Ah, that's the great puzzle.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Mario and I had a deep conversation the other night. He declared it the deepest we've ever had, in fact. So deep, it called for not one, but two martinis. Made with pickle juice and what was left of a bottle of vodka we've had for over a year... because clearly the situation seldom calls for such serious action.
"What if we left everything and started over? I mean really start over. Sell everything. Say goodbye to all we know." said I.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
Graduation was a bit of a blur. Family came and went. I immediately started a research project. We left for a month-long vacation. Upon our return, however, the realities of life came flooding back. I had time to reflect on the last four years. I felt a plethora of emotions... and a twinge of disappointment. I spoke about it briefly here.
I had a rough upbringing. It made me who I am in the best and worst ways. I remember looking forward to turning 18, the age at which I was sure everything would change. An escape from a troubled mother; a fresh start. However, once I got there I found myself thinking now what?
I became a mom at 20. I lived for that little man and still do. He's the best thing that has ever happened to me. But, as my fellow moms can attest, motherhood is selfless. It often involves putting your needs aside for your child. It's about raising a little being. I have a rather fastidious child, and I focused all my energy into being the best mom I could. I think I achieved that goal. But often at the expense of my own self-fulfillment. You see, I love being that little man's mom. So much. But I don't garner personal fulfillment from motherhood. It doesn't stimulate my mind in the way I need in order to feel sane. I'm simply not that person. I can love my son with all my heart and soul, but still need to seek out a life separate from him. A place to fill in the gaps. Everyone experiences motherhood differently, and that is simply my truth.
Along the way I met a boy. The boy. The yin to my yang. He was in pursuit of a career and I poured whatever fraction was left of me into chasing his dreams with him. We moved to unfamiliar places. Twice. He traveled. A lot. Somewhere along the way, I forgot what I was chasing and my life began revolving around him. An imbalance formed.
One day I woke up and realized I didn't know who I was was, and worse, probably never had. It took hitting a personal low to find my way. Within a month I was enrolled in school full time, in weekly therapy, and practicing yoga several times a week... all in the hope of my center. Perhaps my dreams could be realized.
Getting through school was hard, and it was sheer will and determination that got me through it. But at the end of the rainbow, I was disappointed. There wasn't a pot of gold. I'm not sure what I thought would happen, but I know it didn't.
A dear friend I've known for years, a woman I relate to and respect in so many ways, said to me the other day (after recently returning from a year abroad), "I came home to a life I just don't want anymore." In that year she found herself, or at least an important part. That one sentence has reverberated through my mind ever since. I get it.
The problem, I think, lies in this: I've always lived 5-10 years in the future. At fifteen I was looking to 18. At twenty I was looking forward to the day I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. The day I matriculated, in my late twenties, I started looking forward to the day I would graduate. For the last couple of years, it has shifted ahead to when I finish grad school. As a result of the all of the pressure I had placed on my future, applying to a PA program became this big ugly ball of stress instead of something to look forward to. I've never lived in the now, and I think it's because I'm waiting for something life changing to happen. That after x amount of time, or x, y and z happens, I'll know who I am and what I want out of life. But looking solely outside of myself for fulfillment is futile.
I met with some of the moms from Kiddo's school last week. Most could relate to my need for self discovery in one aspect or another. One of the moms, a sweet, social, bubbly lady I adore, proclaimed total happiness. She is completely satisfied being a stay-at-home mom, going to the Y to work out everyday, and meeting with friends for coffee. If I am honest, I have to admit I'm jealous of her. She has made her own happiness, right where she is.
For me, it's a lot different. I find satisfaction in pushing myself. Reaching my "potential", whatever that looks like. Learning new things. Earning a paycheck. These things are a big part of my identity. Mario is one of those people who is happy as long as he has genuine social connections and is moderately challenged. I wish with all my heart it was that simple for me. That I could just feel settled wherever I am at. Perhaps one day, but will I know when I've found my holy grail?
Which brings me back to our deeep conversation the other night. I started to wonder if moving to Portland is enough in terms of starting over. One fundamental question keeps popping up for me: how will I know what I want if I haven't tried everything (or at least a few things)? My heart's desire has always been marine biology (marine mammalogy, specifically). What if I was so crazy as to go for it? In Australia? Is PA school a concession for the fact that I got a late start and didn't go to medical school? A Plan B that will leave me with that oh so annoying what if... ? I don't know.
Lest you think these are the musings of a miserable woman, I assure you that is not the case. I love my boys like crazy. I've crossed more than one thing off my bucket list already. I have a husband that gives me a cautious but definite let's do it when I propose pointing at a world map and moving wherever my finger lands. He's something, that man. He gets it. Not personally, maybe, but he knows me well and wants to be there on my path to self discovery. He sees that my life has been lived in chunks of time; spent holding my breath for the day this or that is due to happen. Sometimes I'm afraid Mario and I could grow in different directions, but talks like the one we had remind me that he's willing to make it my turn. To move for me. To spend more time and money on my education. To lend an even bigger hand when it comes to raising our kiddo. If any couple has a chance of evolving in synchrony, we do. If I said tomorrow "Pack your bags! We're moving to a remote African village to treat lepers", he'd say "how many pairs of shorts do you think I need?".