When I am waiting in the car line to pick up my daughter from school in the afternoons, I always see a lime green Honda Element parked on the street with a bumper sticker that says “Remember Who You Wanted to Be.” I love to read bumper stickers, and there’s a place in my heart for the funny ones like “God Loves You! ( But Everyone Else Thinks You’re an Asshole)” or the ones that leave me scratching my head like “Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas.” But this one marks the first time I think I’ve been genuinely inspired by a bumper sticker. As I sit there waiting, the car idling and my eye on the dashboard clock, I think about that sticker.
Who did I want to be? If you had asked me when I was four or five, I would have told you that I wanted to be the lead singer of a rock band and have long, blonde hair and play the tambourine (it was the 1970s after all). If you had asked me when I was eight or nine, I would have said I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John. By the time junior high rolled around, I wanted to become an actress and marry Rick Springfield. But I also had some grounding in reality by then, too; I remember writing a paper about wanting to be either a teacher or an artist when I grew up. By high school, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, but secretly wished I could become a member of a heavy metal band. I didn’t have much guidance with my career choices, so neither came to pass. By my junior year of college, I was trying to choose between education and psychology as a major, but didn’t really feel very interested in either. Somehow I wound up pursuing a degree in English. Not wanting to teach high school English, I ended up staying in college for graduate school, hoping to someday teach at a college. And I did.
For five years I taught writing and literature at a community college. I remember standing in front of one of my first classes there and thinking how lucky I was, how rare it is that people get to actually be what they want to be. It was the best feeling in the world. But in the years that followed, I didn’t feel so lucky anymore. I felt burnt out, tired, and depressed. I wanted to do something else, but just like in my early years of college, I had no idea what. I enrolled in a library science program, thinking I would like to work in a university library, maybe doing library instruction. Two months into it, I dropped out. A librarian wasn’t who I wanted to be. After that I spent a few years teaching part-time, doing freelance writing, and working as an academic counselor. I never felt like I really belonged in any of those jobs. When my husband and I decided to start a family, I decided I would be a stay-at-home mom. The decision was really a no-brainer. I had no career I would be leaving behind; I would be moving toward another type of life altogether.
Nine years and two kids later, I’m still not sure that I made the right choice. I feel fortunate that I was able to stay at home with my kids and I’m not sure I would do anything differently if I had to do it all over again, but if you had asked me at any point in my life until I actually had a child if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I would have asked you if you might need to see a therapist. Now that my youngest is on the cusp of kindergarten, my days of being a stay-at-home mom are coming to an end and the pressure is on. It’s time to figure out again who I want to be.
“Remember Who You Wanted to Be.” One day as I pondered that phrase yet again, it occurred to me that I was misinterpreting it. It doesn’t say “Remember What You Wanted to Do.” Doing and being are two very different things (the grammarian in me knows this quite well). At any point in my life, no matter what I was doing or wanted to do, I would have said the same thing: I want to be a happy person. It was what I always wished for on every shooting star, every birthday candle, every penny tossed in a fountain. But it’s the doing that will lead to the being.
Looking back over my life, there is one constant: writing. I have always written. If I wasn’t pretending I was playing Sandy in Grease, I was writing stories about hamsters. When I wasn’t imagining what my wedding to Rick Springfield would be like, I was writing poems about how much I wanted a boyfriend. When I wasn’t singing along with Def Leppard in my bedroom, I was writing a novel about an up and coming rock band. By the time I got to college, though, I had stopped writing for pleasure. I had too many other things to write for classes; there was simply nothing left after I finished that essay on The Catcher in the Rye or wrote a journal entry on my thoughts about Mrs. Dalloway. Completing a thesis and grading reams of essays each semester drove the desire to write completely away. It came back, briefly, when I worked as a freelance writer for a year. But the grind of researching and cranking out at least 20 profiles of musicians a week broke me again. For a few months while unemployed, I made an honest attempt to become A Writer, but I ended up sleeping late and watching reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210 instead of sitting my ass in front of the computer like I should have.
I have to admit that part of the reason I wanted to stay at home with my kids is that I thought it would give me time to write (Parents who work at home feel free to laugh hysterically at this point). I imagined long, productive hours at the computer while my children napped away the afternoon. I didn’t anticipate post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, the advent of Face Book, heaps of laundry, and a kid who never napped. It’s only been in the past year, since my youngest turned four, that I have written anything of substance (and by “substance” I mean that I wrote a short story and started two different novels—hardly the catalog that I thought I would have produced by this point in my life). But it’s a start. I have felt more inspired this past year than I have since I pretended I was a tambourine-wielding singer. I remember who I wanted to be.
And that’s what this blog is about: The doing that creates the being. There will be funny stories, tales of woe, angry rants…but, alas, probably no stories about hamsters.