coming full circle

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This is one of those posts that I’ve been writing in my head for a while, worried that it’s going to sound a little nutty and then thinking how silly that thought is… if it’s my blog, I shouldn’t worry about it too much, right? If I’m going to write, I’m going to do it with a minimum of constraint and just pour it all out. This has always been a place for me to try to make sense of the journey and hopefully gain some perspective, and sometimes that requires a willingness to not hold back too much. The path may not be linear and the lines are often blurry, but every once in a while it all comes together and that is something worth sharing. So I’m going to just write, going back in time to explain the present. Will it be one post or ten? I don’t know. I’ll know when I’m done.

I haven’t been writing lately, the longest break I’ve taken in many years. I’ve set a goal for myself as the decade of my forties has drawn to a close, and that is to have my life settled by the time I turn fifty. My birthday is in late October, so there has been a little more urgency as the months have gone by. It’s good to have a goal I think, something concrete.

I started blogging around the time I turned forty. I had four children at home, two teens and two little ones. It was something I wanted so much, those four children, and it was dismaying to realize how hard it really was, how ill-equipped I seemed to be to meet everyone’s needs. Every day was a struggle just to stay afloat. Not that I admitted that, or that anyone even knew. Like most people, I was always fine. But inside, I was lost. I went to find myself through mothering and as it turns out, children take a whole lot more than they give.

Which sounds terrible, and I don’t mean that they haven’t given me plenty, just that it’s not enough to make you whole if you’re missing some parts and pieces of yourself. Many young people find themselves (so to speak) in their twenties. I see my own kids doing that now, and it makes me  happy that they have that time and space to learn who they are before they build a life with someone else and become responsible for the happiness and well-being of others.

Maybe this sounds judgmental of those who make different choices, and that is not my intention. I am only sharing my personal experience as someone who spent my twenties nurturing a family instead of figuring out who I was and what I wanted out of life. My thirties were just my twenties times two, and then I turned forty and started to breathe again and all those buried things rose up to meet me, and I set out to do the work that I should have done when I was young.

It was an uncomfortable time, in many ways. It’s not easy to face yourself, to see things clearly. My husband had his own stuff to work through- yes, we raised each other, but at some point you have to accept that no one else can fix you, that it has to come from inside. Writing helped. Moving far away helped, even when it didn’t work out the way I planned. My kids growing up and needing me less helped a whole lot, particularly being able to watch my older two move into adulthood and see the love I poured into them bear fruit.

Doing this inner work meant letting go of a lot of dreams I had. I got the family I wanted, but it didn’t always look the way I pictured. There were many things I just had to stop doing, simplifying more and more until I got to the point where my life felt manageable. There were tough times in our marriage, angry words and tears and apologies, promises to keep trying, to do better. We both had a lot of emotional baggage from our chaotic childhoods, and it’s not always easy to just put that aside while raising your own children and trying to make a life together with all the commitment and compromise that marriage entails.

But it was always just the two of us, learning as we went, having faith in each other and hope for the future. It has been so far from perfect. I pray that my kids will have an easier time of it, that they will choose well, have a better foundation and more support than we did. We did the best we could though, and I’m glad that we’ve set the example for them that you don’t give up. No matter how tough it gets, you keep loving and you keep going. And the funny thing is, one day you wake up and it’s a whole lot easier. You get better at being a parent and a partner. You get better at life.

So my forties were all about finding myself, except not in any kind of twnety-something way. It’s been a quiet journey, something I’ve managed to integrate into my life pretty seamlessly. I pared so much stuff away to give myself this space, this time to grow into the person I’d like to be. Lots of time with my kids, fully engaged and present with them, because I know now how quickly the time goes and how all you’re left with is a memory of their sweet faces once they’re gone and living lives of their own. Long walks, good books, time for contemplation and writing when the muse strikes. As much travel as I can possible manage, always pushing myself to try something new and do something different, because my life became really narrow at one point and I don’t want to live that way.

In my last blog post I mentioned that we were going to keep moving around, possibly heading closer to New York City for my husband’s job. I know that was only a couple of weeks ago, but things have changed. I didn’t give all the details in my last post, because it’s impossible to share everything. All I’m trying to do here is give a little slice of life, and of course that will never paint the whole picture. I’ve been thinking hard this winter about what we should do next, because we do have some flexibility within the larger parameters of my husband’s job. He works from home, so we can pick where we want to live, although for now his territory is the northeast and he has to travel to New York City a few times a month. So he needs access to an airport and can’t really be any farther from the city than we are now.

It sounds exciting to be able to pick where you want to live, and it’s awesome- I’m not complaining. But it’s also a little overwhelming, if you don’t have clear ties to a certain area and your kids aren’t tied to a school system. Then there is the fact that the New York City area is incredibly expensive and busy and just a crazy kind of lifestyle that isn’t really us. We’re not hicks, but we’re not urbanites or even suburbanites. I’ve tried over the last five years, but I miss the way we used to live and the ideals I once had. We’ve been blessed with a great job and a larger salary than we ever imagined he would make, but it’s not so much money for a family anywhere within two hours or so of Manhattan.

Then there’s the homeschooling laws, and the taxes… I’ve researched our options carefully. Nothing is set in stone yet, we’re still in the deciding phase. We’ve made exploratory trips to Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey. We did our first family trip to Manhattan (my husband spends a lot of time there and wanted to share it with us) and I actually liked it just fine as a place to visit. But I wouldn’t want to live there, and I don’t think the boys would either.

