If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve taken a bit of a sabbatical from writing. At first I came up with a series of amazing reasons for this- I started my doula business (which is booming), we sold our house (in four days- amazing in and of itself), we were featured in a documentary about families dealing with autism (lifelong dream) and we’ve been living back and forth between my in-laws’ and my parents’ homes (gotta love the generosity of family). Totally legit reasons to neglect hobbies and creative indulgences. But none of those are the reason for my lack of writing.
The truth is, I’ve been grappling with my purpose. Like what the heck am I doing as a mom? We moved out of our house on August 15th, and have since been back and forth between family homes. (In all fairness, see how considerate you feel when you take 4 energetic kids under 10 to stay for free with people who love you but don’t have kids around full-time. It’s a conundrum, let me tell you.) A lot has suffered because of our nomad-lifestyle, not the least of which is our homeschool routine. Transition is tough for everyone, and it’s especially tough for kids, and even tougher for kids on the autism spectrum. I was so excited going into this move about the potential for blog posts: “How to survive a move with kids,” “Top ten ways to ease the new-home transition,” and on and on and on. Instead, I can probably tell you all the things not to do on a move. The kids’ behavioral outbursts that came with all this transition had me seriously doubting my ability as a parent. The fact that we are sooooo unconventional as parents, staying with our extraordinarily conventional parents, had me feeling like I needed to prove our effectiveness as parents, and the children were just not helping me do that. It has been everything I could do to just get us through this time of transition, and our homeschool routine has seriously suffered. I finally sat down with my hubs and said “I don’t think I can do this anymore. I think it’s time we talk about me going back to work.”
Here’s the truth: I loved my job. I had an amazing career. I was good at what I did. People told me so. I got the promotions and bonuses to prove it. I had very little trouble walking into a room full of people and showing confidence in what I had to say, because I believed in myself. I knew what I was doing and nothing and no one was going to get in my way from getting the job done. Man, what a feeling. But there’s another side to the story: I went home every day with mom guilt. It was the worst. And there was that tug at my heart that I should be doing more for my children. I’ve known for a long time that I should have been homeschooling them. I felt inclined to do it when Celia’s autism was diagnosed, but couldn’t financially accomplish it. I knew when it was time for me to leave the workforce, and I believed I was following a true calling for myself.
What I didn’t count on was how hard it would be to follow that calling. I prepared for homeschooling like I prepared for my career- I had organized lesson plans, well-researched curriculum, memberships to TONS of local attractions like museums and art centers, and a calendar with pre-determined field trips and days off. But I didn’t prepare for the lack of validation- these little charges don’t thank me for how well-prepared our lessons are. I didn’t think about the fact that there’s no room for my boundless ambition- try climbing a ladder in a place where you’re already the CEO. And beyond all that, I started comparing myself to every other mom around me. I’m not on the board of any significant organization, I don’t volunteer nearly as much of my time as I once did, I’m not a regular at any of the mom wine nights in my neighborhood (or my old neighborhood, as it were), and I’m not great about signing my children up for sports or activities. Ultimately, in comparing myself to so many of the extraordinary women I know, I found myself feeling like a failure. And not the kind that can make jokes about leaving laundry for later in favor of whatever TV show is popular right now. Nope. The boring kind that has nothing in common with mainstream moms and also isn’t exactly accomplishing the alternative lifestyle dream I was attempting.
Then something amazing happened. The kids were making me insane as usual, and after dropping Celia at her weekly therapy session, I took the other three to a nearby playground to run off some of their energy. While we were there, I was trying to show off for my wild brood, and flipped backwards over a swing and landed like an idiot in the wood chips. A nice dad came over and helped me (despite my numerous prayers that no one witnessed this at all), and as we talked, I learned he and his wife had 7 children, with an 8th on the way, and that they homeschool their crew too. The more we talked the more energized I felt. I met his lovely wife, and Cora and the boys played with their children for over an hour. Sometimes God just plants things in your life to restore your faith in the path He’s given you. Here’s what that conversation affirmed for me:
- I’m not on charitable boards because I opted out of that lifestyle, so I could be home and available for our children in this stage of our lives.
- I’m not a regular at wine nights because my husband travels and works long hours, which enables me to stay home and allows us to do all the things we like to do.
- We haven’t signed our kids up for tons of activities because we’re committed to a minimalist lifestyle- spending time on a few meaningful things vs being busy and running from one place to the next.
- We aren’t like other families around us, and they aren’t like us either. That’s the point. We’ve found a lifestyle that suits us, and even in the hard days, these choices are allowing us to raise our children in a way that makes sense for us.
As if that conversation weren’t enough, I had another affirming moment, this time with a mom following a birth where I served as her doula. This precious mama had a beautiful family-centered cesarean, after doing everything she could to deliver vaginally. We talked about the guilt that comes with c-section birth, and the fact that we tend to project feelings on the people around us without reason. Truly, no one was going to be disappointed in this mama or her birth, but that natural urge to compare ourselves to the people around us, and to assume how they’ll react robs us of our joy in little everyday successes. The moms she knew who’d had natural births weren’t going to fault her for having a cesarean. And her cesarean was no less beautiful than any of those natural births. She was so proud of how she and her husband made a tough decision that was in the best interest of their baby, and she had every right to feel that way. Ultimately we both agreed it’s time to let go of unfair expectations and be happy when we make decisions that we believe are right for us and our families.
This is what I’m working toward: living beyond comparison. Our financial demographic basically makes us Yuppies. But many of our lifestyle choices make us hippies. And our extreme aversion to the mainstream makes us hipsters. We’re yupsters. There are internet memes about people like us. True story. We sold our beautiful luxury townhouse in the suburbs, with the intention of moving to a farm in a small town, because we thought that would get us closer to people like us. But after realizing small-town politics would be no better than the flashiness of the big-city, we opted out of that choice. We’re working towards where we want to be, but we haven’t found it yet. And in the meantime, our friends’ lives have gone on: they’re playing sports, going to work, updating their homes, meeting for girls’ nights, trying Blue Apron…and we’re here, using our parents’ washers and dryers and trying to remember that Thursdays are for spelling tests. And that’s okay. This is us. For now, this is our season. It’s not built on routine or organization, it’s built on survival. And truthfully, we are doing a damn good job of that.
So that #homeschoolfail? It’s refusing to be graceful with myself when things don’t go as planned. It’s insisting that the only way we can be successful is when there are beautiful art projects and fun field trips and well-executed lesson plans. It’s believing that my value as a mom and a teacher comes from how picture-perfect our life is. Our life isn’t perfect. And that’s okay. We will have a new house soon. We’ll have friends close by and restaurants that we love and parks that have “our spots,” and it will be glorious. And if we don’t, that will be okay too. So from now on, I promise to post things even in moments of imperfection, because that’s real, and God knows we need more of that. I know I do.