Baby Time

When is the best time for a woman to have a baby? I had all four of my children by the time I was 28 (I started at 22). I don’t regret having them, but if I’d waited a few years I could have gotten my education out of the way and possibly forged a career for myself. Then when their father and I divorced I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable economically.

I did finally get a fairly good job at the Post Office, which enabled me to support my children without having to have a husband. Before that, though, I had remarried, largely because I was afraid that I couldn’t raise my children by myself. Because of the job, I didn’t have to stay married when the marriage didn’t work out and I didn’t have to go back and live with my parents, as I’d done after my first divorce.

But the job wasn’t ideal. I had to work nights for several years and a lot of overtime. My children were on their own in the mornings and while I slept during the day. I routinely stayed up 24 hours straight twice a week, which turned me into a zombie mom. It seemed like anytime I had a chance to spend time with my children at home, I fell asleep.

I’m not saying that I would have found a perfect job if I hadn’t had children right away. There are very few perfect jobs for mothers, anywhere. But I would have had more options if I’d finished my education at an earlier age. As it is, I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was 53, long after it would have helped me to raise my children.

But then again, my children were all out of high school by the time I was 46. I’ve had a lot of time to myself at this end of my life and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. Would I want to still have teens (or younger) at home at my advanced age of 57? I don’t think so, but I might be feeling this way because I had to give up so much when I was younger. I feel like it’s time for me now.

And yet I miss the opportunity I could have had to relive the promise of new life that a later-in-life baby brings. I’ve now lived as long with grown children as I lived with them while they were growing up. And even though I’m still a mother, it’s not the same as when your children are small. They need you less for one thing (which can be a good thing, no doubt, but also a somewhat lonely thing).

But what difference does it make in the end? If I’d waited to have children, would I have been more ready, more sure of myself? I somehow doubt that a woman is ever ready to have children. But I do think there’s something to be said for having had more experience as a full-grown adult.

I wasn’t that young when I had my children. At least I’d finished high school. Thanks to her mother’s high profile, Bristol Palin is the poster child (and yes, she’s still a child) of teen-age, unwed motherhood. Recently she had an interview on television with Greta Van Susteren where she said that she wished that her motherhood had happened ten years later. (For an article about that interview as well as the interview itself, go here.) She insisted that having the baby was her choice but that doesn’t erase the fact that she’s very, very young. She’s fortunate to have a large, supportive family. But the more she relies on them the longer her own childhood will last.

I don’t think it matters that much when you have children, but it would at least be nice if you’re out of childhood yourself.

At a Crossroads

Sometimes it doesn’t seem real that I’m a mother. When my kids were all little it did because taking care of them was the main focus of my day. Even when they were in school, it was lunch money and school clothes, school programs and homework—there was no way that a day could go by without my thinking about my kids. And of course I always worried about money. Not for things for myself; it was almost always for them.

I guess even now my being a mother is a driving force in my life. If I didn’t want to keep my time free for the kids, I would probably be going for my master’s now. Hmm. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. Does that mean that I should go for my master’s? That I shouldn’t let my being a mother hold me back from doing what I want to do in life? Aren’t I suffering from boredom doing what I’m doing now? Do I really want to be waiting around for my kids to need me in one way or another?

But there are a lot of reasons why I decided not to go for my master’s. One is that I want more time for my writing. But that’s not going as well as I would like for it to go. Another is that I don’t know if I could do it. Even the application process seems so daunting. Of course, that’s when I think of applying to the Women’s Studies program. If I were applying to the M. Ed. Program I don’t think I’d be as intimidated. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to take the GRE. Sometimes I think I should take the GRE just to get it over and done with and prove to myself that I can do it. But why spend the time and money on it if I don’t need it?

I feel like I’m avoiding something and I’m not quite sure what it is. Is it my writing? The fact that I’m too afraid to go forward with it? I haven’t been working on my essays or my novel for weeks now. (My novel for months.) I do this constantly. I come up with new interests and ideas and I go like gangbusters for a while learning and writing about them and then I lose interest and I can no more make myself excited again than I can turn myself into a man. I always stop before I become fully accomplished. Wait a minute. How do I know when I’m fully accomplished about something? When I write an essay or article about it. That’s how I judge myself. What if I’m just supposed to learn for the sake of learning? That seems so pointless. But is it really? And isn’t it true that I want to have time to pursue my interests? No matter where they may take me?

I feel very much that I’m at a crossroads. I know I can’t keep going on this for the rest of my life or I’ll go bonkers. I have to find some consuming interest besides my kids. They just don’t need me that much. I love being available when they do need me, but it’s so infrequent and mostly means phone conversations anyway. I’m not the center of their lives either (and haven’t been for a very long time!). I know I’m important to them, but they’re adults now and the best thing I can do for them is to be happy. No one wants an unhappy old woman hanging around, least of all me. I don’t want to be filled with regrets at the end of my life.

I went back to school five years ago for a variety of reasons. One was to finish something I started, to finally see it through. Another was to for something to do. But the most important one was to discover what I wanted to do with my life. I just went into it without thinking about the future. What did I think I was going to do with a degree in History? I’d love to be a teacher but I didn’t get an education degree. Maybe that’s what I should be doing next.

I never thought I’d be 56 years old and still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life!