I feel like such an adult. I’m sitting in the airport, waiting for my plane to board. I’m alone. I have a mostly empty purse and a sandwich that I will not have to share with anyone. I’m in a bubble of silence, comfortably surrounded by strangers.
I don’t miss my kids.
When women take time off from work to be at home, many never go back. I’m sure there are many factors in this decision, but I suspect that because having children deeply and profoundly changes you, some woman can’t imagine themselves doing what they did before. It’s like asking them to put on an old pair of acid-wash jeans. They just don’t fit anymore.
I’m at the airport testing this assumption, trying on my jeans again. Before kids I was a teacher. Now I’m seeing whether that can be true again. I’m on my way to a curriculum writing conference, and I’m nervous. How can I write what a teacher should do if I don’t remember what a classroom feels like?
When someone asks “What do you do?” I never really know what to say. “I’m a mom,” or “I stay at home,” doesn’t quite capture it. “I used to teach high school, but now I’m in early childhood education,” I sometimes quip. The truth is, it would be much easier to answer this question if it had been asked in Spanish.
When my children were very little, we lived in Mexico. When you want to ask in Spanish what someone does for a living, you ask, “A que te dedicas?” which literally translates to, “To what do you dedicate yourself?”
At that time, the question was easy to answer. It felt like every minute of every day and every night was dedicated to my babies and toddlers. I nursed the baby during the night and played with my toddler during the day. I showed the baby how to smile during the day and helped the toddler navigate her emotions during the long stretch of afternoon. My whole physical, emotional, and intellectual life was aimed squarely at their development.
Some people find this all-consuming job unsettling. I liked it—it was my marathon, my residency, my Everest. Not that I didn’t get tired and cranky and worn out and all of those normal emotions, but I knew I had a deadline—they wouldn’t be this little and this needy forever. And I had a clear focus and purpose—introduce these little people to the world we live in. Be kind. Try to keep everyone alive.
But as my kids get older and I get older, it gets more complicated.
Raising my children doesn’t consume me like it used to. There is mental and emotional space, and as my children have independent thoughts and ideas, so do I. My job has become a little more unclear and I’m beginning to see, in fact, that it’s not a job at all.
When we think of motherhood as a job, as something we “do,” we begin to limit it. We focus on the outcome instead of the process. I’m not “doing” things all the time or “creating” children, like I used to craft lesson plans or hand in final grades. As a Power of Moms author recently wrote in an essay called “The End is Imperfection,” we guide, coach, and love, but we don’t make children.
I’m dedicating myself to creating a family, of which I am a part. Sometimes that means I sit on the floor with a toddler. Sometimes that means my husband and I go out to dinner. Sometimes that means I get on a plane and figure out if I’m going back to the classroom. Asking myself a que te dedicas helps me to see that larger picture and helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of motherhood. Being a mom of a newborn is totally different than mothering a grade-schooler. While my role changes, my dedication does not.
So I ask, to what do I dedicate myself? Do I want to dedicate myself to reading this book? To making this look “perfect” instead of “good enough”? To finding the ultimate sale? To learning how to make curtains? To spending time with this person? Sometimes the answer is an enthusiastic yes, and sometimes it’s a resounding no. This question helps me clarify my priorities and weed out the unimportant, trivial things that can sometimes grow thick in my life.
What is considered a triviality and distraction is different for everyone, I’m sure. For me, I don’t want to dedicate any more time to stressing over whether my living room is color-coordinated. I don’t want to dedicate any more time to shopping for the best deal on clothes. I want to dedicate my time to activities that leave me inspired and to people who I can help. I want to dedicate my time to creating a larger community and an inner sense of accomplishment.
Also, asking a que te dedicas also helps me remember the deeper purpose of why I do what I do. I’m not breaking up fights, I’m dedicating myself to teaching my children to live peacefully. I’m not singing bedtime songs, I’m dedicating myself to creating harmony in our home (although, if you heard me singing you would not call it harmony).
I know that being a mom isn’t all fulfilling work. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and discipline the kids. Nobody likes that. But again, I can step back and say I’m not cooking dinner; I’m dedicating myself to my family’s health. I’m not exercising; I’m dedicating myself to taking care of my body. Even, I’m not changing a diaper; I’m dedicating myself to showing my baby that his body is something that should be treated gently.
Did I take this too far? I don’t think so. I think the mundane, day-to-day things can become transcendent when we dedicate ourselves to finding their deeper meaning—their true purpose.
What will I do tomorrow? I’m not sure. If I ultimately go back to teaching or move on to something else, I do know I will dedicate myself to living the life I have now.