After writing my last post, it became clear to me that failure was a frequent theme in my life. When I look back and I consider my past, I’m quickly embarrassed by things I said or did when I was child that would quite frankly, appall me if my daughter was to do the same. I pray every time I cross paths with someone I knew in my youth that they don’t remember all the exceedingly dumb and cruel things that I once said and did.
But if someone were to ask my what is the single biggest event in my memory that I am ashamed of, I’d probably tell them this story:
A few months after we were married I began to look for another job that would give me more hours. My original intention was to find a part time job that I could continue while working at my current place of employment, Linens N Things (just like Bed Bath and Beyond, except they went out of business in 2008). I applied at a clothing store and to my shock, was offered an assistant management position. This was a wonderful opportunity and great pay for someone that was barely 19 years old and completely lacking in managerial experience. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this was probably the most dysfunctional retail store in the history of mall shopping and I would barely last 1 month before turning in my 2 weeks notice (In all fairness, this store closed as well somewhere between then and now). In hindsight, I can think of all the things that I would have done different, such as calling my district manager (the man that hired me) and complaining about the behavior of my other assistant managers; requesting, no demanding, that I be allowed the right to wear comfortable non-dress shoes; firing a few pain in the ass employees that had no respect for me etc. but I simply didn’t have the experience or maturity back then to realize how to fix my problems or to even attempt to try.
In short, I failed.
To this day I still recall quite clearly the music and “sound” that we played during my shifts. Corporate allowed us to listen to our own music (I guess their way of ensuring the selection was hip?), and someone had purchased a large collection of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs for the recent years and these were on a regular loop. It seems that nothing triggers my memory so strongly as music, and anytime I hear one of these songs, many of which I actually enjoyed while working there, it sends me right back to that period of my life and drudges up all the things that I did wrong and all the ways at which I failed to fix them.
My knee jerk reaction whenever I hear of someone’s problem is that “Oh I can fix that. And I can do it better.” In some ways this is great because it means that I have the drive to attempt things and gain new experiences. And a lot of the times I do a damn good job, if I do say so myself. But a lot of other times I bite off more than I can chew. And I fail.
When I made the decision last year to pull my daughter from pre-k because I felt that the school wasn’t meeting her needs and if anything, making her behavior problems worse, I did it partly because I felt that I could home-school her better than they could teach her. This is true, in that the curriculum I had researched and picked out was far superior than anything you’d find at our local public school. As it turns out though, there is more to homeschooling than just finding a superior curriculum – you have to actually be able to work with your child, and as much as I love and adore my daughter, we don’t work well together. I had failed.
She returned to Kindergarten this year and I am still frequently frustrated at the quality of the education she is receiving. I keep thinking “I can do better,” and I have to keep reminding myself that I tried that once and it didn’t work and it wouldn’t be fair to my daughter to keep pulling her out mid year because mommy thinks she can do it better, only to have her return to public school next year when I am reminded of my own ineptitude.
Once we decided that our daughter would returning to public school, my husband and I discussed what I would be doing with my time. Would I get a job? Would I work from home? Would I volunteer? As discussed previously, my fear of failure played a big role here in deciding what path to take and I decided upon the safe course of doing what I *felt* like I should be doing: being a good housewife. What I didn’t realize was that my attempt at avoiding failure was in fact setting me up for even more failure.
I struggled for awhile now with the idea of me being a stay at home mom. It made sense when my daughter was young and I didn’t trust her in the care of anyone else. When me working would mean she would have to spend her days in day care, the choice was obvious. Now that she was older and she spent so much time school, what was I to do with all this new found free time? The obvious answer seemed to be that I should brush up on my housework skills and meal planning and pretend to be a 50s housewife. The only problem is that I have hated and detested housework in all forms for many years. I have tried (and failed) more times than I would like to admit to in developing a cleaning routine that I could keep up with. As much as I love having a clean home and I love home cooked meals from scratch and I love fresh sheets on my bed – I just couldn’t bring myself to do these things myself on any regular basis.
Today I was driving home with my family and began thinking about my struggles and why I continually seemed to fail at things that I thought I should have been able to do. Why wasn’t I a good manager? Why wasn’t I a good homemaker? Why wasn’t I a good teacher? And the answer was really quite simple: because maybe I’m not meant to do those things.
I had gotten it in my mind that just because I chose to do a certain thing that that meant I was capable of doing that thing, and able to do it well. This might be true in some cases when brute strength and determination is all you need to achieve a certain goal, but in a lot of situations I’m coming to realize it doesn’t matter how badly you have convinced yourself that you want something, that you deserve something, that you need something – sometimes you just can’t do it.
You see, I can’t be all things to all people. There is not enough hours in a day, or energy in my being, in order for me to accomplish the long list of tasks and duties that I have felt that I should be able to perform simply because they seem like something I can do. There is nothing wrong with taking on a new learning experience and trying something for the first time, or even persevering through a difficult time when your goal seems to keep slipping away, those are good and healthy ways to learn and grow as a person. But my problem had expanded far beyond simply needing to try harder.
For 5 years I have tried to make it as a stay at home mom and manage the cleaning, cooking, child rearing. AND I HAVE FAILED HORRIBLY. Sure, some day the house is cleaned. Sometimes we have fresh food and don’t order pizza. And sometimes my daughter says “Thank you.” But I am miserable. I do no find enough joy in cleaning and cooking and child care to overshadow the immense amount of stress, guilt, and anxiety I feel while working. It has finally dawned on me that it’s not because I am not trying hard enough, it’s because maybe I just don’t have what it takes to really succeed by staying at home.
I had convinced myself of this lie that being a good mom meant being able to run kids back and forth from sports practice, being home with them during summer vacation, picking them up from time on school, packing fresh lunches every day, and numerous other small things. And those things are all fine and well for someone that enjoys them and receives fulfillment from them, but isn’t motherhood more than being someone’s personal chauffeur?
The things I value and that I want to teach my daughter are things that I just am not able to teach her right now because I am so stressed, so strung out, so exhausted, and so tired of my continual failure at the things that I could honestly care less about. And I think what I want to teach her the most right now is that sometimes what is best for others, is for you to do what is best for yourself.
My staying home during the day has become tantamount to me listening to those aforementioned songs on repeat all day every day – constantly beating myself up with the evidence of my failures. Failures that are beyond my control. Maybe one day I will have developed the skills needed to find the joy in housekeeping. Maybe one day I will figure it all out. But that day isn’t today. That time isn’t now. At this moment, at this precise moment in time, I need to do something different than what I have done every day for the past 5 years and there is no shame in that. I am not a failure for wanting to move on. I am not a failure for wanting to work outside the home.
When I expressed these thoughts to my husband he was, of course, supportive, as he always is. He hugged me close and told me that he just wants me to be happy, and that that is all that he has ever wanted. I don’t want a highpowered corporate career. I just need to get out of the house and bring home enough to hire a housekeeper. And I think I have finally figured out what is important enough for me to return to school and to finish my degree.
I realize now that the future is uncertain and that I can’t fully prepare myself for it. It’s impossible for me to be able to think of all the possible outcomes for the future and be able to figure out now what the best path to take is because there are still lessons that I need to learn and experiences that I need to have before I can see the full picture. In a couple years I might realize that my priorities have changed again and I will have a new found appreciation for things that I have previously taken for granted, but I can’t skip the life changing events and the teachable moments and cut straight to the finish line where I have all the answers.
For now, I just need to experience life once again outside my own home.