Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Existential Crises

I think I mentioned that I've had a minor meltdown about schooling choices. That minor meltdown, was actually part 1 of a month-long existential crisis for me. In the decision of Margaret's education, many things came to a head for me. And it was painful. This post is my ramblings about that. Go ahead and skip over it.

Let me start off that I don't actually like kids. Well, I do. Sort of. I was never the teenager who loved taking babysitting jobs. I never wanted to hold new babies and even when Margaret was born and we were still in the birth tub, I bumbled over myself trying to figure out how to hold her without causing harm. As soon as my younger sister was able to babysit, I started turning down babysitting jobs saying, "I can't that night, but my sister can!" I started working at 15 and worked all through high school and used work as a way to not babysit (although my first job was in a nursery at a women's gym, making $5.35/hr with up to 13 kids in there by myself- maybe I have some extra dislike of babysitting because of that).

Now, I do like my kids. And I've found babies to be pretty easy, but as they get older, my patience wanes quickly. I had some extra troubles when Margaret hit 3 and a half- it's a hard age. McKay is not a stranger to me phoning him in the afternoons (or even sooner) panicked and crying that I can't handle the kids anymore that day. And as kids get even older, they start developing annoying things like repeating everything over and over and over and "I know you are but what am I" and stop that clicking with your mouth! I don't look forward to having a 7 year old. But on the other hand, a 7 year old can go to a friend's house and be away all afternoon. As long as the other parent doesn't expect me to return the favor and have the kids at my house. This is why I don't do babying sitting coops. But then, of course, I'm stuck with them by myself all the time. Catch-22.

Let's leave that at that and get back to it later in the post.

So when we decided to have kids... well, I don't think "we" decided that. I never felt like it was "time" to start trying. I prayed and prayed about it and never got a "yes" feeling. McKay did, but I didn't. I went with it since that's "what you did." And it has been nice. A lot has come from that decision: I got to go on my unassisted birth journey and meet awesome people like Laura Shanley. I've been able to meet amazing people like Alisa and Shannon and Xaka and other great moms I've learned a lot from. Even reading mommy blogs had taught me a lot. I'm grateful for those experiences, but I do wonder if my lack of enthusiastic, "YES!" to having kids means I should have waited a little longer.

But if we had waited, what would I have done? No idea. I graduated with my BS when I was 10 weeks pregnant and so morning sick I thought I was going to throw up when they called my name to get my diploma. I had no plans after graduation. I liked math, but not really enough to pursue further degrees in math. And BYU closed the master's program I was interested in and did not have programs for my other interests. McKay needed to finish his bachelor's, so I couldn't really go anywhere else. I was stuck in Utah.

Because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, having kids was a good filler. I'd have kids and figure it out eventually. And that was fine. Until "eventually" came and I didn't know what I wanted to do. And enter some more background:

Since July, I've been our ward's nursery leader. This is not an easy calling for me. There was one Sunday morning in January when Margaret said the word "nursery" in our family prayer and I just went to tears. Babysitting is not my forte. The bishop was sure I'd love it; after all, his wife loved being in nursery with their kids! But I am not his wife. It got to the point where going to church was a major chore. It has improved since McKay has joined me in nursery- he's a calming influence and makes those 2 hours a little more manageable, but I'd be lying if I said I'm gung-ho about going to church right now. My calling is a major stressor.

So for months I was running on empty. Church normally filled my cup, but instead it was draining it more. I tried filling my cup at things like book groups and the like, but hearing other women talk about, "Oh this book reminded me of this movie..." made me want to scream: HOW DO YOU HAVE TIME TO GO TO ALL THESE MOVIES?! They don't have small kids at home, that's how.

Then Margaret turned 4 in March. And if we want her to go to kindergarten in a year and a half, we'd have to start touring schools this fall and winter- even if we went with public school because Oakland is an "options" district. Because my cup was so empty, the thought of sending my kids away all day was very attractive (of course, Isaac would still be around for a couple of years). But the schools aren't that great and I wanted to homeschool, but I also wanted a life of my own.

