Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Flip Side

Olivia started going to preschool just a little less than two months ago, but it has already had a major impact on my life. Not all bad, not all good--like most things in life, I guess. The good was so easy to see right away and that's what I wanted to focus on and tell people about, so that's what I wrote about. And I had my doubts and worries about what all this extra alone time might do for me, but I chose not to worry about it and see how things went. Well, it's been almost two months and I've gained some perspective.

There are so many of my own emotions and thoughts that get rolled up into what it means to have Olivia in preschool for several hours a day, four days a week, but I want to start by saying this: we made the right choice. Real preschool is absolutely what Olivia needs. Not all kids, but Olivia? Definitely. She thrives on the social interaction and the time away from Mommy. She's so talkative and outgoing around me and so shy around others. I know that a jump start on figuring all that out for herself is nothing but good for this girl. Oh, and, by the way, it's really fun to go to preschool.

With all of that in mind, I can honestly say that I haven't once regretted starting Olivia as soon as we did. But that doesn't mean that this decision ended in all rainbows and butterflies. Maybe for Olivia, yes, but for me it's been hard. And I know it should be hard because I miss my daughter, but that's not why it's hard. In all truth, I had been craving some small break from mommyhood and preschool delivered. As a mother and a human being in general, having a little bit of time apart each day has given me the time I need to de-stress, be more purposeful about my time with Olivia, and enjoy her more. There are moms out there who can home school and, well, I am not one of those moms. I don't mind admitting that I have limits and that I enjoy a few hours away from my daughter each day.

But what to do with all that time? Hmm.

At first I couldn't wait for my ME time. I worked like crazy on my book. I cleaned our house. I fully enjoyed the relief of having personal time alone to think and work and feel productive. But, like all great things, the novelty of it wore off after a while and then I found myself face-to-face with this question: What am I going to do for the rest of my life?

This is a question I have thought about a lot over the past two months. It's something we all think about, yes, but I think it hits home more when combined with the prospect of being done having little ones at home all day every day. Which is not to say that we will never have more kids, but lately I have been having some heart-to-hearts with the Big Guy and doing a lot of soul-checking and, guys, I've learned things about myself I never knew before. There are pieces of me I didn't know existed. There is, perhaps, a life ahead of me that I had never dreamed of before.

I grew up in a big family and Bryan comes from a big family and--for lack of another dream--I had always day dreamed about my life as being one with a nice big house and lots of kids to fill it. And, of course, I didn't plan much extra stuff for myself because I had planned on all those kids filling up, not only the house, but my life too. But... what if we don't have more kids? What am I going to fill my life with?

Being a mom to Olivia and a wife to Bryan is, yes, a full life, but it doesn't require the same kind of time and resources as being a mom to even two kids, let alone five or six. Unlike most of my friends, I have real free time. I have time I don't know what to do with. I get bored, not because I'm unhappy with my life, but because sometimes I've run out of things I want to do. What to do with my free time is a question and a problem that I don't think very many of my peers can truly relate to. And I don't mean that in an "I'm so cool and my life is so glamorous" kind of way. In truth, it's not glamorous at all--it's lonely.

Over the past couple of months I've found myself feeling like I can really relate to my friends less and less. They talk and think about pregnancies and nap times and baby stuff and big family stuff. They live and breathe this stuff. That is their life. But that is not my life right now.

Right now I have a kid who's doing math at a first grade level and is gone for a really big chunk of her day. I have a husband who's at school and then when he comes home he studies really hard so he can go back to school again the next day and keep on doing his best. I'm proud of both Bryan and Olivia and I know that they are doing exactly what they should be doing right now. And I am happy to stay home and support them and be there for them at the drop of a hat. My world revolves around them and that's exactly the way it should be. But when there's no one here to revolve around, life gets lonely.

