Like so many young girls, I spent much of my childhood playing with my Barbie. While my friends' Barbies were making wedding plans with Ken or decorating their Barbie homes, my Barbie was studying to be a lawyer. Though she was happy dating Ken, she was in no rush to marry him. She never sat in the passenger's seat of her convertible. She drove.
My Barbie had no designs on being like my mother or the mothers of my friends. She was going to be like the women I was seeing on TV. It was the 70's and things were changing. Women on TV were police officers, doctors, reporters. They weren't all at home raising kids and cleaning house.
As I grew up, I never forgot my Barbie and her big plans -- what I thought would be my big plans. So, I never got to law school. I did get a business degree. I did do the driving, even if it never was behind the wheel of a convertible. Life wasn't exactly working out the way Barbie and I had planned, but at least I wasn't a stay-at-home mom. I was an independent woman with a career, making my way in the world on my own terms.
Eventually, my friends started getting married and having families. They all seemed tired, but happy. Some went back to work; others stayed home with their kids. I started to wonder if my Barbie and I had missed something. Then one day, I met a man. We got married and started a family. We were tired, but happy. I planned to stay home with the boys until they started school. Then, I would get back to my life. I hadn't forgotten the big plans I had made with my Barbie all those years ago.
But, even the best laid plans can go awry. My boys were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. There would be therapies and doctor appointments and wrangling with schools. My husband had just started his own business and was teaching at a university. Neither of us wanted to leave our sons in someone else's care. We decided I wouldn't go back to work. I was now a stay-at-home mom. All the time. For real.
I knew what I was doing was important for my boys, my family. Still, there were days when that decision frustrated me, made me feel like I was missing out on something. Sometimes, I wondered what my Barbie would think of me now.
Would my Barbie be disappointed that I never went to law school, never became a lawyer? Would she shake her head at me for becoming just like my mom, staying at home with the kids and cleaning the house? Would she remind me that I wasn't living life on my own terms? Would she scold me for forgetting the little girl with the big dreams of running for Congress, being in charge of my own business, making a mark for women everywhere?
I felt like I had failed. I would be angry at myself, resentful of my children, truly furious with my husband. This was NOT what Barbie and I had planned.
A lot has changed since my early days as a stay-at-home mom. Yes, it is 11 years later and I'm still working at this gig. The difference is that I finally understand what my Barbie and I were learning so long ago. The important thing in my life wasn't just about the choice I made. It was, also, about being able to make a choice.
I had chosen to stay at home with my children. I could have gone back to work. Not working was the right choice for me and my family. Doing so taught me to have greater respect for my mother. It taught me to have greater respect for all mothers, however they exercised their choices.
Sure, I never ran for Congress, but a brief, miserable stint on the local school committee made me realize I'm not cut out for politics. I don't run my own business, but I'm in charge of the household on my own terms, like choosing to spend time with my kids over dusting the furniture. While I haven't made a mark for women everywhere, I did start a blog with my friend. It focuses on letting other moms know that it is okay not to be perfect. Sometimes, moms will send us comments letting us know how much they needed to hear that.
I think if my Barbie saw me today, she would be proud of me. I may not have followed our plan exactly, but I didn't forget the important parts.