Date Night and Other Imaginings

I went out on a date with my husband this weekend to a Live/Counting Crows concert. The music was great – I hadn’t been to an outdoor rock concert in almost twenty years. We hired a sitter who we’ve had over before, but not regularly. She’s super competent and the kids love her, so I walked away without batting an eye. As I was chilling at the concert, it occurred to me that I’ve lost that guilt of leaving the kids. And I remembered the time when it was a very stressful, concerned feeling to walk out the door. The time when it felt impossible to have everything ready for the kids and to get myself ready and to actually walk out without someone having a fit. So, I reflected on that time and have some random thoughts below.

I was in MOPS for a long time (Mothers of Preschoolers) and now I’m in MomsNext, which is for moms with kids elementary-aged through high school. Each table had a mentor mom – a women who had kids in college or older. I remember the mentor moms in MOPS encouraging us young moms to get away without our kids. To keep dating our husbands. And I could see their point. Yes, I desperately wanted to wear something that wasn’t stained with markers or boogers. Yes, I wanted to go out and have a conversation with my husband. But how? The logistics of it were exhausting to even think about.

When you have the littles, budgets can be tight and babysitters can be scarce. And no matter how much you want to make plans to get out, you usually just end up falling asleep on the couch surrounded by toys that make too much noise. And then the next day starts it all over again!

Instead of a couple, you and your husband become a team – dividing chores and supervision of the spawn – which is cool. It’s good to work as a team, but there’s always this danger of slipping into co-workers or co-habitants. You can become two people living under the same roof, coordinating schedules and tag-teaming domestic disaster management.

Which can all work really well in the moment, except one day, sooner than you can imagine, the kids are going to grow up and move out and you are going to wake up next to a stranger. And yes, you and said stranger will have achieved this huge accomplishment of raising little people into, hopefully, contributing members of society. But just as becoming parents can feel like a loss of identity as a couple or as a professional, there will be a loss/change of identity when the kids move out. Your lives won’t be defined by doctors’ appointments and team schedules. Grocery shopping for a ravenous teen army will become dinner for two again. And if you haven’t invested in your relationship with each other during the parenting years, you’ll be starting over.

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Dormant but Not Forgotten

by Erin Forrester

Erin lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and three boys, 7, 4 and 2 years old. Her passion for writing sprouted from the picture books she read as a child and reads to her own kids today. She attempts the impossible as a stay at home mom: to extract the ideas from her head and channel them onto a page. She is currently in query mode, seeking an agent to join the world of published picture book authors. 

I have always wanted to be a mother. As a child I knew deep inside, one day I would have little ones to call my own. Today, I am “Mom” to three amazing and busy young boys. Sometimes they ask for kisses, sometimes they block kisses, and sometimes they ask for kisses while they block them (my favorite). I revel in this time and know all too soon it will be gone. They will be grown, and life focused around my little ones will evolve to a place where their agenda isn’t first.  It is in this present space and time I’ve gone dormant. There’s a ME with thoughts and ideas of my own that have nothing to do with fart jokes, super heroes or toy trains, but rarely does anyone see or hear from her.  I miss her. I feel that side of me has another calling, but I am waiting for the right time to pursue it.

In my dormancy I eat as fast as humanly possible, for fear someone will need something and I won’t find my way back to my food. I tour my town to lull children to sleep so I can park the car and sit…in peace…with my phone, maybe a book on a good day, or snooze myself. I make myself PB&J for my lunch without even thinking about what I would actually want. If you text me I text back rapid fire or you never hear back from me at all (sorry!). My accomplishments exist in laundry piles of various stages, (bonus points if it is actually put it away), a clean kitchen, dog hair free floors or sleeping kids by 8:00.  Sometimes I feel like I conquered the day when I look back at everything “mom” has completed. Then I remember that it will all be undone by the next morning and my heart tugs to visit that other side, because “all I did today was fruitless labor.”

What I didn’t know as I dreamt about my future, was that in becoming a mom there is a chance you may bury the YOU that people call by name deep down inside. I’ve done this. I miss being her, being light-hearted, rested, creative her. I trade my passions of writing, traveling and concert hopping for playground hopping, board games, and if I’m lucky, sleep. I’m quite the chauffer, building block architect extraordinaire and read a mean picture book. Occasionally a burst of ME will come out by way of a phone call with an old friend, a song accompanied by a flashback, or a string of words on paper I am properly proud of.  It fills me for a moment, but inevitably, that me retreats so the house is in order, homework checked, and yes, more laundry.

