I just put some muffins into the oven, and I’m sitting here at the kitchen table looking at the rain pounding on the window outside. I took the kids to the zoo this morning and wore the shit out of them. We saw like half the animals, heard a zookeeper talk on the clouded leopard, rode on the Zoofari train, ate a picnic lunch, then played on the zoo playground. When they wake up from their naps, warm triple berry oat muffins that I baked from scratch will be waiting for them, and I’ll greet them with a big smile and a hug and kisses.
Although it may sound like it, I promise this is not really an idyllic day. This is pretty much our lives. I mean I’m leaving out Noah whining and refusing to go to the petting zoo and whining that the flamingos were scary and whining that he didn’t like his lunch, Violet whining because she didn’t want to be in the stroller and banging on my chest for milk and throwing her cucumbers on the ground while reaching for the sodium-filled crackers, Noah pouting and turning his head around to hide his face when we ran into a friend who said “Hi, Noah!” I’m also leaving out how much I had to beg Noah to get his shorts on, get his shoes on, go potty, get in the car, and I’m leaving out me turning my back for like ONE MINUTE and Noah smashing Violet on the head REPEATEDLY with a toy recorder so that she was holding her little T-Rex arms up to ward off the blows but her hands couldn’t quite reach the top of her head, and me LOSING MY SHIT with Noah when I saw what was happening, Noah crying and telling me angrily “You’re not supposed to yell in the house, Mom!” and me feeling like a total failure once again for allowing my baby girl to get hurt and for hurting my little boy’s feelings, in a scene that I’m sure will keep me awake tonight. Those are the type of great parenting moments that come to me in the darkness while I stare at the ceiling, listening to Lance’s quiet snores.
But this is the job of the stay-at-home-mom, and most of the time I feel like I do it well. I’m not saying that in a bragging way; my kids are my whole life and because of that I honestly do everything I can to make their childhood a wonderful experience. And I love what I do. I love baking, going to parks, swimming, playing, reading books. I love these two people who give me fresh eyes the first time they see a red panda or snow or a turtle or a firetruck close up. It’s amazing the magic and wonder I see in the world now that I’m showing the world to these two beautiful children.
Last week as I drove home from the theater where I now volunteer my time, listening to my Spring Awakening soundtrack with the windows down, I experienced a moment of panic when I realized: I am too old to play any of the roles in Spring Awakening. It was an identity crisis, y’all. I had it all figured out back in high school. My superlative was “Most likely to be on Broadway.” I was going to blow the dust off my little town, move to New York, and star on Broadway. I was going to be a starving artist, spending all my time auditioning and waiting to land that perfect role. I was the girl who held the hairbrush and gave Tony Award acceptance speeches in the mirror.
Did I give up on my dreams? Did my dreams wilt and die? Am I doomed to sit on theater boards, an old woman, snarkily demanding a better seat and offering “suggestions” to the director while looking in on the life I thought would be mine? It makes me shudder. It makes me tear up.
Or did my dreams simply change? I graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Art’s Degree in Theatre. I worked for one of the best theaters in the nation (seriously, Signature Theatre has national renown with a Tony nominee for an Artistic Director, and its own Tony Award under its belt). But when I was pregnant with Noah, I realized I didn’t want anyone else raising my son. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be the one to watch him take his first steps, to dry his tears when he skinned his knees, to be there with cookies when he walked in the door. A stranger in an airport bathroom struck up a conversation with me after seeing my bulging belly and when I mentioned that I’d stay home with my baby for a while, she said “You’ll never regret it.” Those words have stuck with me and have been my advice to myself in many of my toughest decisions. When I’m dying, what will I regret? I know that I’ll NEVER regret staying home with my kids. I’ll never regret having soaked up as much time with them as I possibly could, because this life is so short and their childhood is already zooming past so quickly. And I can’t IMAGINE missing half of what is already so hard to hold on to.
Yes, I’m the woman with the minivan, the mom haircut, the big diaper bag. Wrinkles. GRAY HAIRS. But there is so much more to me than this, I find myself screaming on the inside. Did you know I’ve been to the Tony Awards? Did you know I’ve met John Kander and Stephen Sondheim? Did you know I used to want to be an actress, or that I was actually working on what promised to be a pretty badass career in theatre marketing, or that I now volunteer on a marketing committee for a local regional theatre just to have SOME outlet? Did you know that I play guitar? Did you know I am a GREAT singer? That I used to be in Auburn’s concert choir, or that I’ve been in bands, or that I’ve even recorded some stuff? Did you know that I’ve got a LOT of ideas on how to involve my community in the arts? Did you know I have taken costume classes and dance classes and voice classes and that I can wield a screwdriver and have built like a million set pieces? Did you know I can sing along to show tunes? Did you know we own a television strictly so I’ll be able watch the Tony Awards and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (which features current Broadway shows)? Did you know I’ll simultaneously relish every second watching those and feel some mixture of sadness, jealousy, anxiety, and hopelessness, because I know now that that won’t ever be me?
I’m not asking you, Reader. I’m asking me.
There’s only ONE life. And I had to choose: children or a career? Some women don’t have to choose, and some women balance both with a grace I find absolutely awe-inspiring. But I couldn’t. I chose children. I chose home. And most of the time, I bake bread. I haul my kids to dance class and to the library and on play dates. The only lines I have memorized right now are from Curious George and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The only acting I do is when Noah hands me a toy car and tells me who it is and what it should say.
And I love that. I love it so much. I absolutely adore my kids, and my life! I’m living the dream; I truly am.
Just not the dream I thought I’d be living. And I’m not sure how to handle that right now.