I ran into the issue of "what would a life on my own even look like?" The kids are gone all day... and then what? "Eventually" was staring me in the face and I couldn't put off "what I'm going to be when I grow up" longer. I looked into graduate programs and certifications and jobs. But I felt the same way I felt 5 years ago: I don't actually want to do the things I'm qualified for. I could go back to school and give myself more time to figure it out, but I wanted to be sure about whatever graduate program I wanted to pursue before I started throwing money at a university. I didn't want to find out that 2 years later with a MS degree, I was right where I was with my BS: no idea what to do with my life.

I wanted to homeschool, but I didn't want to spend all my days with my kids. I wanted an outlet and homeschooling was this point of no return for my personhood. But choosing a school for her meant I had to choose a direction myself. I could send my kids to school, but without direction for myself, I'd still be just as frustrated and lost as I would be if they were home.

Enter existential crisis. With crying. And crying. And googling classes and schools (for both me and Margaret) and trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. There was some guilt, too. McKay has a great job and I don't need to work. In fact, I could do whatever I want and fail and still be ok financially. I felt a little bad about that: I can start up a business making guitar picks from grass and fail and we wouldn't be any less off. But I guess, if I've got the privilege, I might as well use it. It's no good to wallow in privilege-guilt.

Fortunately (oh so fortunately!) I found a career that actually makes me excited. I ran into it on the Internet. Hooray for the Internet! There is a demand for it, I can choose how much work I take on, and it's something that combines many of my talents and loves and will be fun. It was created for me. If I hadn't run into this, I'd still be in full-on existential crisis mode this moment.

And this happened 2 Saturdays ago. I cannot tell you how much of a relief it was. Weight lifted. Suddenly I could say "yes" to homeschooling. Homeschooling wasn't going to sap my soul. I can educate my children AND fill my cup. Have my cake and eat it too! I get to homeschool in the mornings and then work in the afternoons and evenings. I can even get a mother's helper and employ a local teenage homeschooling person to help me out in the afternoons when I need to work. My friends, I am about to live the dream. Starting this summer.

So for the next few months, I'm going to look up all that is involved with starting my own business. I'm going to finish up some big knitting projects so that I can start my new career with a clean slate without other projects glaring at me, "You got a new job and now you have abandoned me to the UFO (unfinished objects) bin." I am also going to test the waters in this career to make sure it's something I actually like by doing some work for trade. If I love it as much as I anticipate loving it, then off to get an EIN, I will be!

So thanks for reading all that. It probably wasn't all that interesting, but thanks for being my sounding board. I'm very excited that I have a direction again. So very excited.

I know I said I wouldn't turn this into a homeschooling blog, and I won't, but I'll probably blog about homeschooling one more time this week- about how I incorporate "parent-led schooling" in with our unschooling. Stay tuned!


  1. I am familiar with this type of existential crisis. It's one of the things that has worried me a lot, in fact.

    I'm glad you've found a solution that lets you stick to your homeschooling aspirations without feeling overwhelmed by it.

  2. so you've left us hanging...what is this fascinating career that seems to let you solve your existential crisis? We have to know now that you've teased us?

    I still feel like I don't really like either option (homeschool or public school) but I have to do *something.* Even if I do nothing, that means I've chosen homeschool...so I can't really not choose.

    1. I'm kind of afraid to mention it because it's not something cool that really anyone says, "I'm going to be a ____ when I grow up," except that I am really excited about it. I do have to take a class or two and do some reading up on it, and it's going to be a slow start, but I'm pretty sure it'll rock once I get in the groove.

      As far as homeschooling- how exactly we're going to homeschool will be determined when we hit first grade and school is compulsory- there are multiple ways in CA to homeschool. I should probably do a post on that. And as always, I reserve the right to change my mind. :)

  3. Yeah, I'm really curious about what you'll be doing, too! And I love the homeschooling posts -- it's something I've been thinking about for a while already, even though I dont' have to make a decision soon. Although the WHOLE WORLD seems to think it's their business that Ethan isn't in preschool "yet," which is driving me crazy. Anyway. I'm interested to hear more about your journey with this.

