When I was 21…..


I haven’t written here for a while.  So much has been swirling around in my heart that I wasn’t sure where to begin.  I’ve started a few posts, but quickly realized that each one fell short of what I was hoping to say.  So I waited, and fretted a bit, wondering when I would finally find the idea that could serve as an anchor for my thoughts.

I knew it would finally come, and it did.

I just read posts by two of my favorite bloggers; Elyse at Fifty Four and a Half and Darla at She’s a Mainiac.  Turns out that Elyse inspired Darla by asking “What were your thoughts at 21 about having kids?” And both asked the rest of us to write about the same question.

So here I am.

Oh, my, what were my thoughts about motherhood?  Can I even remember being 21?

The past few weeks for me have been a confluence of poignant synchronicities.  I have been constantly looking both backward and ahead, weighing and measuring the changes and the consistencies.

I am teary and fragile.  I am poised between what was and what I can’t yet see.

And I have been thinking so much about my own dreams at the tender age of twenty one.

I’m the oldest daughter in a family of six children. The first time that I felt the pull of maternal yearning, I was thirteen years old, holding my sweet sleeping baby brother on my lap. I remember the smell of his sweaty baby hair, the look of the long lashes on his soft cheek. I wanted a baby, a baby of my very own.

That's me in the flowered poncho.  The baby brother is the adorable little curly haired guy to my right.  Weren't we cute?

That’s me in the flowered poncho. The baby brother is the adorable little curly haired guy to my right. Weren’t we cute?

I fell in love with my husband at seventeen.  I knew that I wanted his babies as soon as I knew that I wanted him.  By twenty one, I was planning both my wedding and my family. I wanted to rock and hold and sing and soothe. I wanted to nurture and love.  I was ready.

Paul and I got married at twenty-two (!), but we had grad school ahead of us. My Mommy dreams were put on the shelf, growing stronger with every passing month.  Finally, at the age of 27, with my Master’s Degree in hand and my first job underway, I was truly ready for motherhood.

But maybe I wanted it too much, because it didn’t happen.  Not in a month, not in six.  Not in a year.  The pain and the shame are hard to describe.  I had dreams of desperately climbing a cliff, hanging by my fingernails, pulling myself up onto a ledge where I was met by a crowd of mothers and nursing babies.  I raged, I mourned, I prayed. And finally, after a lot of medical intervention, I did it.  Eight weeks shy of my thirtieth birthday, I became a mother.

I know it sounds like the sappiest of cliches.  But I finally became the woman that I had dreamed of being, ever since that moment when I looked at my sleeping baby brother and felt my heart turn over. I had my very own baby to love.

And not so long after that,  I had her brothers. Life was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Then, when my oldest child was nine years old, and her brothers were one and three, I started a job in the school where I work now.  I took the job reluctantly, feeling that the forty five minute commute was just too much to handle. But I was young, I was idealistic. I loved the children at school almost as much as I loved the children at home.  I believed with my whole heart in everything that I was doing in both places. I threw my whole heart and soul into our school, and into raising my three children.

And somehow, although I didn’t truly feel it happening, twenty years have gone flying by.  My baby boy is the one who is twenty one now. He is about to graduate from college, ending another phase of his life and of mine.  That fact has me looking back, but also looking forward. How did my little baby grow so suddenly into this strong young man? What will he do with the life that stretches out before him?

What will I do with mine, now that I am the mother of three adults?

Our school district has an annual celebration for everyone who has been working here for twenty years. A twentieth anniversary party for everyone who has managed to hang on for so long. I have attended many of these celebrations in the past.

To my absolute shock, I am one of those “Twenty year” people this year. They’re giving me a chair. The other night there was a wonderful dinner, a funny and touching “roast”, a great celebration.  I loved it all.

But I can’t really grasp the fact that I have been at this job, doing that grueling commute, for twenty years! How did that happen?

Now I am fifty eight years old.  I still love my students and love the time I spend with them.  I still feel lucky to have the job that I do.

