Trading places with myself

by Jennifer on May 1, 2008

I am a terrible passenger.

It isn’t often that I am willing to give up the driver’s seat (all that power, all that control) and let someone else do the driving for a while. Even if it means that I will have a chance to sleep or read a book while someone else negotiates the road construction and the semi trucks blowing past. Even though I know the rule that grants musical control to the person riding shotgun. (Usually, I just pray that the person in the passenger seat falls asleep, so I can resume sovereign rule over the music, too.) Even though I sometimes don’t get the best look at something interesting or beautiful along the way, since I have to keep my eyes on the road. If I’m not in the driver’s seat, I spend the whole time wishing I was driving. (Though I try not to help the driver drive. Really.)

Yes, I’m a rotten passenger. (And, apparently, a bossy driver.)

In the past couple of days, Mr. H and I have had a few good conversations about how we want this next phase of our lives to go. It’s too soon for me to announce our plans (since they’re not set in stone–more like poured cement that is just starting to firm up), but we’re definitely farther along than we were a few days ago. I felt like he heard my concerns, and he responded as I hoped he would. I will keep you posted as the weeks pass.

After my post two days ago, you all left wonderful comments (thank you). I was already on my way toward figuring where to turn next, but a few things have become even clearer since then.

Above all, I need to feel useful right now. I know that my children depend on me, but I also feel the need to do something of value out there, in the world. I think (hope) I can manage to serve both their needs and mine.

Coincidentally (serendipitously?), I got an email this morning from one of the schools to which I was admitted last fall, asking what my plans are and if I am still interested in their historic preservation program for this fall semester.

Ah, the timing.

I knew already that I didn’t need to reapply to that school as long as I continued with the registration process within the next year. But, the fact that they contacted me right now, in this window of time, felt like a sign to me. Not that I needed one to move forward (I would have contacted them in the next week or two), but it never hurts to hear that maybe I’m headed in the right direction.

You may have seen this on my Quotes page, but it’s one of my new favorites and it came to mind today:

We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well…How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

–Paul Bowles, American writer

He’s right. The years, the chances, aren’t limitless. And I’m arriving a little late in the game. I want to say yes to opportunities. I want to step through doors. I want to walk down paths that wind and curve and lead to a moment in life that might feel like a cool, dark forest or an open, pounding surf. I want to be challenged. Maybe even surprised.

I might even surprise myself. In fact, I’m almost sure of it. (I have to feign at least that much certainty, even if I’m not convinced just yet. Fake it ’til you make it, right?)

It’s a tall order, all of this, and I know it. The fact is, my life right now feels small. There are blessings, many of them, and I think I have a good understanding and appreciation of what they are. But I also know that I am not working at my full capacity.

Yes, I know I’m hard on myself, but I also know that I don’t push myself hard enough. Those are two different things.

I’m not diminishing the importance of the time I’ve spent (and will spend) at home with my children. That has immeasurable value. But there is also value in setting a different kind of example for them, one that lets them see their mother writing grant proposals or working on site on a preservation project. To not do any of it would mean wasting the passion I feel about those things.

I’ve grown a bit tired of my unease and restlessness. This other need is loud and riotous. I can be content in moments, like the one I experienced last night, on that drive with my family. But this other pull that I feel? I believe that if I feel it, I should follow it. When it tames itself, or burns down to embers, then I will have something to look back on that wouldn’t have existed if I didn’t allow myself to be pulled along with the force of that need. Who knows what will happen?*

I’ve decided not to sit in the passenger seat of my own life, asking over and over, “Are we there yet?”

Instead, I think I will turn up the music, settle back into the driver’s seat, and answer my own question.

“Almost.”

_______________________________________________________

*Besides, if I tell all of you that I’m going to do something, I have to live up to it. I do better under pressure.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Ducky May 2, 2008 at 1:22 am

This driving thing works in my favor.

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Mrs. Chili May 2, 2008 at 5:33 am

Jenn, let me speak to you as someone who’s been on the bit of road you’re on.