There are nice places everywhere, and life is what you make of it, but ultimately New Hampshire is our very best choice among the states we could pick to live in. I just needed some time to come around to the fact because I’ve grown so used to thinking the grass is greener somewhere else, that change is something that will make me happy. At the same time, I’m tired of change. I’m tired of moving, cleaning up yet another house, the impermanence of it all, my husband fixing things for someone else, taking care of something that isn’t mine. It’s been five years of renting and moving around, and I think I’m done.

I need a place of my own, I need to paint walls and plant a garden and give my kids the security of one home for the few more years that they are with us. I need a wood stove and chickens. I need to go back to where I began, all those years.ago. It’s time. So we are actively looking for a house in New Hampshire, but on the western side, near lakes and mountains, where the pace is slower and the cost of living is less. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack- I’ve done this so many times and I’ve got a good sense of what I want and what I don’t. It’s a little scary, only because I’m fully present in this decision, unlike all the other times. But mostly, I’m more excited than I’ve been in a long time. And that’s a good thing.

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10 thoughts on “coming full circle

  1. Wow! I can’t imagine moving like you do! But it seems you always find your way! Funny, I recently (well not so recently I guess) wrote about “finding myself” also, and the struggle of answering that one simple question- Who am I? It’s hard. Truth is it’s hard being a wife, hard being a mom, hard being a good friend. Or maybe only for me. I’m still on that journey to figuring it all out. I may never, but in the meantime I’m glad to have connected with someone across the states who seems to sometimes be in the same boat! Best of luck to you and your family finding a home and making it yours! Things always have a way of working out!

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    • I moved a lot as a kid too, so it always felt natural to me. It IS a lot of work though, even though my husband and I are at the point where we make it look easy (compared to most people we know). I truly am ready to settle for a while, but I still want to live kind of lightly. I like to feel like I can go somewhere else if I need to without it being a huge ordeal. For now it’s about trying to find the right balance for us at this season of our life, because things will be changing again in a few years when our younger kids leave home.
      It’s nice to hear from others that can relate to the process of “finding yourself”. It’s so easy to get caught up in taking care of kids (and husbands) that we think that’s who we are- but we’re more than that, you know? Being done with that part of our life brings new issues to light, but I think it can be a positive and happy thing if you approach it with the right mindset.

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  2. I wish you find the place you are looking for … I am sure it is there, somewhere, and I hope that you will turn a corner and see it and say “yes!” 🙂 Good luck and all the best wishes!

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    • Thank you! This house hunt feels particularly empowering to me because it’s the first time I’ve been really involved and aware of what I’m doing. In the past I was too casual about it and just let my husband take the lead, throwing out ideas and then going back to focusing on my kids and homeschooling and letting him handle all the details. Now it is different- I know what I want and I’m wiling to make sure that I get it, and that feels good.
      As a bonus, he is happy to have me share in the decision making process, because it leaves him free to focus on his job and not feel like it’s his responsibility to make me happy 🙂

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  3. Miriam, thanks as always for your honesty. You have a rich, complicated inner life and it means something to me to have a little porthole on it. Your life involves a lot of decision-making finesse, to account for everyone’s needs, including your own. My only thought was that I (sadly) don’t believe – here in middle age myself – that there ever comes a time when we are truly settled or can kind of “coast” because there are always more problems (some people prefer the word “challenges” but not me) and decisions and surprises, good and bad. (Two book titles if you’re interested and/or don’t know them: The Highly Sensitive Person, and The Hamlet Syndrome).

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    • Ha ha, I do have a complicated inner life! But I’ve learned over many years how to manage it without putting it all out there in my personal relationships, and writing helps me be less intense in real life. It’s an outlet, making me feel more relaxed and (I think) easier to be around. I have to remember that not everyone feels the way I do, that lots of people really do just live on the surface without delving too deeply. Sometimes I think it would be nice to live that way, but we are who we are.
      Thank you for bringing up the point that there is no such thing as truly settled. You’re absolutely right. I just want to stop feeling like I’m waiting for something to change, and be content with where I am- actually in a physical sense, meaning where I am living. I think it can happen, not to say it won’t change in the future, but that I could really feel happy and excited about the place I call home.
      I know about the Highly Sensitive Person book- I did the online quiz years ago and fit nearly all the categories. That was so helpful to me to understand that I wasn’t crazy, that it was okay to be sensitive. My sensitivity has lessened since I’ve accepted it, well I guess age has a lot to do with it too. You learn to not care so much. I haven’t heard of the other book, thanks for the suggestion.

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      • I know the feeling of “waiting for something to change.” I have it even though I’ve been in one place a long, long time. I have a bit of the same problem in the opposite – I want to be content within myself even if *nothing* changes.

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  4. I feel what you’re saying, in a way. My twenties were spent raising kids. I feel like I still haven’t found myself in all of this. I hope some day to find a place to settle, either in New Hampshire or western Mass. It’s funny how your story should come at this time, just when I was feeling the need for inspiration, and feeling like my kids are growing up all too quickly.

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    • I have two grown kids (23 and almost 26) and I can’t believe how fast the years have gone by. I figure with four kids I will be needed as a grandparent for sure, and I’m looking forward to that, but I’m still working on who I am aside from being a mother, remembering the person I used to be and figuring out where I go from here. I’m past the difficult work of it though and on to the fun part 🙂
      There are many different types of mothers, and I don’t think all moms go through this. I think some are good at reserving parts of themselves, compartmentalizing their kids the way men often do. I think this struggle is unique to moms who give most of themselves over to the process, who really embrace it fully. If you find your identity through mothering (and especially home/unschooling) it can be scary to know what to do when you’re not needed that way any more.

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      • You make a good point. With four kids one of them is bound to have kids of their own someday. I’ve spent so much of my adult life with the identity of mother I can’t imagine not being that, especially having my oldest at 22. A part of me can’t wait for the kids to be old enough that I can spend some time finding myself.

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