Sunday, September 18, 2011

did i succeed?

Mostly, I feel like I'm doing the right thing, by which I mean my "decision" (was it a decision, really?) to be a SAHM. Certain aspects of our family life are important enough to us - eating at home together, parental involvement in school(s), community involvement - that my role as a mother and community member is important and valid, and makes it totally okay that I have put aside any serious aspirations of pursuing a career that actually challenges me intellectually.

I have my moments, though. Like today, when Daniel said something about how mothers don't work. I do not know where he came up with this idea. I told him that some mothers go to work, and some mothers consider their work to be the time they spend with their families (like me) and that either path in life is valid, and that also, some mothers simply don't have a choice in the matter. Either they must to go a paying job, or they don't, and sometimes, either decision is a necessity. I'm not sure how much of this got through to him, but I hope that at the very least, he understands that what I do is, indeed, actually work, even if I don't get paid for it, and that other mothers he knows who go to a paying job, do so for good reasons.

(Don't get me started on the discussions we've had about race. This public school thing is probably harder for me than him, because he is young and naive, and I am naive but not so young. The race thing - it's terribly complicated. A whole 'nuther blog post, too.)


So here it is, if I may. I am constantly conflicted. Am I a wasted talent, as a smart and reasonably talented person who has chosen (did I really choose???) to spend her time taking care of her family? Or am I to be admired for focusing my talents in the domestic sphere, in the interest of family stability and nurturing my children? I honestly don't know.

I suspect that there is no straight answer to this question, because the answer would depend on how one places one's priorities. What is more important: career or family? For people like me, the priority is clear.

I spent some time this evening talking to a friend of mine, whose husband is in the local academic community (he's a grad student at UW), and we were talking about departments and hiring. Some departments at the UW are willing to hire their own graduates, and some aren't. I said the school of music tends not to hire their own, and at the very least, they wouldn't hire me, and she said, "Why? Are you too much of a troublemaker?" and I laughed and said, "No, I'm just not good enough." I'm not.

Maybe that's the real truth. I hide behind my fear and insecurities. I could gripe about how you're forced to choose one priority over another, but maybe it's just a cover. I'm better off "making the decision" to volunteer at my kids' schools and cook from-scratch meals every night because I simply can't cut it as a musician. I have yet to meet a former colleague - fellow grade students and professors both - who hasn't congratulated me on the fact that I am staying home to raise my kids. Clearly, the musical community hasn't missed a thing by not having me present as an active member.

Can this be me? I was voted "most likely to succeed" in my high school graduating class. Have I succeeded? If so, in what? Changing diapers? Lefty rants?

I remember this one moment, so clearly, in 7th grade. We had this class called "Discovery" that was the sort of feel-goodery self-esteem nonsense that some people hate, but at the time I loved. We read, we wrote, we discussed our feelings, and we had a teacher to whom I was absolutely, unequivocally devoted. She read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea out loud to us and I was so riveted I checked it out of the library and read it myself to find out the ending before anyone else. (That, by the way, is the one and only Hemingway novel I've ever been able to finish reading.) I was so young and innocent I didn't understand the fisherman died at the end until she explained it to me when I admitted I'd read it before she got to the end in our class...

Anyway, this moment: we were supposed to write an essay about our dreams of our futures and read them aloud. It was a safe environment, where we could say out loud whatever we believed and wanted to believe about ourselves. I have no memory at all about what I actually wrote. Before we read our essays for the class, however, we would stand there and wait for the class to speculate about us, what we appeared to be to them. One large black boy, Gary, looked like a preacher to all of us, and he talked at length about meeting Jesus at the golden gate. (I have no idea what happened to him.) When I stood before the class, I remember I was wearing a long, pink buttoned-down shirt. I had dorky glasses and permed hair. I was wearing glasses, shrimpy, flat-chested and younger than everyone else by a year because I had skipped the 3rd grade, and though I don't remember at all what I imagined for my own future, everyone in the class thought I looked smart. "Brain surgeon!" someone called out. "She'll find the cure for AIDS!" said someone else. (Remember when AIDS was the most frightening thing? Soooo 90s.) I had a distinct reputation for being smart. And I don't know that I was so smart, necessarily, just not good at anything else.

Did I do the right thing pursuing music? Pursuing full-time motherhood? Is career really so important? Would my kids be okay if I was out there trying to cure AIDS? Am I hiding behind motherhood as an excuse for not doing more with the talents I chose to pursue?

Clearly, this is a conundrum I have yet to solve. Maybe I never will. I'm still trying to figure it out and get life into perspective.


Anonymous said...

I think you're a super successful sahm. You do things that other sahms would never even consider doing, and that others would love to be able to do as well as you.

I don't know if you're a successful person, b/c I don't know what that means.

You made me laugh with the "lefty rants" business.

I remember when you were in middle school that you wanted to be an electrical engineer. I remember not know what those words meant :-) (I think I wanted to be a brick layer at that time. A high and lofty goal, I thought.)

I remember Gary. :-) Was I in your discovery class? I doubt it, and don't remember it existing. (I don't remember 7th grade at all!) Who was the teacher?

I guess in terms of the career in music, maybe you could ask yourself what your goal was, and what it is now. Did you intend to become "good enough" to be hired as a music teacher? As an accompanist? Did you intend to learn enough to be able to play music as well as you would like to be able to play it? What about now--would your goal still be the same?

I guess to know if you are successful or not, you need to know what success is for you.

(Other than the bunny-throwing business, I think you are a great gal.)


Jessi said...

Oh, conundrums. I constantly feel like a bit of a wasted talent, but I'm not at all sure what that talent is. I will say that I have a "career" and all the same struggles. So there you have it. Nobody wins.

StephEastwood said...

This is one of the best essays on your blog, Suze! Apology NOT ACCEPTED!!! :~D