Today, at my old place of employment, they announced the recipient of the job I thought would be mine. The job I had been working towards for many years. I had sat in leadership meetings, read (or collected for future reading) books on the relevant topics, discussed pedagogy and theory and philosophy into the wee hours of many, many nights. I had taken classes online to increase my skill set and offer. I had built relationships that could support me.
Then I had a baby, quit my job, and the world kept turning.
It would be wrong to give the impression that this newly anointed position had been my dream job, or where I’d always hoped to be heading in life. It wasn’t. But it was the path I was on, until suddenly it became what might have been. In an alternate universe, I could be there right now, working my way up the ladder of someone else’s definition of success. I feel like one might when a person they broke up with marries someone else. It’s strange to let go of something you used to want, even while learning that holding on to the past increases one’s burdens in life, even while making room for the wanting of new things instead. The past can be cumbersome, limiting, and full of choices brought about by the full weight of everything I knew at the time.
But now I know more.
Now I know what it feels like to be needed so much that it whispers its way into every thought, murmurs its way into every decision, and explodes when it gets ignored.
I know that it’s possible to feel so close to someone you’ve never exchanged a single word with, and that a one-sided relationship is infinitely rewarding with a little letting go.
And I know that, despite guilt, and fear, and shame, and worry, I’d not rather be anywhere else on earth than home with him.
Is it a sacrifice to pay this close attention to another being? Do I feel I am being diminished? Yes. Sometimes. But I can look at this as a period of contraction in an otherwise very busy life. I am spending quiet days. I am storing up my energy for future use, all the while I am careful and conscious of the simplest things in life. A smile in my direction. A new experiment in cause and effect. A peaceful, well-earned sleep that allows me to write, for a little while anyways. In a world focused on doing, I am counterbalancing with being. Imperfectly, and forgetfully, and sometimes fretfully, but nonetheless, I am.
Do I feel guilty for not ‘leaning in’? Sure I do. And I worry that I won’t find my way back to the world. I worry I’ll end up like a mom I knew once, increasingly reluctant to leave the house after her kids grew up because she just didn’t know who she was after being a mother for so many years. And then I feel guilty because any time I spend worrying about the outside world is time I have not been fully present with my growing boy. And I’m definitely not the first mother to desperately seek some semblance of balance between these magnetic forces, pulling in opposing directions, but perhaps I am onto something when I begin to accept that I just can’t have it all and allow this opportunity among many to move on without me.
I went a lot of years when I didn’t think this mother job would ever be mine. When I couldn’t have imagined how I’d possibly embody all of the expectations of this complex role. When it all sounded terrible. When it all sounded terrifying. Sometimes I feel invisible and sometimes I feel indispensable and in any case this is the path I am on, and no other is possible.