  4. I love when people are real on their blogs. I haven't blogged about my existential crisis because I haven't been blogging much lately. For me, it was kind of destined to happen, as it is common to have one when you move countries, and it is common to have one when you leave a religion. I did both around the same time, so it really sent me into a time where I just wondered what I even wanted in life.

    Right before I kind of fell into it, Andrew and I had put up a tent in our living room. He now thinks back to that as a really bad time, because I would lay in the tent, just staring into space for hours on end, punctuated by extreme crying.

    A lot of it for me was just feeling like I'd lost myself. I just kinda snapped out of it by putting up pictures that I'd had up in my apartment in Utah. I didn't really solve anything. I think the hardest thing for me was to confront the idea of anything being open to me. If I could do anything, then I had to actually figure out what I wanted. And then meeting another culture, it just made me question lots of assumptions that I'd held in ways that I'd never even thought about, which is something I love in general, but it was all a bit overwhelming to have them all come at once.

    I guess I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone. *hugs from Australia*

    1. Blog about it sometime! I'm fascinated by your new life. :)

  5. I'm so glad you found an answer. I've been praying for a mentor in my life because I'm starting to get all existential myself.

    You should tell your bishop you hate your calling. Quicko story time: I had a calling in primary which I HATED because I also do not like children that much, and finally I was brave enough to tell the bishop I didn't like it and wanted out. He was kind enough to comply. A week later, during the primary class I had previously been teaching, I overheard people talking about how much they needed an organist for the ward. So I was able to volunteer to play the organ and now I have a calling I really like.

    The bishop actually even mentioned that he thought I would like my last calling, even though I loathed it. He actually thought he was doing something nice for me. Sounds like yours feels the same. If he knew how much you hated it, he'd probably change it. I really believe that some callings are inspired, and some just happen because you're a body that can fill the position. As I pointed out to my bishop, anyone can be in primary/Nursery. Not anyone can play the organ (or do whatever, fill in the blank). There's probably a perfect calling out there for you that can help you love church again, and your bishop would probably be happy to help that happen!

    1. Funny thing: when they originally asked me to be in the nursery, I turned it down so they put me in Sunbeams. Then a few months later they asked again (this time being the nursery leader instead of a lowly worker) and I did agree since they were persistant. Being a leader is a little better since I get to do the lesson and there is more structure: workers just babysit for 2 hours and I'm pretty sure I couldn't handle that. I took the calling with an "out" date, and when my year is up in July, I'll be released. I'm going to stick it out until then because it's only 3 more months.

      Funny thing about the organ- I can actually play it! And no one knows! But that's because when we moved in and the bishop asked if there were any callings we wouldn't do, I said scouts and music. Scouts because... it's scouts. And music because I had done every piano calling in existence (minus EQ pianist) and I found it very isolating (I only got to talk to people when they wanted me to accompany them in a musical number) and I was sick of it. I should have thought to say nursery! Alas. I did finally do a piano special musical number a couple of weeks ago and everyone was surprised I played. I kind of like it that way. What I would really love is a committee calling where I can talk to people, but not have a lot of responsibility and meetings. Throw me on a committee!

  6. Not every person is cut out to have 10 kids; not every person is cut out to have one. Not every person is cut out to homeschool. You shouldn't feel guilty for who you are.

    Honestly, I AM cut out for kids--and I felt guilty and sad for stopping at three (although I now recognize that it was absolutely the right choice for us).
    I was planning to homeschool, and then for assorted reasons we didn't, and then after five years suddenly we realized we needed to pull our son out of the public system because he was dying in there, and it was overwhelming to think of suddenly taking responsibility for his learning after so many years of passing it off...

    So I guess what I'm getting at is:
    1--do what makes you happy. IF you are miserable, your kids will know. If your fire needs to get out and do stuff, then get out and do stuff.
    2--do what makes your kids happy. If Margaret needs more social time, then get her involved with groups or even a school something. Structure may make you crazy, it may make her sane. Observe, and remember that the best schooling for her isn't necessarily what *you* like the best, it's what works the best for her. Personally, I get stressed out if I don't have structure. (I'm grateful to have had an earthy mommy because if she'd been less concrete-sequential I would have been one lost little kid.)
    3--don't feel guilty for following the happiness. There isn't a 'right' answer to this kind of thing. Perhaps there are better and worse answers, but there isn't a right, there is just what works for you (all).

