Having girlfriends with all kinds of professional backgrounds makes for incredibly enjoyable and often hysterical ladies' nights out. I revel in the stories of craziness and drama in their lives as teachers, CPAs, bankers, doctors, and business leaders. There's nothing funnier than stories of a first-grader who innocently recounts his secret observation of mommy and daddy playing piggy back in bed during morning share time with the class — unless it's stories of little pediatric patients who are so terrified of shots that they actually run, half-naked, out of the building and have to be chased by nurses. Truly, my working friends have the greatest stories! And, I really do enjoy celebrating their professional successes, promotions, and latest accomplishments. They work extraordinarily hard, and they make sacrifices that are often heart-wrenching, ones that I'm not sure I would have the chutzpah to make. Admittedly, there are times I feel great relief that I made the decision to give up my full-time career to work part-time from home.
But, sometimes, especially in the midst of my kids needing less and less of me, I find myself beginning to envy the chaos and exhaustion that my full-time working girlfriends face each day. I begin to question if it's time to do more with my life, to begin the next chapter. Of course, each time I give this idea too much pause, I end up with a sick child who needs me home for three consecutive days and a husband who is 3,000 miles away on a business trip. Life is temporarily too busy to consider what's next. Then, without notice, I have a slow day "at work," when the deadlines aren't too tight and the needs from my bosses aren't too demanding. Those times generally coincide with yet another well-meaning, school-committee mom asking, "Oh, you work? I had no idea! I always see your car in the driveway." And, it's those days, the ones when there's too much "reflecting" time, that I begin to ask, "What's next for me? How much longer can I justify working not only part-time...but part time from home."
And, the more I talk to other moms...moms like me in their 40s, with kids who are gone all day long, the more I realize that I'm not the only one pondering these questions.
You see, I once was a teacher. Years ago, I was lucky enough to be an elementary-school teacher in a time when teaching was creative and fun and enjoyable. It was hard work, of course, but it was also tremendously rewarding, and it gave me a purpose in life. When people asked what I did for a living, I had a simple and straightforward answer: I'm a teacher. My days were filled with lesson planning, paper grading, classroom management, and parent conferences. I never once, in all those years, struggled with who I was or was supposed to be. For me, being a teacher carried with it a solid identity, a recognizable and generally honorable role in life. When I filled out those forms at my dentist's or doctor's office, and I came to the line requesting my occupation, "teacher" fit so nicely. No one raised an eyebrow or asked for further explanation. There was comfort in an identity that was so easily recognizable and universally accepted.
Time passed and I had three beautiful baby girls in the span of four years. I continued working at the same elementary school on a part-time basis. My new-and-improved identity became part-time teacher AND mother of three small children. There was SO much purpose to my life that it nearly did me in. There was never a dull moment. Ever. And there was certainly no time to question, "Should I be doing more with my life? Is this everything that I am meant to be?" Good Lord, I had all the purpose and identity I could handle. Even though I rarely slept more than five hours a night, and spent more days than I can count feeling like I was drowning, I still took great comfort in knowing exactly who I was and WHAT I was.