I listen to music way more than I used to just to keep the house from feeling silent. I call my sister-in-law in Germany and talk to her on the phone for a long time, partly because she is one of my favorite people in the whole world, and partly because she is the only one who's awake and available to chat when I'm at home alone. I check the basement and upstairs rooms when I come in so I won't have to worry that every little creak is a robber hiding somewhere in my house. Because, in that sense, I am alone. There's nobody home but me. (Of course, I've gotten into somewhat of a groove and I now know that it really is the neighbors going down their stairs and not a robber on my stairs. Also, everything we own is from the thrift store or Ikea, so there's really nothing here worth stealing.)

At first, while I was doing some soul-searching and trying to figure myself out and come to terms with some things, I wondered if this lingering loneliness would all disappear if I suddenly found out I was pregnant and we'd be having a bajillion more kids. And, as I've thought about it, I've come to recognize that I'd hit this point in my life eventually, whether it be now or when our ninth kid started preschool and I was the only one at home all day again. (Though I'd probably have a lot more laundry and dishes to keep me company if that were the case.) So I've been working on accepting the fact that this is really how my life could be from here on out--Olivia at school and Bryan at school or work for a large part of the day--and I've been thinking about what that means for me.

First and foremost, it has made me more grateful than ever before that I have some good, solid work to do. Also, it's made me realize that, if our family stays small like it is now, I don't want a big house. I want a rad master suite, a nice room for Olivia, a studio for me and Bryan to share, and the regular kitchen, bathroom, living room stuff, and that's it. I've also been thinking ahead a little about what kind of work I might want to focus on once I finish (and, ya know, hopefully publish) my book. In many ways, I feel like the world and all its possibilities are open to me, but there are only so many things a person can do and I've been thinking about what I want those things to be for me. It's kind of exciting. And liberating.

So, yes, having Olivia start preschool has been really good for her, and both good and hard for me. There are times lately when I feel like I'm some version of my future-self looking down on my current-self and the change in my life is so visible and tangible. And then there are times when I can feel my current-self looking up at that future-self wondering where this turning point in my life is going to take me, where I'm going to take myself.

My life lately has been so different from what it was before. I used to spend my days with Olivia, going on walks and outings with friends, being immersed in this constant flow of other people. Now I spend a great majority of the day on my own and I often go several days without feeling like I've really had quality time with anyone other than Bryan or Olivia. I miss that time with others. I miss knowing about the little things going on in their lives and swapping stories and joking around.

Most days I'm content to occupy myself with working on my book and cleaning the house and doing another load of laundry, but there are also days that are just plain hard. But then, change is always hard. And it isn't usually until after we've begun to see the results that we can truly appreciate the complete overhaul that change so often has on our lives.

So I'm doing my best to take it a day at a time. I work on my book when I'm excited about it. I take a nap when I'm tired. I ignore the dirty bathrooms when I need to. And I try, each day, to remember to focus on the things that make me feel truly fulfilled.

I want to say, before I end, that it's okay if Olivia is our only child. I know I've written before about being really upset about that, but I'm not anymore. Truly. I don't want you to misunderstand the loneliness I've talked about here--the situation of actually being on my own each day--and mistake it for despair that we might never have more children. It's true, we might never have more children, but I don't despair about that, not anymore.

If, someday, we are blessed with more children, I will welcome them with all my heart and happily lay aside my personal plans and goals. But I have walked the road of not wanting to do anything until what I'm waiting for happens, and I can tell you first-hand that that road is the one that is full of despair and the kind of loneliness that brings bitterness and fear.

For me, it's not a question of losing hope. Of course I still hope for more children someday. But it is not the only thing in my life that can bring me joy. I am not waiting on something that I ultimately have no control over before I start enjoying my life. That is not what my Heavenly Father wants from me and I know it. Instead, I carry that hope with me in my pocket and I am learning to put my hands to work elsewhere. I no longer feel the need to be pitied for not being pregnant and having more kids because I no longer carry that self-pity around with me. My life--just as it is right now--is a truly happy one and one that I would be happy to keep on living throughout all my years. So I hope you won't tell me how sorry you are that I'm not pregnant. I hope you won't tell me that you're sure I will be soon. Because I'm not sorry about that and I'm not sure it will happen. And that's okay.

