It was supposed to be Consequences. The title. Choices was last time, and consequences come after choices, right?
Well, they do in the linear and just version of the world we inculcate in our children in school. The same one advertisers use to sell us products to protect us from the consequences we don't really deserve if we can purchase our way out of them.
The truth is, I'm not certain I believe in consequences, or at least not as a simple and direct result of choices. Life is capricious and fickle. Things happen, certainly, but who can point to why? Why is a story we tell. Everything is really just a story we tell, when we get down to it.
Identity, though. Identity is a question mark. An ever-moving target. An amalgam of choices and consequences, resentments and realities blended together like stone soup. A story told by a notorious liar.
Someone I've worked with for the past five years asked me what I'm planning to do next. When I told her stay home with my children, she sighed. I already mentioned you to someone on the hiring committee, she told me. The job has Director in the title, and the employer is a prestigious university. I'm honored she would think of me. I'm worried the years off will hurt me in the job market in the future. I'm a little scared of walking away after working my way up to administration from lowly part-time teacher.
Later she told me, via e-mail: I think you seriously underestimate yourself. I think she's wrong there. I might underestimate the value of my particular skill set in the marketplace; she may have a point there. But I don't underestimate my abilities. It's just that I know what else I want out of life. And there's so much else.
There was another job in the paper last Sunday: a list of all the things I love to do; all the same things I've been doing at my present job. The pay was approximately quadruple what I've ever made before in my life. I called, just to be certain, but it was just as I thought: it required a credential I don't have. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then a colleague told me: You should apply anyway. Not many people have the skill set they're looking for, and you do. If they don't find anyone they like, they'll consider you without the credential and give you time to get it. I tucked that information away in my mind, and did nothing while the deadline passed.
I have choices (and they have consequences, though they don't seem simple), but here's what I just can't choose: I can't choose a job where I leave my babies in the early mornings and pick them up late for dinner. I can't choose a job that takes so much of my brain there is nothing left for daydreaming. I can't choose a job that allows me to do good in the world at the expense of being able to do myself any good.
I don't want fingernails bitten to the quick. I don't want to be lost in the shuffle of constant thinking so that when my husband speaks to me I don't hear what he's saying. I know myself. I know my capabilities, and my limitations. There are choices that sound so tempting, but there is no hesitation in my voice when I ask myself if they are what I really want: No. Not now.
My boss hugged me goodbye and she said: I'm just afraid when I call you back with another grant you'll tell me no. That you're too happy where you are. I couldn't answer that right away. I still don't have an answer yet, although the conversation's long over.
This isn't about sacrificing myself for my husband, or my children, although it might look that way to some. My teaching assistant told me she won't work full-time because her household won't run well if she does and I thought: Your kids are in school now! Your husband can't help with that? We all judge. I mean, really, who am I to talk?
This is about choosing not to sacrifice myself to a job that would fascinate me, even as it ate me alive. This is about me, and my need for time to breathe. This is about working out my identity, which is more than just my work. It is, in fact, partly based on my willingness to walk away from work that doesn't suit my needs. To trust (in the face of some very real fear) that I will find work that does suit me, when I am ready to look.
And so I stir my own stone soup, a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, added onto a base built of fairy tale fiction. My story about myself says this: She felt afraid. But she kept moving forward. The path was clear, but she didn't want to follow it. She forged her own, despite the fear.
My story about myself says this, and when it's very late at night and my children are asleep, when I look up at the stars I can almost believe it: She did just what she wanted, and she never paid the price.