Take Three or Four

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. She got a job, found a place to live, had a glamorous international career and lived happily ever after. The End.

This is not my story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. That plan didn’t work out so well. So she came home broke, got a job that paid well, got married, quit the job, went to grad school and became a french professor who traveled extensively, with an adventurous life of the mind, breathing the rarified air of academia, writing and teaching about esoteric ideas. The End.

This is not my story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. That plan didn’t work out so well. So she came home broke and got a job that paid well, got married, and went to grad school to be a professor, life intervened and that plan didn’t work out either, so she quit after the masters degree, had some kids, moved into a nice house in a nice neighborhood and lived happily ever after, never looking back. The End.

This is not my story.

I’m pretty sure my kids and husband would have liked it if it had been, if I’d been more content to “smile and pour tea”, happy that I had three healthy children, a nice house and enough food on the table, but it wasn’t that easy.

I could have gone back, I could still go back … to Paris, to the well-paying job, to finish the PhD program, to teaching french as I did during graduate school. But the moment passed. The fire was gone. The energy moved on from those places. My life grew roots underneath me and I had to find a new way to find myself.

Carl Jung said “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Finding this quote years ago, I pinned it to the wall, vowing to make peace with the choices I’d made in my life, with the past and with the future. I didn’t want my kids carrying around the weight of my unlived dreams.

I’m not finished with that yet, which is to say, that I’m not finished living the adventurous life. It hasn’t taken any of the directions I’d charted.  Its been a different kind of adventure. Raising three kids was all the adventure I could handle for many years. Sometimes simply getting three kids out the door and to school in the morning was all the adventure I needed in one day. Any full time mom will attest to that, and those that had professional careers, having children later in life, will largely agree that the work is harder, the emotional investment bigger, the hours longer, the payoff greater. So why is it still so hard for us to answer the question, “What do you do?” Why not just say, “I’m a mom.”

I write these words knowing that they don’t apply to all of my peers, that there are those who don’t flinch when asked “What do you do?”.

I have some theories about this. Largely, they’re chicken and egg theories, like, is it because we, as a culture, still don’t value the job of raising children because it doesn’t generate an income?  Or, is it because those of us who can’t answer the question without squirming still haven’t come to value themselves enough to stand there and not care what anyone thinks of their answer? I’m sure the answer is a combination of the two and that one reinforces the other. But why is it still so much harder for women of my demographic to value themselves for who they are, and for the contribution they make to the world regardless of what it looks like?

I have some theories about that also… about being part of an age group who grew up on the outgoing tide of the original women’s movement, too young to benefit from the first wave, and too old to be the daughters of feminist mothers. My experience with feminism in the early to mid 70’s was through the eyes of fairly traditional parents and Catholic school teachers.  During my own young adulthood and those of my peers, it was hard to connect “feminism” as it appeared in the women’s studies department and in athletics with being female. It seemed more of a terrifying than liberating force.

Perhaps I’m way off base, but I sense that I am not alone, that the larger cultural conversation is generally missing the voices of a whole group of women because we have silenced ourselves, because we have believed that our voices didn’t matter. Who decided that for us? Who decided that for me? And why did I acquiesce?

Last October, I screwed up my courage and went to the Emerging Women conference in Boulder, Colorado. It was four days full of inspirational talks and workshops by incredible women in business, thought leadership, music, art, and spirituality. Most had left or transformed careers to better live the truth of who they are. I loved every minute of my time there, and was truly inspired by those days. I also kept waiting to hear a story that was mine, or even mine but a chapter later, someone whose primary “career” had been 20 years raising children followed by some other creative undertaking, but there was no one whose distinguishing credential was “mother”. It is often my impression that in order to be taken seriously, a woman needs to have a resume that includes something other than “mother”… or does it? Because it is also my impression that we simply have to believe in ourselves and our words enough and be brave enough to keep saying the things that we need to say until they are heard.

Put into those words, isn’t it the same struggle anyone goes through who wants to have their voice count, whether its in music, art, literature or business? I think so. But I also think that the slope is steeper, the terrain more rugged, and the obstacles higher for stay at home moms of my demographic. I think that our struggles, (my struggles) with identity, confidence, and the duo of self worth and self love are particularly challenging after years of putting the needs of children and families above our own, as we believed was best for all. Somewhere among the diapers, the circular conversations with three year olds, the soccer carpools, the last minute late night editing with teenagers, and the preparation of thousands of meals, I (we) lost track of what it was that I knew was mine to share with the world, that I’m afraid is no longer relevant, or afraid that it never was to start with.

This, then, is my task, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of my daughters, my son and the generations to follow.

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Paris, continued…

The other morning, while writing about turning 50, the image of a pretzel came to mind. No, I don’t feel like a pretzel, but the dot to dot path through my daily life seems to trace a similar shape. Only rarely do I allow myself the liberty of locking onto one of those dots and allowing it to lead me away from this prescribed circuit. Between professional and personal photography projects, writing, parenting, selling eye wear, outdoor adventuring, buying groceries for teen-age appetites, and failing at all attempts at domestic order, I feel pulled so many directions that if I become completely absorbed in any one, I will more than likely drop a thread that forms part of the weave and find myself dealing with the consequences later. At least that’s how it seems most of the time.

Having recently spent 3 weeks traveling, I know that the world doesn’t come to an end when I let go, but translating that into being home AND letting go is a bigger challenge. Being home and making space to pursue what calls me rather than simply falling back into the well-worn ruts of “what I’ve always done”. For the last 20 years, I’ve allowed my children’s “needs” to dictate the pace and parameters of my life. Now its time for that to change. The line a pretzel follows goes first in one direction, then another, overlapping and doubling back upon itself. In then end, a graceful shape is formed… a cohesive whole. If I stop and dwell a while at any of the points upon that line, the whole will not be impacted. The next point will still be there to guide me back toward the center, only to be drawn away and back again. The weave may change, but I don’t have to hold all of the threads anymore.

