When my youngest, Anna started kindergarten, I thought we’d both be thrilled. She had talked all summer about using her new lunchbox and riding the bus like her brothers, and after having been home for 12 years with kids, I was ready for a quiet house. When the time came to go, she walked right in and waved goodbye to me like such a big girl and I was so happy that there was nothing to worry about.
Until the next day, when she was more hesitant to get out of bed and started talking about all the “what ifs” she hadn’t considered before she realized there was structure at school. “What if I cough and the teacher won’t let me get a drink?” and “What if I have to go potty and she doesn’t let me go to the bathroom?” and “What if my throat starts to hurt and they won’t let me call you to pick me up?” and “What if they make me eat all my lunch and I’m not even hungry?”
Every morning for a month was a struggle as I dragged her into my van then watched her bawl and kick and scream until a teacher pulled her out. Starting something new was so scary for her because during her five whole years at home with me, she had been able to do what she wanted in the comfort of familiar surroundings. I knew she didn’t like to lose her sense of control (and believe me, the girl LIKES to be in CONTROL), so being told by strangers when she could use the restroom or when to eat was just not her cup of tea.
So I would drop her off and watch her sob as she went in, then I’d come home and pace around the house, aimlessly. I liked the quiet, but I was too consumed by her sadness to enjoy it. I had several hours of freelance work each week, but it wasn’t enough to keep me busy. People kept asking me “So what are you doing with your time now?” and “Are you going to get a job outside the home?” So I would spend hours searching on my phone or computer considering what kind of work I should be doing.
And for each job I saw, I thought of every excuse not to apply.
“What if the traffic is bad?” and “What if I don’t get enough time off with the kids in the summer?” and “What if I don’t like the work?” and “What if they don’t let me go the bathroom?”
I realized at a certain point that I was just as afraid of losing control as Anna was. I’d been running my own life and following my own schedule for so long that I didn’t want to let go of all the things that made me comfortable. I thought about how many times I had told her in the past few weeks that “change just happens” and “everyone has to go to school” and “you don’t get to choose what you want to do all the time.” And I started to think maybe I should just give in and take whatever job was nearby or that had the right amount of hours because if I was basically telling Anna to suck it up, why shouldn’t I?
As weeks went by, Anna still got into the van reluctantly but started to talk to me on the way to school without as many tears.
“Why do I have to go to school?” she asked one day. And on the tip of my tongue was the “because everyone just has to go” answer I’d been giving, but I wanted to say something a little more profound that might make her understand better.
“You have to go to school to become something you want to be when you grow up,” I told her. “You’re going to go to this school, then middle school, then high school, then college so you can decide what kind of job you want.”
“Did you go to school to do your job?” she asked. I told her yes, that I always wanted to be a writer and that’s what I went to college for.
“I’m going to work at an animal shelter,” she told me. “Because I want to help dogs.”
I told her that was a great idea as we pulled up to the curb. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and climbed out of the van with her head hung, just as it had been every morning.
But each morning after, she got out of the van with her head a little higher. And she started to come home talking about the things she was enjoying…new friends she played tag with on the playground, new games she had learned in P.E., an art project that was a lot of fun to make. She started to look forward to Tuesdays because it was library day, then was excited about Wednesdays because there was music class. Before I knew it, she had adjusted well and was learning to love school. Or making the choice to love school.
As I kept contemplating taking on a job doing something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do, Anna’s happiness made me wonder something: What if change exists in order to push us all outside of our comfort zones….to lead us into something that will make us even happier? What if change doesn’t mean giving up control, but rather making the choice to follow a path we want to take? Who ever said that the education and years of experience I have needed to fall by the wayside just because I chose to stay home with my kids? It’s my obligation to show my kids that if you go to school, work hard enough and put your mind to something, you can be exactly what you want to be.
So I stepped outside of my comfort zone and told myself I could make my freelance business work. I took more classes and read more books. I developed a portfolio of all the things I’ve written in the past 15 years, and I created a website and business cards. I started reaching out to local companies I thought might need a writer and contacted some of the editors I’ve written for in the past. And guess what?
I’m writing! A lot!
I’m writing website copy and brochures and blogs and feature articles. I love working in my quiet house and I have just the right amount of work that allows me to pick up my kids from school and take them to games and practices.
And I’m peeing in my own bathroom….whenever I want!
I’m so proud of Anna for being brave enough to keep walking through those school doors day after day. As she grows up, she’ll encounter many more scary situations, but I’ll keep encouraging her to get through them because I know what she’s capable of, and mostly because I want her to feel how capable she is.
And as she sees me following my dream and choosing my own path, I hope she realizes that her happiness is always in her own hands.