But I no longer believe in most of what we do in public school. I no longer feel quite as excited and proud and idealistic about my job. I no longer teach in a way that I think is best for my kids.   Now I prepare for the tests and I give the tests and I score the rubrics, because that’s what they tell me to do.  Now I try to sneak in moments of joy and creativity in my classroom, hoping that they will go unnoticed.

Now I am an older teacher, riding out my last few years.  And I love and admire my young colleagues, who bring so much energy and joy to our school.

And here is the synchronicity:  One of those young colleagues is that baby girl who made my dreams come true.  Now she is a smart, confident, beautiful woman.  A teacher like her Mom.

When I sat on the stage during my “Chair Ceremony”, I looked out at the room full of my fellow teachers.  I listened to my colleagues as they talked about my past, and I looked at my daughter, sitting in the crowd, representing the future.

What did I think about when I was twenty one? I can’t remember it all, but I know that I wanted my children, desperately and deeply.  I know that I wanted a job that let me grow and learn.  I guess I wanted exactly what I have.

Now the question is this: What do I want for the last phase of my life? What do I want my after 60 adventures to be?

Comment here or write a post to answer this question, OK? I am certainly looking for some inspiration.

16 thoughts on “When I was 21…..

  1. I think the best is yet to come! It is easier to look back and be nostalgic but surely the time ahead is what we are working for, to be able to take the time to enjoy all we have as well as acknowledging how lucky we are to have our health to do that. Lovely post, you made me think.

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    • I know that its good to be growing and changing, but these are the moments when life’s uncertainties seem so daunting. I need to figure out what to do next, which is another synchronicity: my sons are in the same boat….!

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  2. For very different reasons, I am also “poised between what was and what is to be” and that feeling of vulnerability is unsettling. Some days it feels like I could make the wrong choice and live the next 10 years in regret. Other times it seems as if any choice will be OK, as long as I choose in love. “Leap, and the net will appear”
    I don’t have any advice for you. Just a sense of camaraderie.

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    • Oh, my, what a great compliment!
      I would love to write a book, I really would! Not at all sure that I could pull off anything more challenging than a short story, though! But I do thank you for the very kind words!

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  3. I also find myself looking back while looking ahead. I’m trying to simply appreciate what I have today, although it’s hard because I tend to worry. I love what Laura above said:
    “Other times it seems as if any choice will be OK, as long as I choose in love. “Leap, and the net will appear” Wise words to live by.

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  4. I too find myself looking back while looking ahead. My husband and I commented just recently how fast time is flying by and our children are growing up so fast. At the same time fearing what the future holds for us as empty nesters. I am 40 and my my husband is 43. We have five kids ages 15-5 years. I tend to worry too much and feel sad and anxious about the future at the same time. My husband is a teacher so I know what you’re saying about rubrics and testing.

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    • I think I started worrying about the future in the five minutes after I found out I was pregnant the first time! But I think I also managed to appreciate the moments while I was living them (most of them), too.
      And I’m finding that its not so bad to be the mother of adults; I am still so close to all of mine, and now their visits are even more special. Good luck to all of your family!

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  5. I think once a teacher always a teacher–mainly because I think true teachers are special. It just means you’ll find a different way to teach. I am also a teacher, and I have adopted Maya Angelou’s statement as my own: “I am a teacher who writes, not a writer who teaches.” Maybe that is also you.

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  6. I am also a teacher (and mother of two) who writes (I love that etomczyk above has quoted Angelou!), and reading your post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for making my day.

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    • Thank you for reading, Kat! I suspect that there are many of us out here; mothers, teachers, writers. And admirers of the lovely and gracious Ms. Angelou! My class just did a whole lesson on “Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

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  7. Oh, such synchronicity! I just taught a whole lesson featuring Maya Angelou; she is truly my hero and the human I admire most. I suspect that I was born to nurture; either as a mom, a Grandma or a teacher. I hope to add “writer” one day!

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