I am still brooding over the existential crisis I had a few weeks ago. I feel like it needs a more definitive response than the anecdotes I've shared here and here.
As I talked about my feelings with my friends and family, as well exploring the tension inside me that was sapping my joy, truth began to emerge: I was denying my desire to give my energy in a focused way to being a stay-at-home mom.
Apparently, just like when I play Dungeons and Dragons, I have no desire to play a multiple-class character. Just like I'm not interested in being a roguish monk or a warrior priest, I do not want to have to wrap my brain around the two sets of rules that govern the life of a working mom.
That desire for simplicity is what I have been denying. I think it would be too easy to say that twisted ideals of being a super-mom led me into my emotional tangle. That identity has never been one I would crave. It's too much like the over-achieving AP student in high school or the management consultant in her twenties. When given those options, I chose to be an average student and to work in education and non-profits. Enjoying life and feeling balanced has always won out over working my fingers to the bone in order to achieve.
Rather, I think that my delusion that I wanted to continue to self-identify as a professional comes from habit more than anything else.
Sometimes, I run into people that I haven't seen since high school. Acquaintances, parents of friends, members of my home church or teachers, their questions rarely deviate from a theme. All of them want to know if I have continued to pursue music.
It surprises me every time. I left behind my identity as a musician in college when i was too shy to figure out how to audition for the choir at the beginning of my freshman year. I took some private lessons and have held two recitals since then, but at most, I am a vocalist with a pretty voice who can still sight-read passably. I haven't been a musician in over a decade.
But as a child, I sang a lot and I sang a lot in front of a crowd. I had solos in church and most choir concerts. I was in small ensemble groups that got out of class to sing at events. I had lead roles in the musicals. I had a group of friends who sang harmonies for fun while infesting someone's house as part of a larger group of loitering teenagers. I was in at least three choirs and even sang in my Dramatic Duet Acting competitions.
Music was such a part of my public life that I remember realizing one Sunday after church that I needed to figure out how to accept a compliment about my singing that was theologically appropriate while also being social gracious to the complimented. Nothing is more annoying that being corrected by someone that "it's God who should get the credit," as if they were kind of a dolt for suggesting otherwise simply because they were inspired by the performance or wanting to communicate appreciation or to foster confidence in a young kid.
But I have become such a different person since then. It is totally understandable that people would assume that music would determine the trajectory of my life. At yet, it did not. Something altered my flight path.
I think something similar has happened since Esther has been born.
I have spent the last 15 years actively pursuing social justice as a career. Like the people who knew me for the 15 years previous to that, people that know me now (including myself) don't imagine that my life would not continue along the path it has been traveling. A life that did not include professional work on behalf of oppressed people would not be recognizable as mine.
So, everyone asks when I will go back to work. Some of that is that most moms do go back to work these days. A lot of what motivates the question, though, has to be that I have been so passionate about my work before Esther was born.
I have been listening to old Rob Bell sermons lately and in one he discusses the passage where Jesus says, "When you do good works, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing." One of his points was that we often try to control how other people perceive us and that this commandment of Christ's was also a commandment to stop worrying about who the right hand thinks the left hand is.
I have been desperately trying to live up to the expectations of others (and myself) that I will continue to work outside the home as a social entrepreneur. Their expectations are not unfounded. Nor are they malicious. Their expectations are a natural conclusion based on what my life has been up to this point.
But yearning for who I might be again in the future is keeping me from fully immersing myself in who I am right now. Right now I am a mom. Just a mom. Breaking the habit of thinking of myself as a professional was holding me back from the joy that was waiting for me on this different path. I’m glad I figured that out.
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