You’ll often hear me complaining about not having “enough time”… how the household chores and caring for the little beasties manage to both distract and drain me creatively.
The advice I hear most: “Cherish these days with your children. They grow up so fast.” …usually from empty-nesters who are looking back at their own missed opportunities.
And I want them to know that, deep down, I do cherish these days.
I made a conscious decision to put my family first when I left my full-time job.
I didn’t quit to embark on the USS Entrepreneur-Ship, and become a self-employed artist, as exotic as that sounds. I accepted the role of stay-at-home Mom because I was tired of letting other people raise and mother my children, and being held at their mercy.
When your child is sick (and that darn daycare center that you pay for dearly each week won’t accept kids with fevers)… and you’re scrambling to find an emergency sitter at the last minute, otherwise you’ll be forced to miss work – leaving your boss angry and your paperwork piling up…. the decision to stay home permanently seems reasonable. Even feasible.
Well, there were many other factors leading to the decision to remain at home… it was seriously a tough call to make, because I was a total workaholic until 2 years ago. Putting in extra hours on the job, and working every holiday, was par for the course as a retail manager. I completely defined my sense of self by a title and a paycheck.
But I haven’t regretted one single day, and you want to know why?
Are you sure? Cause I’m about to confess something truly horrible about myself…
There was a time when I was utterly shallow, and completely focused on myself at the expense of others.
My oldest daughter and my first husband were victims of my immaturity and selfishness. Unlike my second divorce, which is one of the few holidays I actually celebrate, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Lydia’s father. He is a great guy, honestly.
It was my fault that I couldn’t remain content as a working mom living an ordinary life. I wanted excitement and freedom, with nobody to hold me accountable, and no one to tie me down.
Immediately after leaving him, I booked a flight to London. Yes, England.
I went all by myself, just because I felt like it.
I also switched jobs, for a change of scene, and I returned to the stage…
See, as a teenager, I wasn’t serious about becoming a fine artist, although I took a few elective art classes and participated in student shows.
Acting was my real passion. I lived and breathed the theatre atmosphere, and throughout high school I focused on making acting my future career.
Performing arts colleges were the only schools I applied for, and turned down a possible full scholarship offered by the University of Dallas because it stipulated that I major in Latin. (My Latin teacher apparently recommended me to her contacts there – sending along my grades and exam scores)
Although it was my intention to get a BFA, and I was actually accepted to the first school of my choice, passing the auditions and all… life had other plans for me.
Actually, that’s a whole blog unto itself, and it speaks volumes about my fiercely independent nature.
Eight years after graduation, I had a house, a job, and a 4-year-old daughter. The desire to reclaim my life took hold… I joined the theatre community again,
to express myself creatively and delve back into the artistic social scene. Unfortunately, I neglected my family and spent all this newfound “free time”
pursuing my hobbies.
My soon-to-be-2nd-ex and I had purchased land in the mountains, which meant a two-hour round-trip daily work commute. My chosen theatre was 1.5 hours in the opposite direction.
So, my typical day went something like this:
(hopefully fall asleep quickly because alarm goes off at 3:30AM, rinse and repeat…)
*I was a bakery manager then, where early shifts are the norm – the whole fresh doughnut, muffin, breakfast bagel crowd.
Now, it’s obvious that my commute carved a considerable chunk out of my day… and I often spent my lunch hour napping in my car.
But even after I left my second husband and moved closer (to the theatre, lol), spending night after night away from home begins to take its toll on more than
just a car’s engine.
I will never forgive myself for treating my daughter like a handbag… if I couldn’t find a sitter, I would drag her along to the theatre, roping my poor co-stars into watching her while I practiced. She would either hang out in the Green Room or sit in the audience, quietly coloring or chatting with strangers.
It wasn’t unusual to find her asleep, curled up in a fetal position in a hard metal chair, at the end of the night. With a jacket draped over her like a blanket.
If there wasn’t time for a home cooked meal, or I didn’t feel like cooking (more than likely)… I would throw some snacks and peanut butter sandwiches in her bag. Or I’d treat her to a fast-food junk meal from Burger King, since we passed it on route.
Of course, if you ask Lydia, she’ll look back with fond memories… the whole experience was like a circus parade for her, full of colorful characters, sparkly costumes, bright lights, cheering crowds, bouquets of flowers… she just ate it up.
She began to talk about wanting to perform in shows herself, and I was so proud to see her following my footsteps, because she had natural ability.
She actually did audition with me once, and was thisclose to getting cast…
The director loved her talent, but decided on a “young” girl with more stage
experience. And I witnessed my daughter’s first rejection as bitterly as if it were my own (although I got a leading role).
The other child turned out to be quite a brat, and the director later confided that overlooking my daughter was a decision he regretted.
However, it was to be my final show (at least for this chapter of my life)…
Shortly thereafter I met Joe, and finally had a chance to relax and breathe. I had found the man of my dreams, and I began realizing how it felt to “come home” and enjoy simple domestic things.
We didn’t “go out on the town”, instead favoring quiet dinners at home. When Mia was born, those maternal instincts that were late to develop finally emerged… for the first time ever, I didn’t want to return to work after my maternity leave. In fact, I agonized over leaving my baby with strangers.
These were brand new feelings to me then… and very familiar feelings to me now. Something changed in my heart. Or perhaps I just grew up.
There isn’t a day that goes by, when I’m not reminded of all the missed opportunities – those trips to the park and zoo, when my ear was glued to that damned cellphone, the family movies we never watched, the night-time rituals that never developed. Unless you count passing out in the dressing room as a ritual.
I’m trying my best to make amends now, and I cherish the innocence of my younger children who have never been reprimanded for talking to their mother in the middle of a scene, who have never stepped back stage, or watched strangers getting (un)dressed, or spent a night away from home.
Seeing them cuddled together on the couch each evening, watching a Disney movie and messily eating their dessert, is a picture I wouldn’t trade for any amount of money or fame.