Earlier this morning I was standing over the sink in my pjs, nursing bra, floppy, dirty ponytail and no makeup. I was eating garlic bagel chips hoping the crumbs fell down the drain rather than on the floor that I swept not once, not twice, but FOUR TIMES the day before. I was contemplating my life, as one often does when eating garlic bagel chips over the sink. I was taking inventory of my current life situation.
My husband had the day off and took the kids on a walk so I could get some work done. Three minutes after they walked out the door there was a strong knock. I rushed down the stairs and to the door without even looking, sure it was him forgetting something. Instead I was greeted by someone going door-to-door in support of a new bill. After a painfully long spiel while he attempted to make eye contact as I glanced anxiously behind him, he stopped to ask “Would you agree that _______?” I looked at him blankly and paused for an uncomfortably long silence before I said, “I’m sorry. I’m extremely distracted right now.”
It wasn’t just him. In general, I’m a little lost right now. A little unsure of the future. There are a lot of big changes happening in our lives these days and I am struggling to find order and purpose and meaning. Its as if with the birth of our son, the string I had wrapped around my finger attached to the balloon of my life plans just unraveled and flew off somewhere far out of sight.
I used to know. At one point I was certain a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology would hold all my dreams. During my last semester of grad school I was certain this was the path I was meant to take. Until I became suddenly, equally as certain that this wasn’t the path, all in the matter of a phone call and a weeks time of soul searching. I started my professional career, made more money than I’d ever come close to in my life, published in academic journals, presented at conferences, and set my sights on even higher aspirations.
And then I looked at two completely, utterly unexpected pink lines on a pregnancy test staring right back at me and POOF. My life changed.
One night back in my pre-pregnancy “professional” days, I was on the phone with my mom. She was telling me how she was going out after work for a goodbye party for a girl who was leaving her job to become a stay-at-home mom. I can still vividly remember my reaction – I think the words that came out of my mouth were along the lines of “that’s too bad” and “yuck” and “I could never do that” and general judgement. My mom replied in a gentle, completely defenseless tone “I am really happy for her. My years staying home with you guys were some of the best of my life. I don’t think she’ll ever regret her decision.” And I said something like “gross” and rolled my eyes at the wall.
I believe it was the day I saw her profile for the first time, found out she was a girl, bawled like a baby in the ultrasound room with jelly covering my bare belly, and clutched that little black and white picture to my chest. I think that was the day I decided I couldn’t leave her. That I was going to do anything and everything in my power to be with her all day, every day. That my career aspirations paled in comparison to the chance to be with her throughout each day. This sudden realization shocked me to my core, but I knew it with unshakable certainty – this was what I needed to do.
I will spare you the story of how it all came to be – how I convinced my boss to allow me to work from home for a period of time after she was born and how after that time was up there was absolutely zero chance I was leaving her. How temporary work from home turned into permanent work from home. How we lived on a tiny fraction of my previous salary. How I cried for weeks because it was so, so hard.
Anyway, I did it. And as I did, new dreams were born. Big dreams, dreams of writing reaching millions and maybe transitioning my part time teaching on the side at a local University to a full time career as a professor once my kids were in school. And it looked like that was all going to happen, I was on the right track, things were falling into place.
Then I did reach millions with my writing. And it turns out, I hated it. It stressed me out, the hateful and creepy comments kept me up at night, fine-tuned my already precariously high anxiety. I turned down every interview, every opportunity to promote myself. I retreated back and no longer saw the appeal of a gigantic audience. Then the long-term University plan fell to pieces and I got pregnant again and suddenly found myself in survival mode instead of dreaming mode.
And here I am today. Still largely in survival mode. But lost, too. Lost because all my dreams are turning into dust, all the magic I once saw in different paths evaporating into thin air, leaving just more obligations and no inner fulfillment.
This was not my life dream. I was going to BE SOMEONE. I had skills and education and a professional CAREER. That life of floppy ponytails and spit up and crumbs everywhere and part time work I struggled to fit in at naptime and in the dark early morning hours before anyone awoke? That was the stuff of nightmares, not dreams.
The summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college, I came home and worked 50 hours a week teaching swimming lessons and lifeguarding at a little pool in town. It was a cold summer at first and then quickly blisteringly hot, and I spent sometimes 12 hours a day in my black one-piece, blonde hair turning green from the chlorine, my pale skin turning a deep, golden brown. I loved it and hated it. It was a particularly unhappy time in my life, Will had broken up with me that Fall and we were sort of kind of half-heartedly thinking about reconciling and I was in general a big ol hot mess. I was incredibly, incredibly unhappy. I was mean and irritable and wild and so confused about life and love and being 20 years old. Reader, I’m glad you didn’t know me then. And if you did, God Bless you for sticking around. I feel great tenderness for 20-year-old Ashley now, but I would never in a million years want to be her again.
Anyway, there were these certain swimming lessons for babies that parents came to and got in the water with their babies to help them learn to love and feel safe in the water. One night I was in the pool teaching when for some reason I was transfixed by a dad with his little girl in one of the classes. I felt a metaphorical kick to the stomach that hurt so bad it brought tears to my eyes, right there waist deep in the chlorine, little ones splashing all around me. I will never forget that moment. All I could think of was Will, and how he would make such an amazing dad, and how I knew, in the deepest way possible, that that was it for me. I swear to the almighty G-O-D an image of our future family flashed in my mind and I wanted it so bad in that moment that it made my heart physically ache. It felt like destiny.
I never forgot that moment, even when I knew the timing wasn’t right. Even when I did everything wrong. Even when I tried to convince myself it was just a weird time in my life and that vision was probably just some weird, emotional mirage and I married someone else. I never forgot it when things came up that forced me to decide how important that life was to me.
When we very first got back together after our four year break, Will told me about a dream he had of him pulling up to our house and me and our babies standing on the porch ready to great him. And standing at the sink this morning it hit me – it’s all happening. I am living my dream. Here I am, married to that man who I knew would make me and my daughter the luckiest girls in the world. Here we are, we built a family together, a beautiful, healthy, happy family. Here I am in the house I always wanted, tall ceilings, big windows, bedrooms close together and tons of bright sun in every room. Here I am able to stay home with my babies. To be here for every single moment, to never miss a blink of their precious, painfully short childhoods. Here I am able to log these memories, to watch them grow and change and feed them lunch every day, sing them lullabies to sleep, read them stories before naptime, run and scream in the grass anytime they feel like. My mom just a few minutes away, my husband cooking dinner every night, sitting on our front steps and looking at the grass grow and planning flowers for next Spring.
My career aspirations have eluded me. They constantly change, ebb and flow. I feel lost, not knowing what I am meant to be, to do with my life. I worry about what I will do when the kids are older and its time for me to focus more on career. Will I be at a disadvantage? Will all the moms who chased their career dreams look at me with pity for tossing mine aside? I don’t have that thing. I haven’t found it yet, I don’t think.
But what if there isn’t one big life goal? What if our goals and dreams grow and change? What if my goal at 25 is drastically different than my goal at 31? What if it all changes again in a couple years? And what if, as the rest of my life has been a testament to, the things that are supposed to happen will find a way? What if my lack of career goals are nudging me to enjoy this dream? The dream I am often too wrapped up in to notice was once a life goal and dream as well.
I think this is where I’m at now. My dream right now is to be with my babies, my family. To soak up this brutiful time. To do whatever it takes to make that happen – even if it means doing things I swore I never would, things I ridiculed, things I judged. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. This is my life, my dream, and I am the one who gets to go to sleep each night knowing I did all I could to make my dream come true.
So I think sometimes it’s hard to see your dreams when you’re sitting right in them. It takes a pause to realize you already have everything you’ve ever wanted or needed. Maybe that’s all I need right now, and the next stage will take care of itself when it comes. Maybe I need to feel a little lost so I take time to check my bearings and realize that right here, right now, this is exactly where I am supposed to be.