admit to being completely judge-y when it came to working mothers. Their kids were always sick and needed to be taken places. It seemed to me like working moms always had an excuse to come in late and leave early, while the rest of us had to sit there and slog it out. And let’s not even talk about the eye-rolling that would happen if someone had to bring their kid to the office for whatever reason. What a distraction!
I was, at best, ignorant. At worst, an ignorant b*tch. I wish I could go back to that time and tell my former self to lighten up and cut those ladies some slack. And then after that, I’d go back to my teenage self and tell her to give my mom a hug and maybe throw some potatoes in the oven to help out a little bit. Where is the Hot Tub Time Machine when you need it?
So, back to the Worker Bee who turned into a Kept Woman… Somewhere along the line in my pregnancy with my first daughter, I started thinking… What if I took a lesser role at work so I could be a rockstar mom? I had very reasonable and flexible employers and I just knew that if I really focused and organized myself, I could probably get just as much work done in half the time. It would be the best of both worlds: smelling my baby’s head for half the week and being a productive member of the working world the other half of the week. I could make enough money to pay a nanny. I could shorten my hours and take the baby over to my mother-in-law’s. I presented a well put together maternity leave plan and part-time job description to my employers and they accepted it. I started really looking forward to the arrival of the baby and the time we would spend together over 12 weeks of modified maternity leave. Besides smelling the baby’s head, I was also going to learn to cook, clean out my closets and get serious about my writing. I was brilliant! I was going to have it all!
So you all know where this is going, right?
Having a baby is HARD. In fact, for a while there, I seriously pondered how the world was sustaining itself. Why were people doing this more than once? If it were this hard for even half the people of childbearing abilities, how was the human race not in danger of dying out?
One very early morning, my husband and I lay in bed while the baby cried in the next room. She was 6 weeks old, and I remembered thinking that this was when most women would have to go back to work, full-time. My greatest achievement most days was getting dressed in something other than pajamas. I was woefully behind on pretty much everything. I was meeting NO mommy milestones. And we were all so TIRED. At this particular moment, we were too tired to feel the panic that came with the first 1,000 times you hear a newborn cry. We were too tired to play the game where you act like you’re dead asleep so your partner just gives up and gets the baby. We were too tired to open our eyes because that would mean eventually having to blink and NO ONE HAS THAT KIND OF ENERGY TO WASTE.
So after a few minutes of that, I mustered enough breath to let out a sigh, and said something to the effect of, “I’m not saying we made a mistake, but I wonder if maybe I should have kept working so we’d have enough money to pay someone who could take better care of her.”
Hear that sound? Kind of like the air being let out of a balloon? That’s the sound of a defeated parent. I wish I could say that was the last time I ever felt that way, but it continues to sneak up on me a lot. Through every stage of my children’s lives, I still get that gut punch. That feeling of “everyone is doing a better job at this.” That feeling of, “oh, God, what am I doing to screw this up today?”
The good news is, one of us did get up and get the baby. I’m not saying who, because I don’t keep score, and this happened like 8 1/2 years ago, and who really cares now? But if anyone did actually care, I would tell you exactly who it was that got up with the baby, and that lady was tired and bitter and a bit stinky. But then she smelled that baby’s head and felt her warm little body (probably worked up from bawling her eyes out for 20 minutes) and the baby did that thing where she lays a tiny arm and curled up fist on her mom’s chest and fits right in that mushy baby belly spot and, well, everything worked out okay.
A couple of years later, we had another baby. Yep, we did. Somewhere along the line, all the sleepless nights broke even with the sweet cuddles and adorable first steps and words and foods and we took another crack at it. Besides, it was going to be so easy. We’d already done it once! This was like taking a final exam and having all the answers. What could be that different? (Spoiler Alert: The answer is EVERYTHING. It is actually possible for EVERYTHING to be completely different and just as hard as the first time around.)
So you all know where this is going, right? Having a baby is HARD. Having a baby and a toddler at the same time is also hard. I would close my eyes and shake my head when I remembered the person that thought that having just one tiny infant to take care of was so, so difficult. What a pansy.
One day, I’m on all fours sweeping Cheerios up off the floor while having black beans dropped on my head and I start to think, SURELY, there is a reason for all this. A reason for me to be on this planet that does not involve so much excrement and wailing. So I did what I always do when I’m faced with a question I can’t answer. I got a book about it. I joined with the millions of other people who bought the book, “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren. It’s set up to be read over 40 days and I did just that. Not even reading ahead to try and find out the answers quickly. I read it aloud some nights to my husband, who usually fell asleep. I’m not sure why it just NOW occurred to me that I could have been reading it to the children and maybe they would have gone to bed easier. Eh. You live and you learn.
