Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's Next

It's the summer before my eldest begins high school.  A number of her friends are youngest siblings, and conversations at summer parties have turned on how soon these kids will be out of the house.  A good many of the mothers I converse with have entirely devoted the past decade and a half to their children's lives.  "So what's next for you?" I've asked a few. 

It's a bit uncomfortable, at least for them.  Because I've been a Working Mother (at a certain local elementary school, a few of my ilk have felt they bore scarlet W badges, given that PTA meetings take place at 10 a.m. on weekdays) for much of my own kids' childhoods, I frankly have a little bit of trouble understanding how they haven't lost their minds completely. It's not that I don't appreciate them. For so many things, I rely upon the moms who have done this.  They ferried my kids to and fro from various after-school activities, and I might not have any actual printed photos of my children over the past five years save for their thoughtful gestures. 

I like to get things done and to think about what I want to do next.  Yes, what I want to do next.  This sets me apart.  One friend was talking about her house recently and how a major upgrade turned out to be, as these things do, more expensive than she expected.  "But we're going to spend the next 35 years in this house," she said, "this is where our kids and theirs can come home to." She loves her life. But it scared the hell out of me to think she knew exactly where the rest of her life would be spent. 

Many would argue that this mother is of a superior caste to that which I occupy. After a trip to DC and then to NYC over a period of six days, I got to thinking that maybe I should consider the wider world once my chicks have left the nest, and I mentioned this on the weekly phone call to my parents. "Well, that will depend on where the kids end up," she said.  That's what airplanes are for, I responded.  She said that maybe the mistake she and my father made was trying to do this for me.  A fair point, since putting down real roots sounds like giving up what else might be out there.  

My kids tell me they like that I'm independent and try new things, that I jump on airplanes and go places and meet people and do stuff.  They know I'm here for them until they head off on their own paths, but they've had enough upheaval in their lives that they really don't sentimentalize: they know things will always change. Someday they may take me to task for my independence, but all of the big choices--where I live, how I choose not to marry again until they leave me, where they go to school--are about them.  Once they've crossed the stage to matriculate and know which college they'll attend, all bets are off on my whereabouts, though not my financial or moral support, the latter of which will continue until the day I die. In return, their love for me will not depend upon me sitting at home waiting for them.  They would rather hear of my latest adventure.

I wonder, when I hear these mothers say that they want their kids to have a familiar home to come back to, if they are doing for their kids or for themselves.  It's a convenient reason to avoid getting back into the world and finding out what they are made of.  Most of them don't have to for financial reasons, but to me this means they can do whatever they want, which maybe would be scary to me as well: often challenges are gifts. They've established identities revolving around being mothers and wives, and I suppose husbands don't always react well to change, either. But knowing most of their husbands, I don't imagine that starting a freelance business or getting a part-time job would send the guys into a tailspin. Most of them just want their wives to be happy. Making a little money would be okay, too.

Doing things that scare me (not the reckless stuff, the I've always wondered if I can go there stuff) I've learned during the past decade, thrills me. Quite likely that's why I have the life I do.  Heaven knows I don't want to be sure about where I'll be living for the rest of my life. There's a big wide world out there, and I for one am excited about what's next, tomorrow and beyond.

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