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Why Did I Agree to This? Unique opportunities, and challenges of being a spouse and a mom in a military culture

Today I’m thrilled to introduce our first guest author, Susan Silverman, kicking off a series of articles on some of the particular challenges of combining parent, careering and military service . A highly educated and well-traveled individual (not to mention a friend from my American University days), Susan served for a decade as a U.S. Department of Defense consultant before taking time off in support of her family. (For a longer bio, check out our bios page.) Now she’s learning the balance between being a spouse, mother, and individual, all the while residing in the United Kingdom and touring Europe, binging on the latest “X-Files” episodes, and figuring out her future adventures. Despite 10 years working as a civilian for the DoD, her immersion into U.S. military culture as what that institution still terms a ‘dependent spouse’ has contained some real surprises, which she shares with us in this article that gives a glimpse into the perspective of someone peeking into the establishment from the outside.

–Thea

 

Why Did I Agree to This? Unique opportunities, and challenges of being a spouse and a mom in a military culture

by Susan Silverman

Since university, I have been set on being a career woman in the international affairs world. Sure, the path has not been straight—whose has—but my career has always been at the center of my personal dartboard. Being a wife and mother were not impossible roles but not ones I conscientiously dreamed of.

That said, I made it a goal to be professionally and financially secure before I married or had a child. During my pregnancy, my husband received a fantastic offer to work for the U.S. military at a base in the United Kingdom. We could not turn this three-year opportunity down. Because every child needs to be exposed to the Beatles, the royal establishment, and socialized medicine.

At that time, I agreed to be a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) with the hope of working remotely. I had this whole vision of getting the best of both worlds: balancing feedings, nappy changes, and the early days of my daughter with the satisfaction of meeting the daily needs of my clients. Unfortunately, it turned out I could not take the job with me. Nevertheless, we believed this opportunity would allow us to tour Europe and have more time to be a family together. Our daughter, LB, would get experiences and our—both my husband’s and my—time, two things experts say are the most important things for children.

Before I continue I need to state that I agreed to this life for our family. I could not allow such a wonderful professional opportunity to pass my husband by. I loved my career as a Department of Defense consultant; I felt I was making a difference that mattered for those in the military and had colleagues that I truly respected. But we had the ability for me to forego working and raise our daughter for three years without feeling financial constrained—a blessing that very few families in the United States, especially Washington, DC, have—so I chose this path for my family.

We moved to the UK in September 2016. Quickly, I realized I was a foreigner in two ways: to the overseas U.S. military culture and to the British child rearing ways (the latter I will not address in this posting). And from that day on, I was a nobody. The identity I have had for so long evaporated. I was only thought of as my “husbands’s wife” or “LB’s mother”—nothing more. I became part of a no-man’s land of professional women: those successful professional women trying to balance work and motherhood, who ultimately have to sacrifice their vision of one to survive. In my case, I gave up my professional identity.

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“So, what do you do?”

Who else freezes in horror, stumbling through a mumbled response to this simple question? Show of hands?

It USED to be so clear cut, right?

“Oh, I’m a student.”

“I’m a professional.”

“I’m a parent.”

A nice short sound-bite – just the kind of response people expect. That people want.

It’s a question I’ve come to dread. I’ve spent way too much time trying to think of ways to ask this without stumbling into a minefield of assumptions. (If you’ve got good ones, SHARE THEM in the comments, PLEASE!) And only slightly more time trying to figure out how to distill what I do now into something that is comprehensible to most other Americans in under 30 seconds. (I’m a stay-at-home-parent but I also do freelance consulting in the realm of political risk and network analysis specializing in the Middle East and Africa *breath* AND I’m trying to launch a writing career. Wait, I see from your expression that I’ve lost you. Was it at ‘stay-at-home’ or ‘freelance consulting’?)

Here’s the thing though: study after study indicates that the U.S. population is increasingly working from home, and will continue to trend that way. Which means that even more of us are going to find it challenging to answer the question. At least in a tidy little soundbite. Do you admit that you work from home? Do you define yourself by that? Or by your title? Do you acknowledge a hybrid-ness to who you are?

Because as soon as you’re not in the office, more of your personal life is going to creep into your day. Which is a great thing! There are efficiency gains to be had all over the place! No more time lost in commutes. The laundry can get done while you’re on that phone call. More free time to spend doing fun things with the family instead of running errands that couldn’t be done during regular working hours.  And as working hours become more flexible, the chance to pursue other passions,  becomes possible in a way it frequently isn’t if you’re tied to a desk 40+ rigid hours a week.

The flip side of the coin, though, is that people are going to struggle with how to arrange that time and how they identify themselves (more on both of these issues in subsequent posts).

A couple of things to consider, both when you’re trying to determine how much information to throw into your soundbite, and even more when you’re trying to unpack the answer someone else gives you:

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