I write all of this in Seattle after rereading Parisian journal entries and editing more photographs from a month ago.  I smiled to myself noting the remaining mild discomfort of being on my own in Paris, footloose and completely free. I had forgotten that I felt that way on day 2. I wrote that I was having a hard time with the idea of no agenda and that I was feeling the need for some kind of “organizing principle” around which to orient. While my memory, and the photographs, clearly attest to the fact that I had no difficulty wandering here and there as ideas came to me, I was also up against some internal resistance to doing just exactly that. Continue reading

I’m Really Not Going?

Making a Statement - the rooster at Clean Greens farm showing off his plumage

Bear with me for a moment… As I sit here typing this instead of cleaning up the mess in the other room and downstairs, it is approximately 4:30pm in Lodi, Italy. A week ago, I had my daughter’s bedroom floor covered with my packing mess. Its still there.

This morning I couldn’t help saying, “a week ago, I thought I’d be on my way to my friend’s home in the countryside outside Milan to have dinner and spend the night tonight, and instead I get to clean my house. That’s a lousy trade.” My daughter informed me that if I spend my time thinking about what I thought I’d be doing every day instead of what I am doing, its just going to bum me out. She’s right, and, to a certain extent, I can’t help it. I spent six months gearing up and planning for this adventure. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Adventure

A Room with a View

I thought about taking my camera with me this evening on a small walkabout up Broadway to Columbus Circle, and down through Hell’s Kitchen, wandering and deciding where I might stop and eat some dinner. But, I knew I absolutely didn’t want to lug my tripod after hauling it, along with my suitcase and camera bag, across the country, through two airports, two train stations – including Penn Station at rush hour – two trains, and finally a cab. Continue reading

Why am I going to New York?

Leschi Marina

How do you avoid taking this shot? How can I possibly not shoot just one more image of Mt. Rainier? That’s the question I’ve asked myself repeatedly the last couple of days. This time I was actually driving home from shooting out on Foster Island when my car decided we had to go down to the lake and see what the T-dock looked like with the sunset reflecting off of the buildings of downtown Bellevue. That was nice… Continue reading

Getting Untangled

A Beautiful Day

Its hard to think of walking the dogs as a serious responsibility on a February day when the sun is shining, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and I have to find a bottle of sunscreen before going out. There are plenty of times, in the months between November and May when I have to coax all three of us to go out, thinking really, they’ll be fine without a walk. Not today. This morning, they were only slow to get going because they were lounging lazily in the sunshine on the back porch. Continue reading

Learning About Balance

Swim meet after the sun came out

Last night as I was taking my boots off, I noticed that the sole on one needed re-glueing.  Now, I’m a girl from the Northwest, and I am in southern California wearing sturdy boots that are at least 5 years old and have never shown any sign of damage from the rain. This was unbelievable. So, when I opened the curtains this morning and saw blue sky and snow covered mountains, I was stunned and grateful. The light was shockingly bright and my eyes teared up as I drove to my new favorite hang out to get a cup of chai.  I was wishing I had my sunglasses, but they were in my purse when it was stolen. I found, though, after I got to the pool for the swim meet, that if I was looking through my camera’s lens, it wasn’t too bright.  I got to play around with swimming photos today.  You know that butterfly shot when the swimmer’s head is out of the water and their arms are fully extended?  That’s a hard shot to get unless they’re swimming a long race.  I wanted to get that shot in an outdoor pool under sunny skies, but neither Charlotte nor the other kid I was photographing in the butterfly even took a breath until they were almost to the end of the pool where I was standing. By the time they’re in the third length of the pool or so, they start breathing more often. I got one butterfly shot of Charlotte’s friend that I like (see photographs), and resorted to taking a breast stroke shot of her in the IM.

Though the sun came out today, its still cold and I am still tired.  I am learning what it means to rest.  I remember this feeling when I was younger.  I used to do this every time we went on vacation.  As soon as I got there, I’d get sick. Maybe I’ll finally learn to slow down after this episode. I am not at all used to feeling physically off my game and I’m not fond of it.  I wish I had a better sense of moderation, but it always seems like there’s more to do than there hours in the day, and I don’t mean that in terms of chores and responsibilities.  I mean after the urgent chores and responsibilities, there are all the things I just want to do. I can fill a spare moment in any one of about 10 pleasurable ways without a second thought.  Its a trap, because I delude myself into thinking that if I am doing what I want to be doing, then my body will find a way to keep up… until it doesn’t. It does this every couple of years – just goes on strike. No matter how much pleading I do, I can’t convince it to get up the energy and enthusiasm to go do whatever it is that I would ordinarily want to do.

In my efforts to create a full and rich life, which contains not only my stay-at-home mom responsibilities and family pleasures, but my creative and adventurous joys, I’ve created something that actually requires an inordinate amount of energy to sustain.  The strain, at this moment in time, is probably the most acute because while I can see that the quantity of energy required by my family responsibilities might be waning, that’s only in relation to the past few years when it was at its peak. That’s my only measuring stick. So, while I am trying to learn to balance these two parts of my life, I’m going to have to learn a new way to do it. When I began this blog, I added it to an already full plate. Now I’m finding that it has its own draw and asks me for time and energy too. My days just got stretched a little longer and I didn’t notice the toll it was taking because I was excited. Lesson learned… I hope. So now my goal, which doesn’t seem a whole lot different than before, but feels different, is to create some balance. I think that means that I will simply give myself deadlines and say “that’s enough”, regardless of what remains to be done. It means I will have to stop kidding myself that doing is more important than being.