Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Choices We Make

Growing up, I did some regrettable things. I presume we all do. It's rebellion, it's self-expression, it's -- whatever. It's human nature. However, despite engaging in the usual non-parental/societal approved sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I was, for the most part, obedient. I did what was expected of me. Come to think of it, even my rebellion was a pretty, well, expected rebellion. As a predictably obedient kid, I had my future mapped out long before I left high school. I would get good grades so that I could get into a decent college and get a good education. I would graduate in four years -- no more, no less -- and get a job in my field. I would get married shortly after college and I would put my job on hold for a couple years to raise kids, then, when they were school-aged, I would go back to work. We would take annual family vacations and develop traditional traditions around summer break and holidays. I hadn't figured past that by the time I was 14, because that would've involved imagining myself being over 30 and, well, that was pretty much inconceivable. 

So I got the good grades and I went to college and I majored in Elementary Education because I loved kids and I was pretty good at conveying information and -- well -- that summers and holidays off thing was going to fit REALLY nicely into my family plans. I got engaged at the beginning of my senior year to a boy I'd been dating since the end of my freshman year and everything was right on track -- just like a rule-follower like me liked it.

Three weeks before graduation he broke up with me and -- in retrospect -- saved both of us a lot of heartache because we were NOT well-matched. But we're talking about a LOT of retrospect. That's another story and it's been told a million times. I won't bother to rehash it here. 

Yep, it needed to happen, but it sure did send the needle skidding across the album of my life. I was utterly lost -- abandoned, with no idea how to move forward. Things were supposed to follow a formula and this wasn't it. Life was wrong. But I was still alive, so I was going to have to live it. 

My best friend had made plans to go to grad school halfway across the country -- that was her plan -- and, on a whim, I asked her if I could join her. I established residency in this new state while working a job that was not in my field and started grad school myself once residency had been established. 

Now I had a new focus.

I didn't stay there long enough to finish that degree. I took jobs in my field -- some traditional, some non-traditional -- and one of them led me back to grad school. That felt right. Not as right as that original plan. In my mind, that was still the right life, but that ship had sailed and I needed to forge a new path. If I couldn't have a family, I would have an education. It was a compromise, and not an entirely satisfactory one, but it was good. Minimally, it was a good alibi. Why haven't you gotten married? Why aren't you raising babies? I was too dedicated to my education!

So a decade later, I developed a new plan. Master's, Doctorate, publications -- I would dedicate myself to academia. I would devote myself to education. It was definitely Plan B, and I still mourned Plan A, but it was a good, sound, plan and one I could take some pride in. I wrapped my identity around it.

I had a mentor who I admired greatly and the children in my classrooms became "my kids" in the absence of kids of my own. 

So I followed the new set of rules. I finished my Master's and began coursework on my Doctorate. My academic network was solid and growing stronger every day. I concentrated on younger children and people with disabilities. I took jobs in my field and that enhanced my education as my education enhanced my employment. Plan B was going ok. It wasn't Plan A, but it wasn't bad. It was rewarding.

And then love and babies curved into my path and -- well -- I didn't even think about a new plan. This is what I'd wanted in the first place. The route had been convoluted and more adventurous than I'd planned, but here I was -- right where I wanted to be -- just two decades late. A return to a modified Plan A. I briefly tried to have it all -- continuing with my studies while raising my babies -- but sitting in an ivory tower learning about early childhood while my own babies were in the care of someone else was -- well, it was just WRONG, is what it was. For me. No judgments. I stayed home. I quit school when I was piloting my doctoral dissertation. I dedicated myself to my own babies instead of to the babies of the world.

I was very, very, happy.

I figured -- the original Plan A had me returning to the workforce when my kids were school-aged -- no reason plan A2 couldn't go the same way. I mean -- I was very educated and very experienced. How hard could it be?

But there were problems I didn't anticipate.

And now? Now it's too late. My kids don't need me anymore. The only jobs I can find in my field are in daycare. If you're not aware -- the wages of daycare workers are comparable to the wages of fast-food workers. The social status? Oh, I don't have to tell you the social status. You know. The best part? I am responsible for just as much planning/work/paperwork outside the classroom as any classroom teacher. More, really, because there are no such things as the teacher planning days classroom teachers seem to get twice a month. The worst of both worlds. Some might say -- go back to school! Get the re-certifications you need to get a respectable job! But that would be a waste of my time and money. Oh -- I could do it. Probably. But could I get hired? That's very unlikely at my age. It would just be too much of a gamble.

So. So Plan C. Plan C is where I have to spend every snow day, every holiday break, every long weekend, every damn summer working while I watch the teacher friends I accumulated along the way talk about how much they deserve their breaks. I get skin rashes and stomach issues and all manner of stress-related bullshit (as well as every communicable thing that comes along) while doing a job that offers zero sick days. Go ahead and process that for a minute.

Plan C sucks -- and I can honestly see no way out of it because -- you can say "You're never too old to start over!" as much as you want, but the truth is -- sometimes you are.

So I've given up.

This is my life. It did not go according to plan. Few lives do, entirely, I suppose. 

I don't suppose it's necessary to inform you that Plan A -- the way I always thought it should be -- is not the plan my children have chosen for themselves, either. Their lives, of course. Their choices. I gave up those dreams for them kicking and screaming, though. 

But I did give up.

One dream at a time.

I did give up.

I don't have many dreams left. Not many at all. But I don't have high hopes for them.

1 comment:

Joanna Jenkins said...

Tam, I can read your sadness in this post and I hope you are okay.
xoxox jj