10 May 2011

Good enough

***I received a complimentary copy of "Good Enough is the New Perfect," by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple from my friends at From Left to Write, and this post was inspired by the book.  The views and opinions contained within are 100% my own and not necessarily endorsed by the authors and/or the website.***

A significant number of the women interviewed for this book about creating your own version of work/family balance in your life are, or at least used to be, lawyers.  A career in law was a cherished dream I gave up about eleven years ago after the birth of my first child, when I realized that the life I had chosen, and the life that had chosen me, would not permit the single-minded focus I believed a career in law demanded.  Law school is three hard years, a lot of time spent arguing hypothetical cases in front of mock juries, and a lot of hours spent in the library looking up precedents and researching case law.

I was 29 when Moe was born, and I'd spent nearly nine years serving in the military, a career choice all in itself.  I was at the point in that career where I needed to think about the future: I was already nearly halfway to retirement eligibility.  I know, that kind of sounds ridiculous for someone who wasn't even thirty yet, but it had to be considered.  I also married a man who travels extensively for work.  All the time.  Not that he goes away on business now and then, but going away is his business, as an airline pilot.  I can count on his being gone for an average of 15 days every month.  Yeah, that's half of every month that I'm doing the married-single-mom shuffle.  I don't begrudge him this and I don't resent it; I chose it when I chose him.  I will, however, cop to some serious envy occasionally, that he sometimes gets entire days off to wander around San Francisco or Seattle or New York City. He gets to sleep a full night, by himself, in linens he didn't have to wash and a bed he didn't have to make.  Color me green.  But there are lots of up-sides to his work too: when he's not flying, he's home. Like, really home. As in, doesn't have to go to the office or the airport and can therefore log a significant number of mornings getting the boys up and fed and ready for school.  He can drive to tee-ball practice and karate lessons, and he does.  A lot.   He also brought two children with him into our marriage,  who were teenagers when we married.  While they didn't live with us full-time, they were certainly a big part of our family, and a factor in every decision we made.  Suffice it to say, I couldn't make life decisions based solely on what I wanted anymore.  So I gave up the idea of going to law school, not being willing to give up so much time and effort that I believed was better spent on my family. 

After Moe came Larry, and we were surprised a couple of years after that by Curly's arrival.  While they were little, it was all I could do to keep them all dressed and in clean diapers while Captain America was off flying the friendly skies, let alone try to hold down a regular job or manage any kind of classwork at all.  I set aside my aspirations and I didn't begrudge my family. I stayed in the military and I forgot about law school.  I didn't do it without sadness and regret, and I didn't do it without paying a price,  but I did it because I grew up with parents who weren't around and to me, being a good parent has always meant being present, physically and mentally.

I piddled around in college, not knowing what to do since I had taken law off the table.  I went part-time, aimlessly, for a lot of years until I figured out something that I could get passionate about,  that I loved doing, that I was good at.  Finally, finally, 14 years after my first undergrad quarter, I'm graduating with a degree in history.  But now, I'm once again at a crossroads, with a decision to make.  This time around as I make big decisions, I know something I didn't know before.  I know how to carve out space in my life for the things that are important to me, that make me who I am, irrespective of being a wife and a mom. I know more about how and where to draw the line about what I am willing to give up, and what I need to keep.  I believe that being a wife and a mom is my vocation. I don't believe that there is anything else I could do that is more important than raising good and decent human beings and being the best partner I can be to Captain America.  But while my family may be the most important I ever do or contribute to, it's not the only thing. 

I'm poised to reach the point of eligibility for a military retirement in just a few months.  That is a huge milestone achievement for me.  My degree is another one:  I am the only person in my immediate family to attend, let alone graduate from, college.  Neither of my parents, nor none of my four siblings ever went.  And I'm not done with school:  my big decision relates to the possibility of resurrecting a dream that I thought was abandoned.  I am seriously considering going to law school; at a point in life when many people are well established in careers, I feel like I'm just starting mine. It's odd to look around at my classmates and realize, without exaggeration, that I could be their mother. 

OK, admittedly I'm still learning how to carve out that space.  Sometimes I go too far and commit to too many outside activities and need to reel myself back in and reorient myself on my true north, my family.  Sometimes I immerse myself a little too much at home, and forget that I do have interests and pursuits and goals that have nothing to do with the care and feeding of my little people.  I also know that life happens while you're busy making big plans and I have learned a lot about flexibility and Plan B. 

In the book, Hollee and Becky share that the women they interviewed sorted themselves roughly into two groups: the Never Enough's and the Good Enough's, that probably need no further definition.  I can think of several examples of each in my circle of friends and acquaintances, and if there's one thing we all have in common, it's that we're all trying to do our best for our families, and for ourselves.  There's no checklist, no template; each of our families are different and have different needs and wants.  There is no right answer.  We're doing the best we can.  And that is good enough.