Do These Kids Make Me Look Free?

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. 


8 Responses to “Do These Kids Make Me Look Free?”

  1. October 20, 2006 at 10:28 am

    This is a wonderful post. You have expressed how I feel these days about certain aspects of my life. I certainly had more exciting days when I was single and childless. But there is something strangely soothing and satisfying about keeping our schedules running, more or less, and creating a place where we as a family can have a safe place to land at the end of the day.

  2. October 20, 2006 at 10:35 am

    Yes, there is a great feeling when you know you are needed and you can live up to that challege everyday. Wonderful post, very real.

  3. October 20, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    You must’ve read my mind. I’ve been feeling the same way. Lately I’d been waxing nostalgic for my college days, and looking back at it with rose-colored glasses. In reality, it wasn’t as trouble-free as I fancied.

    Now with a hubby and 2 kids, it’s isn’t “freer”, just different.


  4. 5 Swampgrrl
    October 20, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    For what it’s worth, life in academia bears no resemblance to those halcyon days! It’s endless committee work, grading papers, cramming lectures… no time to sit in the amphitheater and discuss French feminism, that’s for sure. And I guess in that sense perhaps it’s not unlike parenthood in that the satisfaction comes from a particularly lively class discussion, an important policy change on campus, finding the perfect new colleague, getting emails from former students and hearing about their life after graduation. There is far more pleasure in these ordinary elements than I would have ever predicted.

  5. October 20, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Good post, Madame Crank.

    Odd…this week I’ve been looking back on those fresh-out-of-college days, when I was a cub reporter in DC, crashing all the embassy parties and having a different date each night. It was a decade ago, but sometimes (especially after a week like I’ve had) it feels even longer than that. It’s easy to feel cranky, just thinking about those carefree days. Even so…I’m not so sure I’d trade those days for the snot-smeared ones I enjoy now.

  6. October 20, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    I always talk about the old college days. In reality, I’m would never want to relive it.

  7. October 22, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    GAH! You just described the last few days of my life. So much going on! So many little meltdowns to attend to! So many people’s fragile egos to boost of sooth! So many appointments to keep, none of which have anything to do with furthering my place as a productive and important cog in the universal machinery.

    I wish I had a day back to study for one of those college tests. I think I’d appreciate it more.

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