I got my confirmation of graduation in the mail today.
Ten years ago my boyfriend came home from work and found me teaching our two sons how to read, and was seriously upset with me. At the time, C was 9 moths old and E was just over 2. They are 15 months apart in age; I had our first baby at 21. When we had number two there was no way I could back to working, so I became the stay at home parent while my boyfriend went to work. We were broke as a joke, he was in construction, neither of us had a college education, we shared a rental with my mother and teenage brother.
I would spend all day, for days and days, teaching my babies how to read, how to count, how to say big words, how to hold pencils and paint brushes, how to mix colors, how to sing, how to clap to the beat. It was the only way for me to stay sane.
I had ironed on the letters of the alphabet to a big blanket, then I would spread the blanket out on the floor and, while I held the squirmy baby in my lap, call out the letters for my toddler to jump to. His favorite letter was E. It only took a few months for me to call out words like “Cat” and E would jump from the C to the A to the T. The baby started to figure it out too; he would roll from one letter to the other making cute gurgling baby sounds. I would roar with approval, it literally made my day.
So when their dad came home from work and the house wasn’t tidy and there wasn’t a delicious meal waiting for him on the table; he got irritated with my acting like I was their preschool teacher.
“I go into people’s houses all the time and it’s not like this. Today I was at a house where there was a stay at home mom with two young kids like ours and she had laundry going and was making dinner and the kids toys were put away. Why can’t you do that?”
I looked at him for a moment, and because I still loved him, I genuinely sought to answer his question. I replied, “Maybe she’s happy.”
And there it was. I had finally said out loud what had been gnawing at me for months.
He walked away from me before I could say more of what I was thinking:
Maybe she had had time in her life to want to be at home with children. Maybe she wasn’t 23 and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Maybe she had been places and done things that allowed the desire to be a stay at home mom well up inside of her. Maybe the snippet he saw was the result of conscious, mature, rational decision-making. Maybe doing the laundry and making dinner every night and keeping her home tidy felt like a choice or an accomplishment. Maybe she had experienced enough of life without the day to day responsibility of child rearing and home making to appreciate what she was doing now.
I hadn’t. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning and rack my brain as to how this had happened. How was I in this situation again? Why wasn’t I in school? Where were the people who were supposed to guide me away from this path?
After that fateful conversation, I stopped asking those questions and started moving forward. What needs to change for me to be happy?
The first answer to that was school. Not being educated was killing me. And of course he said no. He actually said he didn’t think I needed to go to college and he wasn’t going to support me in that. So that revised my list of steps to happiness. Step one became splitting up with the love of my life. Filling out my FAFSA was like filing for divorce.
I’ve been single ever since. Friends and lovers yes, awesome, amazing, sweet and adventurous lovers and friends, but no partner. I’ve been consistently attracted to either emotionally or physically unavailable people. I’ve stayed away from anyone closely resembling real partnership material. Which also means I’ve spent the last ten years rebelling from the expectations of that first, initial relationship.
But my real point is that I’m finally mature enough to appreciate taking care of the boys. I’m finally at the place where I find it rewarding. I get how important it is, and I am really grateful now for having spent that time with my babies. It just took a decade of juggling of their lives with a life of my own. I’m also very grateful for my instinct to teach. The joy I found in teaching my kids sustained me through some really difficult times. I may be shit at housekeeping, but my kids are fucking brilliant.
When I finish my Masters degree I think I’ll actually feel like a grown up. Which is really just in time given I’m about to have teenagers. Maybe I’ll be closer to wanting partnership. Ten years kinda feels like a long time to live in defiance. I’ve heard the mid-30’s are when people settle in to who they are, and have enough knowledge and self acceptance to create mutually beneficial, sustainable, long term romantic partnerships. Maybe I’m ready for that.