I feel like I'm two decades behind. Well, actually, I am. The other evening, I asked a stay at home mom if she would consider starting a new career at this point. She said, "Gosh, maybe I'll go back to what I was doing before, but I can't imagine trying to start all over again!" She is younger than me. Not too long ago, I read a New York Times article about Oprah's efforts to "attract 'women in their 30s or perhaps their 20s, to be able to reach people when they are looking to fulfill their destiny" because according to Oprah, "[b]y the time you're 40, 42, you should have kind of figured it out already."
She is right. Oprah is always right. I should have figured it out by now. I should have spent my teenage and college years exploring. Trying out this and that, talking to people in different fields to learn more about their jobs, working as an intern in organizations that piqued my interest. Instead, I spent most of my time coming up with arguments as to why I would not make a good doctor. And when my parents finally accepted that I would not become a brain surgeon, I then worked on trying to rationalize to myself why I would make a good lawyer (my parents' second and only other choice for an acceptable career), even though I had little idea what lawyers did.
We did not grow up in an environment where we were encouraged to explore and to try to determine our future paths for ourselves. Instead, all doors were closed except for one or two. And it was our job to make ourselves fit through one of those doors, no matter how misshapen or contorted. I spent a lot of time banging my head against them and then tending to my bruises. It was the antithesis of exploring.
But even so, you'd think I could have done something in my late 20s and 30s to help myself. I graduated from law school in 1998, when I was 27. That left me 15 years to fashion some career that I could call my own. But instead, I just put on my good worker bee smile and did all that was expected of a good associate. I put in my hours, cancelled dinners as well as holiday and vacation plans when necessary, and collected my paychecks. I also spent a fair number of my free hours pondering over alternative career options with friends over $15 gin and tonics. I really have no one to blame but myself.
But it's not all that bad. I think if my last job had not ended as it had, then I may still be there or at some other law firm, washing away my doubts with $15 drinks. And telling myself that I should be lucky to have such a well paying job. And delaying my life crisis until retirement, when it would be too late to do anything about it. Thank god they threw me out.
Motherhood is my second chance. It gives me a break from the career that I never wanted and an opportunity to start again. Unlike most women who worry that taking time out to raise their children will damage their careers, I'm grateful for this time off.
But I still worry that I'm too far behind. I feel pressured to get going on my career. I've already wasted two decades -- so much time to make up for. I hear about my college classmates who've written books, whose articles appear in the magazines I purchase, those who have fulfilled the dreams that I did not let myself entertain, much less aspire for. And when I hear about them, I sometimes find myself in tears. What have I done with all this time? Why have I accomplished so little? Why do I have so little to show for my life so far?
When I talk like this to Jeff, he often points to my law degree and my legal career. That's not nothing, he says. Perhaps, I say, but your career is only as meaningful as the value you place on it. And for me, my legal background didn't measure up to anything, not in my eyes. It held little meaning for me. And I think its unhappy ending diminished it even more.
Things were rolling along somewhat while we had a babysitter, even though I found that 10 hours a week really boils down to far less -- after you have shaken the children off of your leg, put away this or that, and thrown in the laundry. And reluctant to leave both an infant and a toddler in the hands of a college student, I tried to line up the babysitter to come during our toddler's nap -- except that on occasion, he refused to go along with my plans and I would find my three hours abbreviated to one and a half. But at least I had some time to regroup myself.
Then, in early December, our babysitter quit. We quickly lined up another, and planned to get her on board right after the holidays when she would be available. But shortly after the new year, she emailed to say that she had found a more career-oriented position. So now, we are back to the drawing board. Looking up potential babysitters, setting up interviews, checking references. The whole process will take a couple of weeks or longer, and I feel so impatient. For some reason, this feels like a crisis moment -- and perhaps that is what this is. My midlife crisis.
I am starting to understand mothers who are narcissists -- those who have so many personal needs to meet that they cannot meet the needs of their children. God forbid, I'm not a narcissist -- but I can taste the hint of my personal need colliding with the needs of my children -- and at the center stage of all this is our mutual need for my time. And the biggest question is how to slice the pie so that we can all feel somewhat satisfied and not denied. All I want are a couple of hours a day -- it seems so simple, but in the middle of this feeling of crisis, I feel as if a lifetime is passing me by.
And maybe I'm not as late as I think. 42. Really, is that so late to start working on a new career? Well, actually, it'll be a couple of years before I can even start a program since I need to study for the GREs, take the exam, apply to schools, etc. So maybe 44. Not a bad number, is it? According to Wikipedia, the number is considered to be a "hitter's number" because it was the number for Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson. So, I'll have to bank on their luck and keep my fingers crossed for a homerun when I finally get my chance at the bat. I just hope that time doesn't fly until then because I need all the time I can get.