It was never my plan to be who and where I am in my life right now, but it's exactly what I need. He is the Gardener here, not me. And I am so much the better for it. Life for me right now is full of change and so often it's very personally hard, but every day I'm grateful that He loves me enough to cut me down. That He knows I can handle this. That He sees in me that future-self. Slowly, day by day, as the old me is worn down and stripped away, I'm beginning to become and see that future-self too.

Everything in life is full of both the good and the hard. But just because something is hard doesn't mean it's bad. Don't be afraid of the flip side.


Sarah said...

This post is amazing, Katie. Thank you for your faith.

Kathy Haynie said...

Reading this made me reflect on the changes when you (my youngest) started preschool. That's when I started college. My life forever changed. Love you!

alee said...

First, well written :)

Second, it is funny- because I know I am totally not where you are- but I definitely identify with a lot of your thoughts and feelings. What do I do when I have 2 hours during nap time and all the chores are done? And when Leo is sleeping well I pretty much have all my nights free after 7 too...that can be a lot of time just hanging around. And it makes me feel like I am capable of so much more...maybe when we have a bunch of kids that are being shuttled from place to place and such I won't, but right now I totally feel like I can handle more on my plate. But what? All of that soul searching in college kinda seems outdated and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to do with life.

I'm so glad you posted this- I've thought about writing about this subject for my thesis (someday)...you know, changing women's roles throughout history and such. I've talked to a few friends here that have shared similar feelings so I am glad to know there may actually be content for my research someday! Good luck finding worthwhile things to occupy your time :)

Lisa Lou said...

I feel like this is what I was trying to figure out about four years ago. That's when I decided to get a master's degree. I needed... something. I needed to feel... something. And for me, the me of four years ago, that's what I needed. Now? My needs have changed. Now (well, soon) I need to figure out my new roles and goals.

Marian-Lady Face said...

I so appreciated reading this. My husband is in school again and life has been full of changes and personal struggles like you talked about for me. We have two kids and lately I've been trying to come to terms with the whole wanting more kids but learning to be ok if we don't or aren't able to have more kids. This totally resonated with me and really was what I've been needing to hear and be reminded of. I wonder about the future self watching my current self just like you did. Thank you for being so honest and sharing so deeply.

Sarah Steele said...

You have such an amazing way of putting things. I actually find myself thinking about a lot of this as well and so appreciate gleaning from your insights and perspective.

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Nice post, Katie. We're in totally different places as far as being busy with kids goes...but it has been nice this year discovering a little more time to pursue my own interests since it's quieter at home during the day than it used to be and I have more of my evenings free.

I've been reflecting quite a bit on friendships lately. Up until about a year an a half before we moved here I always had a REALLY close friend who lived really nearby to hang out with. I've got a lot of good friends here...don't get me wrong. Our friendship and support network is bigger here than any other time during my marriage, but I miss a couple particular friends that I just meshed well with in just about every way...our kids were the same age, husbands in similar situations, enjoyed the same things. It's lonely sometimes. I think I never realized how lucky I was to have them around for so long. And I think it stretches me a little more to have to find more of my companionship with women who are not as similar to me, but still wonderful. And when I'm feeling lonely, I try to think of something nice to do for someone else. It keeps me busy, helps someone else know they're thought of, and makes me feel less lonely.

Your post also reminds me of the time around when we were trying to get pregnant and then adopt. I was tired of teaching in part because what I really wanted was to stay home with a child. When I finally came to terms with teaching indefinitely and was in a teaching position I really enjoyed with awesome colleages where I thought I could be happy for a long time...we found out we were getting our Katie. Not that I'm saying you're going to get pregnant right away. I guess just that it's important being happy in the present which it sounds like you are.