So I get to the 40th day, and I’m so excited to find out WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? The “Point to Ponder” on Day 40? “Living with purpose is the only way to really live.”
What the hell? I was reading this stupid book to find out if I should go to grad school, or try and get back in the workforce, or have another baby, and all I got was this BS statement that really only just took me back to the beginning of the book? I GET IT that I need to live with a purpose, but what the hell IS the purpose? Oh, I was so pissed.
But then I took a few more days and thought back over the book and some of the other “Points to Ponder.” I leafed through and was reminded that on Day 16 the theme was, “Life is all about love.” And I put that together with another idea I’d heard before that, in the end, all that matters is to love and be loved. And thus became my purpose. When I reach the Great Beyond, my Maker is not going to clap me on the shoulders and compliment me on my spreadsheet prowess or thank me for all the PTA meetings I attended. I don’t know what He’ll say, but I hope that after the conversation is over I’ll be able to look over His shoulder at all the people I’ve loved and all who have loved me. And then after a jam-up welcoming party, I’ll look down over my cloud at my people I’ve left behind and keep loving on them, and they’ll look up at my cloud and keep loving on me. On the surface, it sounds easy, and a lot more New Age-y than is my norm, but really, I’ve found that this is truly the purpose for my life. I’m still left to contemplate the day-to-day, and the 5-year plan, and the worry over achievements and lack thereof; but, on those days when the air gets let out of the balloon and I’m truly floundering I come back to this idea. Did I love? Did I accept the love that was given to me? And if the answer to those questions was yes, then I am a success. I’ve gone beyond breaking even.
Last week, through social media, I learned that an acquaintance from a brief period of my life was facing a health struggle. More than just a struggle, it was her final battle. I’d met this woman just a handful of times during the short time my little family lived in Nashville. But even though it was a seemingly unmomentous friendship, she made a definite impression on me. She was one of those rare people who exudes genuine kinship to everyone she meets. I remember sitting at a bar with her while a mutual friend told the story of how this woman had lost her beautiful, historic home to a freak fire. The fire was inside the walls, so there was no way to put it out. Helpful neighbors arrived and helped them carry out as much stuff as they could, so many of her belongings were strewn across their street as they literally watched the home burn. This, after she’d survived breast cancer. She smiled and laughed the whole way through the story, and then made a joke about a minor inconvenience she’d recently had (and, really, isn’t everything minor after all that?) by saying, “I mean, first I have cancer, and then my house burns down, and now THIS? REALLY?” And I found myself, the Queen Cynic of all the Debbie Downers laughing, too and we all said, “I mean, it’s just STUFF!”
It’s only through the connectivity of Facebook that I’ve even been able to keep up with the group of people I knew in Nashville. It was shocking to learn of Jenkins’ passing, because I didn’t even know she was sick. And, no matter how often it happens, I think it’s always shocking to hear of a young person’s life cut short and a family left behind. But in this case, the thing that I found most remarkable was the outpouring of love and happiness for the life of this amazing woman. There was a candlelight vigil held outside her home just days before her death. And even now, days later, people from all over continue to post pictures and joyful memories of times they spent with this woman who is continually described as being full of light. She and I were blips on each other’s radar, but even so, she changed me a little bit and made part of me better. I felt love emanate from her, in the way she lived her life and interacted with others.
Aside from being just a grade A awesome person, I think Jenkins held many accolades in a conventional sense, and I know she was intelligent and well-traveled. On top of all that, she was well-known and universally liked. But in the end, it seems like what it was all about was that she LOVED and IS STILL LOVED. The bottom line. She succeeded in fulfilling the noblest purpose on this earth.
So, here I sit, having broken even in one small aspect of this life. I wonder how many other opportunities I will have to break even? How many milestones and halfway marks have I already met? How many are left to go? How many have I missed and how many will I never even know about?
Part of life is contemplating its purpose, but a bigger part is just LIVING it with intention. I’ve set my purpose and my intention to love and be loved. It’s a broad, all-encompassing goal and might mean I’m basically sandbagging life. I know I’ll continue to have days that feel like I’m having black beans dropped on my head for absolutely no good reason, but for now, I’m okay with that.
And now YOU know why the next time I see you, I may very well give you a giant hug. Love your people and let them love you.