I was a stay-at-home mom for about nine years. When my youngest was in pre-school, I started to feel just like you’re feeling now – like my life was too small. I started grad school, making sure that my classes NEVER conflicted with my daughters’ being home. I timed my internship to coincide with the youngest’s going to school full time in first grade. I’m proud to say that I managed to get the degree I wanted without ever having to put my children in day care.

I think it IS important that kids see their parents – both of them, if there are two – pursuing their own goals and dreams. My girls watched me accept my Master’s degree, and they see me doing the work that I do with joy and enthusiasm. Does that mean that they get less of me? Maybe sometimes, as there are meetings to attend and homework to grade. The point is, though, that they are able to see that my priorities are in order and that they can still be most important to me without being the ONLY thing in my life.

You go, Girl!

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Brenda May 2, 2008 at 5:41 am

1) Ahhhh, Mrs. Chili. How can you ever not love what she writes?

2) Take the drivers seat and do something you love.

3) I totally agree that kids need to see both parents being productive in life.

4) And finally, in my world, the DRIVER has control of the music. (Which is admittedly “Strawberry Shortcake” at times to allow the driver time to think while the small girls are listening quietly in the back rather than asking for some type of children’s music or story.)

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Emily R May 2, 2008 at 6:52 am

Just catching up, because I have sucked about visiting blogs lately.

I hate driving. I like to sleep in the car. I like to sleep everywhere. And it is safer if I sleep in the passenger seat.

I have come to find making decisions exhausting. THat makes me sad, because I would like to be someone like you, who enjoys grabbing the bull by the horns. But I think all those hours at home making tiny decisions has robbed it of its joy.

I am so glad you are going to make a move towards your future. We lose our identity eventually if all we are is relational — someone else’s mother.

ANd the Jeep? I wanted one when I was young. I got a Saturn because it was practical. So, ride for me, girl.

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Daryl E May 2, 2008 at 7:48 am

OMG! I am you .. you am me.. at least when it comes to driving and controlling the music and when not driving being unable to stop watching the road .. and sometimes braking! I am a terrible passenger.

And I cant wait to hear how the cement sets

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melissa May 2, 2008 at 9:55 am

Get in that car, lady! Drive! Drive free!
Seriously, good luck and take the bull by the horns:)

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liv May 2, 2008 at 10:01 am

i think you and i are the same passenger and driver, lady!

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ByJane May 2, 2008 at 11:23 am

“My life right now feels small.” That sentence catches me and I’m not sure why. Part of me thinks that one’s life will always feel small as one is living it. Mindfulness, being in the moment, is about looking at the now, isn’t it? And that can feel small, because it’s known and familiar. The opposite of that, it seems to me, is a retrospective look at where one’s been and where one is now. Then you see where the door did open and where you were surprised.

The other part of me thinks that as you’ve written it, the ideas are wonderful motivators. Sans analysis.

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Coco May 2, 2008 at 11:51 am

Good for you, Jennifer!

Like I was saying recently, it’s never too late to try something, to reach for something, to follow your dreams.

On a personal and more literal note, I hate driving. My husband loves it, but he is rather too aggressive for my tastes. If only I were filthy rich and could afford the luxury of a sedate limousine and chauffeur, I would be entirely thrilled. *Sigh*

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flutter May 2, 2008 at 12:06 pm

looks like a wide open road to me, girl.

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SteveCinNM May 2, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Historic preservation — how valuable/important/cool is that? The fire in you burns brightly now, and it’s fun to watch (read). There are two kinds of people in the world — those that are driven (no pun intended) to expand their horizons, and those who are happier in familiar surroundings (internal and external). You, clearly, are in the first group, and to quote Bender (from the movie, The Breakfast Club), “What would you be doing if you weren’t out making yourself a better citizen” (or person)? [N.B.: If you enjoy categorizing, there are many other meaningful ways to divide people into groups: Coke vs. Pepsi, white vs. wheat, UFOs are real vs. not, Ginger vs. Mary Ann, use turn signal vs. not, etc. Try it — it’s fun!]

