Not long ago, I was wandering around a beautiful fall-leaf filled campus wondering about the meaning of life and training to be a junior political theorist. In my self-absorbed angst, I had no idea that someday I’d look back fondly at the carefree days of college and long for a time when an emotional crisis involved getting a C on an Astronomy Exam, and hard work meant cooking and cleaning for a small dinner party.
From where I sit today, surrounded by dirty carpets, small sharp loud toys, smelly dishes, chatty kids, and baggy clothes, those days seem halcyon and delightful. I had my whole life ahead of me, and the world, if not my oyster, was certainly rife with possibility. I could go wherever I wanted, study esoteric french feminist theory, practice vegan-ism, run every day, spend my days however I chose.
Yet I never experienced this freedom as happiness. As a lover of structure, those carefree days were haunting and terrifying. I flailed under the weight of all of those choices and so made a host of bad ones — changing jobs and house mates and life philosophies every other week, trying out fad diets and freewheeling intellectual inquiry, experimenting with drugs, and bad boyfriends and everything in between. I was totally lost. Not "happy and free" lost. Lost lost.
More than a dozen years later, I’m no longer free. I have obligations and bills and schedules and people. I am the cornerstone and the foundation of happiness for three small girls. I have a marriage to honor, friendships to support, girlfriends to encourage. Life is hard and tiring and relentless. I am beleaguered and bedeviled and exhausted and cranky.
Yet I’ve never felt so important and so integral to the functioning of things. Like a conscripted CEO, I’m pulled into all the emotional turmoil and household chaos and expected to smooth it all out. As the expectant faces of my family turn toward me, I become the directed strong woman I always dreamed I’d be.