Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking Stock

For the last several months, I've been thinking long and hard about my life. What is it about having a kid that makes me feel like I'm living in my parents' house? There's something about the routine (even though our routine is pretty minimal and very laid back) that makes me want to escape.

Most nights last semester I spent working at coffee shops. In large part, this was because I HAD to in order to get done all the reading and grading and other work that I needed to do. But I was secretly (or maybe not so secretly) glad to have the excuse to get out of the house and be out in the world.

There was a time when the stability of my life would have seemed really attractive to me. I remember being in college and often feeling adrift. When I met my partner, I had a feeling of finally coming home, of finding my soulmate, and of making the connection I'd been yearning to make. Later, in my twenties, I was glad to be out of the dating scene. My single, female friends were focused on meeting Mr. or Ms. Right, and it seemed that they had to meet a lot of Mr. or Ms. Wrongs before they finally found Mr. or Ms. Acceptable. Because I spent most of that decade in graduate school, my twenties were a mix of an intellectual and intense working life, with a lot of the perks of a slacker life: in other words, lots of unstructured time, hip community, long discussions about anything and everything, clubbing, trips to the laundromat and supermarket as social time with friends, etc. I loved this, but I also had this sense of my life being on hold. I watched my friends having babies and wondered when I'd get to the point in my life when I could have one, too. So, when I turned thirty, I felt like I was on my way to what I perceived as "real life." I also knew lots of fabulous women in their 40s and 50s who were leading interesting, creative lives, so I didn't feel like it was the end of my youth to turn 30. If anything, it felt like the beginning of my life. I welcomed the occasional gray hairs, and I looked forward to growing older.

Then we moved to the Midwest, and I didn't have the community I had found in grad school. We were also in a city with a very different flavor - where Grad School Town had had a vibrant youth culture and alternative community that embraced a range of age groups, the culture I experienced now was largely a family- and church-based community. When I sat with my books and my coffee in what was then the only cafe in town, I saw very few other people around my age. (And most people looked frighteningly clean-cut - in a cultish way - but that's for another post.)

I had my son when I was 33. A few years later, I finally looked up from my life, which for those last couple of years had been focused entirely on work and family, and noticed that the world had been going on without me. I realized with a shock that it had been years since I'd gone out dancing or even for a drink at a real bar (not a restaurant). My clothes suddenly seemed frumpy and out of date. In short: I felt old.

I know that everyone goes through this at one point or another. For me, it might be exacerbated by the fact that I'm STILL a measly adjunct with no real job prospects - and that clearly, I'm never going to be a famous musician. It's also not helped by the reality that, in this part of the country, people act old at a young age.

So what's happened is that I have few friends my age or older (though the circle is growing, somewhat) who like or are able to do the grad student stuff - the communal grocery shopping, the clubbing, the deciding on a whim to take the afternoon off and shoot pool or catch a flick. When I want to do these things, I go mostly with friends in their twenties, or I go alone (I seldom get to go with my partner, who is either working or staying home with Bean so that I can go out). I wonder if they see my life as stable, and if so, if they desire that stability, just as I desire their freedom and yes, their youth.

What is it about their youth that I envy? Part of it, of course, is the physical aspect - I don't like looking older or the way my body has changed over time and through weight gain, pregnancy, childbirth, and weight loss. But part of it is the sense of having so many options and opportunities, feeling like life is stretching out before you and that anything is possible. By most standards, I'm not old, and I know that it's silly to be feeling this way now, but I'm very aware of feeling a certain urgency, a sense that I must act now if I want to do crazy things, before the doors close forever.

And sometimes, when I'm home making sure teeth are brushed instead of arguing feminist theory at a crowded party, it feels like they have closed already. But more often, these days, I'm noticing that they are, at least, unlocked.

I wrote these reflections almost a year ago. What's striking to me now is that I no longer feel anxious about quite the same things. I feel more settled into a comfortable space, and the doors I see around me are mostly partially open. But there is new anxiety - the anxiety that I'll never be able to live near my family of origin, and that the career I've been working toward all these years is yet another dream that won't be realized. The two anxieties are, of course, connected.

1 comment:

SallySunshine said...

I hear you loud and clear sista! It does seem like life is passing by so quickly and some doors do close forever. But, as you said, some are partially open too. Let's get together and do some communal grocery store shopping soon! I hate the grocery store and would welcome the distraction. ~Ms. Sally Sunshine