Hindsight

August 27, 2007 at 9:05 pm 1 comment

Two occurrences this week confirm my feeling that my life right now is both right and enough. And, yet, both brought back some old and painful memories that reminded me how hard-won this feeling is.

First, I got a call from my former university employer, asking me if I wanted to come back to work part-time, temporarily, while they look for their second full-time replacement for the position I left when I became a mother. I left the position in large part because this particular academic department refuses to allow part-time or job-share work (an issue I write about in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the forthcoming, Mama, Ph.D.).

I loved the work and did it well, and the decision to leave it was painful and frustrating at the time. Now, I see that it was a blessing, but back then, just two long years ago (as time is before and after new motherhood), I wanted to “have it all” by working a part-time job while parenting. I thought that would do it. I thought it would give me “balance” and satisfaction professionally and personally.

Forgetting the fact that the part-time pay and commuting costs would barely pay for child care. And that the work (as a career couselor for graduate students) could be emotionally draining, and I’d need all that energy for this new little person. And that my tolerance for stress is low, and that my need to “be here” as a mother is high.

Getting the offer to return the other day, as it was, made it clear to me that I’m in the right place, at home working/writing and mothering. Doing the right work, and enough of it for now. And being here every day, as I personally feel the need to be, for my daughter. The offer renewed a bit of frustration as well, at both what I perceive as their lack of vision and my own wasted energy trying to change them.

But, none of that is enough to dwell on. I just decided to take the offer as a compliment, keep the door open because who knows, and go back to my computer and my non-stop talking child, knowing that my work-life may not always be in balance, but that it fits. I clearly made the right choice then and now, and I’ve kept the relationships in tact. It felt like jumping into a clean lake after a storm had muddied it for a time, hearing from him and responding with graciousness and detachment, in the positive sense of the word. It was a good feeling.

******************************

Now, the other occurrence this week took me farther back, to murkier waters — to college in fact, a time I’ve pretty much greyed out in my memory banks. A guy friend from the undergrad days emailed to say hello, as he found my profile on LinkedIn, which I had filled out months ago when assigned by an online magazine to write an article on this popular online business network and needed to see what it was all about.

I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone from college except my two freshman/sophomore roommates, a couple profs, and loosely with a couple women I worked with. For someone as deeply connected to others as I tend to be, this could be surprising. Except if you knew me in college you know I spent the entire four years in a seriously committed relationship with the so-wrong guy — a relationship that ended in a heartbreakingly shocking way for my young self a year after graduation, just before me and so-wrong guy were about to tie the knot. Thank God we didn’t, that it ended, I can say now. But, back then, a dozen years ago now, my young self was crushed and betrayed, and wanted nothing to do with anyone that was a part of that five years for quite some time.

Hearing from a former college friend, a guy I served as a resident advisor with who is now doing amazing work on an international scale, reminded me of all the real connections I forfeited during that time because I was focusing my energies elsewhere. My college connections would have been so different had I spent one day of those four years as an independent young woman, looking outside of my little bubble a bit more.

Now I can look back and clearly see that too-long college romance as my own need to fit in (on the East Coast, with the preppies, with the overachievers) and to follow my family’s footsteps (everyone married, and is still married to, their college sweetheart, except me), and my own fear of really being myself and on my own.

I have no regrets, mind you. That wasted energy (this is my mother’s phrase I keep using, by the way), that major heartbreak, and that long relationship taught me so much that led me to all the great things that came after it (after a long, dark year of recovery). I probably wouldn’t be in the perfectly fitting, satisfying and authentic marriage I’m in today had I not gone through all that. I wouldn’t have taken career and lifestyle risks I have taken, had the amazing experiences I’ve had. I wouldn’t be as strong as I know I am, as confident in who I am and what my values are.

And, yet, while the outcome is right, the memory is still painful, at this point more of my own stupidity than of the actual betrayal. The loss of so many opportunities during those pivotal years of my life reminds me mostly of my mistakes, my refusal to see or seek further at the time. I have long since forgiven myself, and other parties involved (although when so-wrong guy’s mother tried to get in touch with me via email a couple years back to make friendly, I promptly hit “delete” — no thank you!).

My seriousness then, about the relationship and overachieving in its context, did lead me to some positive developments in the future, I can see that — but at the sacrifice of real college friendships and perhaps more adventure and broader experience (which I had in my 20’s instead, I suppose).

In any case, I can’t get back that college time. I can’t make real connections with people who had much to teach me, who I was too preoccupied to really know. I can’t have been a better person, or a more enlightened one, at that time.

We’re all into our adult lives now, doing whatever our choices, circumstances, and attitudes have led us to do, with the people our lives have led us to be with. I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything, no way. I would keep it all the same because it brought me to where I am and who I am with now. But hindsight is a good reminder of how far I’ve come.

*********************

So, now, as I stare in the faces of these different pasts, I know I won’t go back to who I was then, either then. I won’t repeat the same mistakes, thankfully, but will learn from new ones instead. I know those pasts shaped my present, as my present is shaping my future.

I will go forward, proud of my war wounds, holding my head high, breathing easily because I am at this moment with the right partner, in the right job(s), living the right life for me. But never forgetting the times when I was not.

And that is enough.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. J. David Pincus  |  August 31, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Is enough really ever enough? For more than a moment or two, anyway? Aren’t we as human beings programmed to want more, to strive to make ourselves and life in general, to raise the stakes, to leave more than we found? I often wonder about these unanswerable questions a lot. Maybe what I’ve learned in my almost 60 years, 40 of them as a parent and 10 of them as a grandparent, is that what’s truly important is that we never stop posing the questions, because there are no adequate answers, least not for more than a few seconds at a time.

    But what is awfully nice to see, more satisfying than almost anything else I can think of, is the realization that one’s children have come to terms, peaceful and self-satisying terms, with not only the questions, but the impossible answers as well. They’ve found their own answers, ones that fit their personalities, life situations and view of what life is supposed to be; how and when they discovered these revelations was somwhere between college and parenthood, I guess, somewhere between triumphs and disappointments, trials and tribulations, but they somehow saw through the murkiness of the ups and downs of everyday life to discern the bigger picture that takes us all in a giant sweep that never ceases.

    To see my children’s own reflective, illuminating words — Megan’s commentaries and Jeffrey’s interview — illustrate their own incisive perspective on themselves, family, what’s important to them, society’s meanderings, and their challenges to find the elusive work/life balance, touched me deeply. And left me feeling proud and happy, and admiring of how much earlier in their lives (and with far less angst) they came to understand what makes life tick than I did (if indeed I have). I can’t think of a more precious gift than the one I got reading their words. Thanks, Jeffro. And thanks, Megat, for sharing so much of yourself, your feelings and thoughts, and others’ insights, through your special talent for expression of the human spirit. You guys continue to show me the way . . .

    Reply

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You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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