My daughter is sick again. Three weeks ago, the pediatrician diagnosed an ear infection, both ears, and put her on a strong antibiotic for seven days. Her fever came down, she seemed to rally. Then, four days ago, she began to sound congested again, her temperature spiked and, following her lead, I slumped back into the hole I’d just recently clawed out of.
A friend of mine turned forty this week. She is an artist, and although her career is not what she’d dreamed, she is grateful for her good life; her children, her home, her family and friends. These seem to sustain her happiness; she keeps working, selling a painting here and there, drinking wine and laughing a lot. She is hopeful. I felt the contrast keenly, because although I have great friends and family, a nice home, an amazing and supportive husband, I am overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment. My life and my dream life are so disparate that, a few months short of my forth decade, I am struggling to reconcile to the fact that I might never be the person I want to be.
Every spiritual guru out there would tell me to focus on the small good things in my life, that these are the things that should bring me joy. But, for me, true sustained happiness is directly tied to my work, not the work of motherhood, as someone suggested the other day, but the work that makes me unique. Motherhood is a shared experience, one millions of women all over the planet engage in on a daily basis and have for millennia. Not that motherhood is not deserving of accolades aplenty, it’s just that a large part of me is not fulfilled by it. Motherhood feels, to me, like working towards building a life for someone else, my child. It is for another, not for me. That may be a controversial statement for many, and many may vehemently disagree, think me coldhearted and a terrible parent for saying so, but I need success in the work that separates me from the many. And, before you accuse me of self-indulgence, think of this: society has programmed us to believe self-sacrifice and self-destruction for the greater good are admirable qualities, especially in mothers, especially in others. We, us, ourselves, unless we are Tibetan monks, are not really willing to toss our life aside for others, set ourselves alight in the vain hope of achieving freedom for our countrymen. Even those that do are after something personal. Tibetan monks seek enlightenment; what greater personal quest can there be than separating oneself from society to seek a spiritual knowledge that will take one’s soul to a higher plateau of being?
So yes, I selfishly want a successful writing career to go along with my beautiful child, supportive sexy husband and quaint, characterful house. I want more. As a friend pointed out last week, it is too late, at forty, to go to university and retrain in an alternative career. What will I do? Become a doctor? Study for seven years, finish my internship when I’m fifty and burn out before I practice?
Ten years ago I chose a path. Now my choices have narrowed; writer, waitress, housewife. If my writing fails, my life has failed.