In the suburbs, we question…
So my husband and I were talking as we were drifting off to sleep, as we often do. He said something about how odd it was that all the big questions we had as our younger selves, well, they’d all been answered. He said it with a hint of sentiment, like maybe there were no big questions left. You know the big questions of your story: Who will I marry? Who will my children be? What will my career look like? Where will I live? Who will my friends be? and the biggest big one… Who am I? So I got to thinking, I’m only 45. I can’t have answered all my questions yet. Or have I?
Maybe in your twenties, like me, you dreamily thought about who it was that you would marry. Husband, wife, partner, lover: Who would it be? And when that question was answered, and the flowers faded and the music in your head stopped playing…20 years later…were they really the one? Some of us answered yes and are still enjoying a growing and evolving partnership (because as we all know, it changes). And others of us found out that the glass slipper was actually the wrong size. But I think in relationships; whether spouse or partner, new or old, we still have to ask ourselves some questions. Am I the partner I want to be? How can we work together when times change? How can I be the best partner I can be? What goals do we both have? What can we both do to get it right? The questions aren’t the same. Hell, they’re not as sexy as they once were either. But they remain, even though firm thighs, uncolored hair, smooth skin and pain-free days may not.
Ah, then those dreams of your children. They laughed, blond and blue eyed, one boy and one girl, adequately spaced apart with no allergies or faults or ugliness of any kind, as they ran through a field of wildflowers. They were virtually perfect, innocent, without a whisper of sarcasm or dissent. They had no need for technology of any kind and their thoughts were purely aspirational and altruistic. In fact, you armchair parented on many an occasion, judging the parent with the screaming child and the unruly hair. Your parenting would be so good, so fucking exemplary, that your children would be well rounded individuals with perfect SAT’s who never talked back, never rejected foods you prepared, hurt another person’s feelings or had bad breath.
Then your children came. And your questions were answered. Mostly. But, as with marriage, the questions continue. Who is my child? What kind of person does my child want to be? How can I get out of the way and help him/her get there? and the last question…I’m not even shitting you…Who will my grandchildren be? Zowie!
In your twenties, did you make assumptions about your career and where you would be now? Like, I was “never” going to go part time to raise my kids. Not to mention (heaven forbid) switching careers after investing 10’s of thousands of dollars on an education. (For our kids, it will be 100’s of thousands. Just sayin’.) I am fortunate to have a job that I still find rewarding even after close to 25 years of practicing. I am one of the few. Some of us keep reinventing ourselves in a different direction over and over again. Some of us keep getting beaten down by the same asshole boss in the same shit-eating company and yet we stay put. Some of us are climbing the ladder, grabbing the brass ring and pulling in some major coin. Others, content to be in the non-profit world, give of ourselves in lieu of a hefty paycheck. Whatever your career has brought you, it is no doubt different from what you had in mind while you were drinking a beer bong and making out with that guy, what was his name again? The questions are different now. What is my career and what is my calling? What feeds my soul vs. what feeds my family? What is my vocation and when is my vacation? You may just find you have a choice after all.
Who your friends were and where you lived in your twenties may be very different than today. And then again, they may not. For me, I got the itch for the west coast after a couple conferences I attended made me yearn for mountains and a more laid back lifestyle. I thought I’d come here to live for maybe a few years, then go back home. Turns out, this is home. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and we were fortunate enough to spend it with some great friends. Did I miss my family: my new niece, my hilarious older sister, my precious mom, my insightful younger sister? Yes, of course I did. I thought of them all day. But I also embrace the family I have made, the connections that deepen every day and the choices which brought me here. Our house, built in 1950, has a litany of idiosyncracies, too. Creaky floors. Lots of knotty pine. Low ceilings. A dripping roof. In spite of it all, it holds inside the sturdiest of beams, the firmest of foundations and the truest of hearts. Is there another place which is better for us now? Who is our community? Can we afford to stay? Home is where you make it.
Lastly, the question of who you are. More often than it should, we ask ourselves who we think we are. Really, the answer changes constantly, that is, if you keep moving. Who you are today is not who you were a year ago or who you will be a year from now. And that’s how it should be. To feel alive, it seems to me, there are more questions than there are answers. Then living is the answering.
I’ll never stop asking “Who am I?” The answer never ends.
What questions are you answering?
Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen, from whom all beautiful photos emerge.