    1. About the parenting things: the funny thing is that I actually think I'm a pretty good parent. I'm getting better and better at patience and creative solutions to their problems and connecting with them, but I don't particularly like it. Maybe I'd be a better aunt. :)

  7. Congratulations on finding something you like. For many people, we never find "what we want to be when we grow up". It's tough because I don't love what I do, but well, gotta put food on the table. As for homeschooling, I know I don't have the patience for that and look forward to sending my children to school. Already, my daughter has learned so much from daycare, so I'm happy to outsource that part, and keep my time with her (mostly) for fun.

  8. This was an interesting post to read and I really appreciated it. The thing is, some people act like the choices are so easy and the answers so obvious--but it's not like that for everyone. My husband and I made it through public schools fine, but we do see a lot of the problems with it as well--which are only getting worse over the years.

    We put our son in kindergarten, then kept him home for first grade, but put him back in for the second semester, but want to keep him home again next year. I have so many different conflicting feelings and struggles over it. And like you mentioned as well, sometimes the state still dictates things we have to do while homeschooling as well.

    Also some people are just better at "bucking the system" than others. My impression of you is that you find that easier (or maybe more of an invigorating challenge?), but that is one part of this I really have a problem dealing with--everyone around me constantly questioning whether or not I'm making the right decision. But of course I don't know--how can any of us actually know.

    I would echo another commenter though, who said that even though something may sound awful for your personality--it still could be a benefit for one of your children. I feel like we have to asses each of our children individually, because they are individuals.

    I get the employment/schooling/project thing as well. I feel like a lot of the things I am interested in learning about, and the skills I want to cultivate are not traditional masters' program type things. Just like schooling our children, there's more than one way for us do go about our adult lives as well.

    Good luck with your new idea.

  9. This was a really interesting post for me. I really like Jeanette's quote: "The thing is, some people act like the choices are so easy and the answers so obvious--but it's not like that for everyone." It's true! And how about when we do the things we feel are right and then they don't work out? I can't help but feeling like an idiot and a failure. Was I missing something?

    I think I go through existential crises weekly. I am constantly reminded about how little I really "know"; most of my brain vault consists of things I "believe" and you can really only run on faith for so long until, like you said, your cup runs dry.

    As a stay-at-home-mom I have to consistently remind myself that I am doing something of value, especially as my daughter gets older and I CANT provide her with everything that she needs. Right now my job is saving my family money and working on my health. When I can do those things I feel fulfilled. I also have found a path in teaching others the skills I have taught myself. I am glad that you have found something that you will enjoy and will fill your cup.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. I too think about these kinds of things often and sometimes, because they aren't widely talked about, I feel isolated by my thoughts. I am glad you were able to find something that fills your cup! What a blessing that is. I'm sure you'll be awesome at whatever you choose to pursue and I'm anxious to find out what this new mystery job is :) I love being a mother. It's what I've wanted to do for as long as I remember, but I work from home too. Not many people know that. I don't need to for our finances and it's not enthralling work, but it gives me satisfaction at the end of the day that I did at least one thing that won't need to be done again the next day. Also, FWIW, I think you'd be a really great nursery leader. Not to say in any way that I think you're a babysitter. But I think you'd be great because I know you have respect for children as people and you wouldn't treat them like they mattered less. May the next 3 months of church pass quickly for you :)

  11. It's so nice to know I'm not the only one who was near tears (okay somedays I couldn't hold it back. Thankfully the kids in there couldn't talk well enough to say "Sister Robertson cried all day") and wanting to withdraw from church due to a nursery calling.


Please review my blog comment policy here before commenting. You may not use the name "Anonymous." You must use a Google Account, OpenID, or type in a name in the OpenID option. You can make one up if you need to. Even if your comment is productive and adding to the conversation, I will not publish it if it is anonymous.