For 13 years I had one consistent role and I performed it well. It's been my primary area of expertise and with it I have molded social groups and inspired movers, shakers, and decision makers. I've given sustenance to the thirsty, hungry, sick, needy and taught the illiterate to read and write. I've served as professor emeritus in the fields of Comparative Religion, English, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Ethics, Political Science, Economics, Architecture and others. Without me, there are small civilizations that wouldn't have thrived. Ok, one very small civilization. Comprised of two people, a king, and a queen. The king has spent these years ruling other civilizations by day. The queen has stayed at home, ruling the one of which I write. And the civilization has thrived in every way the queen hoped in health, wealth, and wisdom.
Until she quit her day job and became a businesswoman.
The civilization, as you have surmised, is my family. The queen is me. The king, my husband. While it's a woman's liberated "civilization," it's fairly traditional. My husband has been the bread-winner. I've stayed home with the kids. Both of us happily so. I love creating teaching opportunities with my children, doing art projects, gardening, cooking, playing games, reading. I've been that mother at the kitchen counter with her kids on chairs next to her, hulling strawberries for jam to can for Christmas gifts. I've spent hours singing them folks songs, their fingers taking rides on mine as we crawl up and down the piano keys. It's been what you might call, "an enviable life" in the house of my motherhood. I've been deeply grateful for the choice to be at home with my children and it's fed me like nothing else.
I'm also a writer. I've been writing since college, and so I entered motherhood knowing my craft, working during their naps, freelancing to help with family costs, and indulging my greatest personal passion: novel writing. I've written many novels over the years -- not all good ones; many of them exercises in learning. So while my kids learned to walk, talk, eat, cut paper, use glue... I grew as a writer. All-the-while, I had a dream: to get a book published. To have readers. To speak at bookstores and in libraries across America. To write something that would help people in the same spirit of my motherhood. Only this dream was about my journey, not theirs.
I believed this was a healthy thing to teach my children, when they were old enough to wonder what I was doing in my office. "Mommies and daddies have lives of their own and that's a good thing." I'd put my hand on their chests and say, "I'm always here in your heart. No matter what." And put their hands on mine and say, "And you are always in my heart." Their knowing nods told me they understood.
Still, after a publishing rejection, I'd say, bittersweet, "Thank God I'm not published yet. How could I justify leaving my kids when they're so young?" But deep down I was conflicted. I wanted that dream to come true with all of that heart that lived in them and lived in me. It was an inner war I fought every day.
And then in 2009, I got a book deal and everything changed. I had to rethink my motherhood. Suddenly deadlines had me seat-belted to my office chair for long hours, breaking only for meals. Homemade sauces percolating on the stove were forgotten for, yes, Stouffer's frozen lasagna. A who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-mother was in order, and I got it in eyeball rolls, dramatic exits, and out-of-the-blue crying fits. But the truth is that dream or no dream, a change in my husband's career meant that we desperately needed the money. And this was what presented itself in the way of livelihood. I had his total support and my children's blessing, so they said.
But then the travel began and I became a second-class citizen in my own home. I'd return, haggard after 12, cross-country, back-to-back events in 10 days, and the kids would ignore me. Suddenly it was "Dad, I need you to sign this for school," and "Dad, where are my cleats?"
I liked that he was such a presence in their daily lives. I didn't like that I wasn't.
So I hired a therapist. "You need to tell them this is what career success looks like for now. Things are different. They're still safe. You still love them. Children are manipulators. You've done nothing wrong." But it didn't feel that way. I felt that I had done something very wrong. And maybe it was because of the mother I'd been all those years.
Would they have been better off in day care? More well-adjusted, flexible, less reliant on a mother who eagerly pushed them on the swing of life; answered every why-is-the-sky-blue question. Maybe Legos don't count as Architecture, and lemonade stands don't speak much for Economics, nor Chutes and Ladders for Physics, nor bedtime discussions about God for World Religion, nor patching up playground-politics-gone-amuck in the way of Ethics. Maybe those efforts feel like a slap in the face when the creator of them is out the door again with her roller bag and a plane to catch.
In all my career dreams, I never imagined I'd lose my power in this little civilization. Or that I'd fail it. And no matter how many hugs I give, or muffins I make, or soccer games I drive eight hours in both directions to support... I can't seem to redeem myself. Maybe it's because they've had to swallow a sudden bitter pill: their mother is a human being with dreams and needs and talent. Didn't they know this? Did I sell them a myth in Band-aids and bedtime stories? Did I omit the fact that dreams-come-true sometimes take you far from home? Why must I be the first to break their hearts?