Just a little over 17 years ago, I went out on a run in order to think. In order to make a decision: accept the teaching position that was offered to me or not? On the outside, it didn’t seem like a hard choice. I had just finished up a year of school followed by a semester of student teaching. I had my second degree and my freshly-minted teaching certificate, a tight grip on a sort of surety that through teaching I could make a difference and that I would matter. Why wouldn’t I accept it?
Because in my heart of hearts, and in my discussions with my husband, I didn’t want to go to work. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to walk Jake to kindergarten and walk home with him and Haley in the afternoons. I wanted to drop off Nathan at preschool. I wanted to have lazy afternoons at home helping my kids do their homework. I wanted to have another baby. That was what I wanted.
But what my reality was was that Kendell had just come off of a year of unemployment. He had found a job again, finally, but it didn’t pay much. We were just barely making enough to survive. Me going back to work—even if I had to pay for daycare for two kids on a teacher’s salary—was the best solution.
So I interviewed at several different schools that summer. Down deep, I hoped no schools offered me a job. But, three weeks before school started, one did. And I had to decide: did I chose what I wanted (what I wanted so desperately) or what would seemingly help my family the most?
I took my kids to a friend’s house and I headed out on a run. No music. Just thinking. Just weighing my options. And right as I was running past the library (the library where I now work), I was filled with a certainty: take the job.
Take the job and one day you will understand why.
That day I was prompted to remake myself. To let go of who I wanted to be and to embrace who life was directing me to be. In some ways, I never got over that remaking. I never stopped mourning those lost days of being a stay-at-home mom when Haley was only seven, Jake five, Nathan three. The lazy mornings and after-school afternoons I never got to have with them. The meals I didn’t make and the life-changing stress I didn’t experience.
I did my best to remake myself, until I had the chance to have Kaleb, and I grabbed it. Were the three years I got to stay at home with him a remaking or a reacquainting, a way to try to get back days I could never get back? I don’t know, but eventually I got another opportunity to remake myself when I, on the spurt of a moment, applied for a job at the library when Kaleb was almost three.
That remaking was far less painful, because I could control the choice. I felt like I had a choice, and I chose to do it. I didn’t know I would uncover an identity I hadn’t guessed was in me. I didn’t know I would find my librarian self. But I did, and for the past twelve years I have worked at the library.
I’ve been thinking about that run from 17 years ago a lot, recently. You’ll understand why…I thought I already understood: being a teacher was a sort of gateway into becoming a librarian. That it happened right in front of the library where I would eventually work didn’t feel portentous then, but looking back, I thought what I would understand was just that because I became a teacher I could become a librarian.
But I am wondering if it is something more that I haven’t seen yet. That I will only understand when I look back from some place I cannot yet even catch a glimpse of right now.
Maybe this is the clichéd mid-life crisis, I don’t know.
But I feel like I am reaching another turning point in my life, a hinge that is a decision my life will bend on.
For twelve years I have worked as a librarian. I have been defined as a librarian. I have felt a thrill every time someone asked me what I kind of work I do, and I could answer “librarian.” I have loved it and I have felt like I was doing something that mattered, even if it only mattered to a few people.
But some experiences I have had over the past year or so have stripped me of that feeling—the feeling that my work as a librarian matters and the feeling that I mattered as a librarian within the library where I work.
Unlike that painful, painful choice 17 years ago, to change myself from a stay-at-home mom to a teacher, my reality isn’t really forcing me to make a change. Unlike my choice twelve years ago, I am not stumbling fortuitously into a new career.
Also unlike those other decisions, I am no longer the person I used to be. Along the way, I lost my confidence. In my abilities, in my intelligence, in my sense that I matter. I no longer have the religious faith to believe that if I just work better at being “good” I will be led to an answer or to the desires of my heart.
This choice is on me. This remaking is the one I must accomplish on my own, without serendipity or financial struggles or heavenly promptings.
I can keep working at the library for the next twenty years.
Or I can change.
The world doesn’t care what I do.
I have only one teenager still at home—that baby I wanted so desperately—and while I know you never stop parenting your kids, I am working through the process of understanding how much less they need you as they become adults.
Do I want to remake myself?
Do I want to stay the same?
How do I remake myself when that confidence and faith I used to have are both gone?
How do I stay the same when faced with the sadness that my recent experiences have brought me?
Do I do what I want? Or do I do what might be best for my family?
Do I choose something more financially secure or do I commit to my writing dreams?
Who do I want to be for the rest of my life?
What part of my reality is set in stone and what part can be changed?
Can I remake myself? With this body that is starting to feel like a pair of worn-out jeans that is just about ready to be left in the bag of one-day-I’ll-make-a-denim-quilt jeans? With this brain that sometimes feels every second of its 48+ years, feels soft and quiet instead of sharp and quick?
If, in 48 years of living, I have come to this place where I am struggling to feel like I have ever mattered, is there any point to seeking out a new direction? Why would I matter in some different situation if I don’t matter in this one?
To be honest, I feel deeply mired in my life. I feel backed into a corner, and it seems like the potential for achieving the ambitions I had for myself is in the past now.
I’m not ready to let go of them, but I also don’t know how to achieve them from this place I have put myself through the choices I’ve made.
How do you remake yourself when you feel entirely lost in the dark?