The fact that our time here is limited is also essential to a meaningful life. How else can you prioritize? All too often, though, I confuse important with urgent. So get in your jeep and drive, pack the important stuff and leave the rest.

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JCK May 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Ahhh…the crossroads. I feel your dilemma and also feel quite a few things that you are expressing. It is important to have something for oneself and important to have your children see you exist as something other than mom. But, mom is the greatest thing you will ever accomplish – at least that is true for me. 😉

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Landon May 2, 2008 at 2:35 pm

This reminds me of that Story People print… Something like, “the angel shrugged & said, If we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.”

It sure seems like the universe (or whatever) is giving you all sorts of signals that it’s your time – now. It’s saying, “Okay, here you go. What are you doing to do about it?” Terrifying and thrilling, isn’t it?

A side-note: The driver is in control of the music. The passengers should be consulted as a matter of courtesy, but ultimately they need to keep the driver happy
– so they don’t die.

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DP May 2, 2008 at 4:21 pm

You and my husband have the driving thing in common. I guess I used to be that way, but now driving causes me pain which has created an aversion to it – and that’s a real problem. You see, I got accepted to a great university for an MFA/Creative Writing program I have the chance to study what I really want to study – finally! But I have to commute 30 miles each way twice a week while still holding down a full time job. Oh boy. I accepted, but I’m scared. I love this post because it reminds me that I’m not the only one who has a hard time committing to something if it is for ME.

Now we just need to push ourselves, right?

Peace – D

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Suzanne May 2, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Hey, go get “The Ten Year Nap” a novel by Meg Wolitzer. I’m actually listening to it right now in my car and wrote a post about it that I will be posting tomorrow.

(BTW, in my car, driver gets music control….)

Ironically in that post I come to the same conclusion as you, but from the opposite direction. I’m single, never married, never had children….and having attended my brother’s wedding last week…have come to wonder about all that…along with the stuff you mention, especially that ‘my life is too smal’….I think I put it, ‘I expect to live a larger life than this’. Same thing.

All that said, I love what JCK said…..even though I will most likely never have that opportunity, I firmly believe that being a SAHM-y is one of the most important jobs in the world.

I can’t wait to see what you do next.

-suz

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Carolyn May 2, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Great post. Eiree almost. I’ve been feeling very much the same and can’t quite put it in writing. I was planning on sitting down and tackling it tonight. Yours is the second post in the last hour I’ve read of a similar nature. I call that a sign. I need to figure this out for myself too. I can’t measure up to your eloquence or beautiful turn of phrase, but I’ll try…

Oh wait. Super creepy. I just noticed that the commentor before me is Suzanne – exactly the person who wrote the simliar post I read an hour ago. Both of you said it all so well. Now THAT’S a sign.

Thanks for the inspiration. c

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Hatchet May 2, 2008 at 8:51 pm

You go get ’em, Jennifer!

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Jenn @ Juggling Life May 2, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Isn’t it great we have these choices?

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the mama bird diaries May 2, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Excellent post girl.

You may feel like your life is small right now but your words are incredibly inspiring.

And the quote is wonderful.

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andi May 2, 2008 at 10:46 pm

I’m seriously so proud of you right now. You are so right. I look forward to hearing about your adventures in the driver’s seat.

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Madge May 3, 2008 at 11:06 am

I’ve been thinking a lot about following the pull.

I’m not sure how that sounds, but you know what I mean. i have to go and eat pie now.

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HRH May 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm

I love it when a plan comes together.

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Angela May 4, 2008 at 12:56 pm

I am soooooooo excited for you. This post is breezey and full of space and possibility and I am really really excited for you!!

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CrazyCath May 4, 2008 at 7:40 pm

That last sentence is where I was coming from. But oooohhhh the pressure! Beware! (But I am real excited for you!)

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CrazyCath May 4, 2008 at 7:41 pm

PS I am a rotten passenger too. It is much safer to let me drive.

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