Thirteen years ago when I had my first child, I had every good intention of going back to work after maternity leave. And I did go back. But I was pregnant AGAIN. How embarrassing to have to explain to the second graders I taught that the baby came out of my belly, and this is a NEW baby.
Seemed like a good time to quietly exit stage left.
Staying home and not teaching anymore was a huge change for me. Being a mom was way harder than being a teacher. I could get 24 kids to walk silently in a straight line, but I couldn’t get a baby to sleep for longer than 2 hour intervals. Gone were the days of getting dressed in real clothes and having adult conversations. In the beginning, I missed all that. But over time, I got swept away in the comfortable monotony of diaper changes, laundry, and Barney.
Having two kids under one year old was no joke. They say the days are long, but the years are short. But when you’re living each of those days, that is the last thing you want to hear. You swear you will cut the next person who tells you to “cherish these moments” or that you “sure have your hands full.”
Eat shit and die, asshole. (That’s what my inner voice said.) On the outside, I smiled through gritted teeth and said, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart.” (Insert vomit emoji.)
This was likely when my Window Dressing Life began to evolve. Put on the show, don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable with your real feelings, and make it all look easy. Be the SuperMom. Be the Pinterest mom. Smile. Be the mom who other women admire and be the wife that makes her adoring husband say, “I don’t know how she does it all.” Smile. Make your life look like the display window of a store. It looks pretty. Everything fits perfectly. It’s all put together nicely. But the reality is that everything in there isn’t as real as people think. Smile.
What they don’t tell you when you become a mom and give up your career is that you go through an identity crisis. Never mind that this shift all happens when your hormones are a dumpster fire and you’re trying to keep a human alive. The beginning of motherhood can be such a dark and lonely place for so many. If you have friends without kids, they don’t get it. If you have friends with kids and babies, they’re too busy treading water with a brick over their heads too.
So, what happens? You start making friends with women in similar situations. Women with kids and babies the same age as yours. Women that also can’t get their baby to sleep. Women that haven’t showered in days. Women that don’t have a nanny. Women that will sit with you and commiserate. Some of these friendships last and others peter out as the kids get older. I’ve been lucky enough to have many of these incredibly supportive relationships. Some have evolved as our children’s interests changed, some started slowly but grew into deeper connections over time, some just fizzled out, and then there are the ones that imploded.
Turns out, that adult female relationships are WAY harder than teenage female relationships. I don’t know about you, but I did not see this one coming, people. I wrongfully assumed that my high school days were far behind me–dead and buried alongside my school uniforms and Trapper Keeper. If I had gone back to work after all three of my kids were born, as I had originally planned, I suppose I might have missed out on this lesson. Or perhaps it would have just delayed it. Guess I’ll never know. But because I spent twelve years at home being “just a mom,” I found myself involved in a world that I always looked at from afar. A world that didn’t necessarily fit me but looked lovely on paper. And I did a pretty great job of playing the part if I do say so myself.
Let’s be honest. It’s really not too difficult to live a comfortable life. But that life also has a slippery slope. When is too much? What happens when the Joneses can’t keep up with the Joneses anymore? What happens if faking it until you make it is no longer an option?
Here’s a sentence you probably don’t hear every day: Thanks to my divorce, I was given the gift of clarity and perspective. Now, when you read that, you probably assume I’m talking solely about my romantic life. Nope. I’m talking about clarity across the board. Clarity and perspective in my day-to-day situationships. (For another time is how divorce throws grenades into every aspect of your life and every relationship that you have. I don’t have the stamina or enough tequila for that conversation right now.) But what I will say is that I learned firsthand that divorce makes many people uncomfortable and makes them behave very differently towards you. You start to see people’s true colors.
See, when I was younger, I was more of a wallflower than a cheerleader. I bounced around from group to group and had friends from all over. I perfected the art of blending in and adapting to whatever group I was with at the moment. I never felt like I truly fit in. Turns out history does repeat itself. Because this is exactly what I’ve continued to do as an adult…..until recently. This is where that clarity and perspective come in.
We all react differently when confronted with a high-stress situation. I learned that my default mode is to quietly internalize everything. Mull it over until my brain might explode. And then make some fucking changes.
I’ve often talked to my kids about the “Icky Effect.” As I explain it to them, if somebody or something makes you feel icky, walk away. It’s no good for you if it makes you feel bad. I encourage them to seek out the friendships that make them feel good and that they deserve. Never settle. Clarity and perspective forced me to start drinking my own medicine.
I started doing things that I want to do. Things that I enjoyed instead of what I thought was socially expected of me. I did these things with people I wanted to do them with. People that make me laugh, lift me up, and never make me feel icky. People I can trust. I connected with old friends who reminded me of who I used to be. I went back to work. I rediscovered my teacher identity. I found my spirit animals with the amazing women I get to work with. I made changes.
I once read that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Turns out, a change definitely did me good.