Revisiting A Previous Post

A mere two and a half years ago, I wrote this post about living and working as a woman in her early thirties.  Although it wasn’t a particularly well-developed post and the writing is rather sorry, for whatever reason it struck a chord with a number of readers and it remains generally in my top viewed posts from week to week.  I rarely think about that post but recently a new comment was added to a response Ms. Make Tea had offered and so I went back, reread the blog, laughed until my stomach cramped in some spots and groaned in recognition at others and thought it might be worth revisiting to see how two and a half years can change things. Or not.

A little bit out of context, but for a bit of referenct this is the response new poster Mer shared a few days ago:

Make Tea Not War (MTNW), you hit the nail on the head right here: ‘But I don’t think it’s actually bad to be a passionate, enthusiastic person with a zest for life. I don’t think there’s a single decision in my 20s and 30s I didn’t overthink and worry about but I don’t really remember all the hours I spent on that. It’s the experiences and fun and the moments of connection that have stayed with me. I think it all works out in the end…’

I love this post, so THANK YOU. It’s so thought provoking and accessible. I relate to the post and to the majority of comments. Right now I’m in my early thirties, and I am job searching, having finished my graduate degree, while also planning a wedding. And many of my friends are buying homes and having babies! If I look at my life path in that way, or compare, I feel behind and confused. What’s next? I’m still working on my ‘career success’ but also getting to the point where I’m getting married in a year and will want kids soon too. So how will this all work together?

That’s what brings me back to MTNW’s comment, is that along the way, we WILL look back on our attempts to make a garden, or a meal that came out great that we enjoyed with our husbands, or a time when we planned a weekend or day trip with friends. They are small moments, but when it boils down, and we can look back, that, along with a superior blog post where we got our thoughts out, are the pieces of our lives that we thread together that make us realize we really are living…It’s not so simple, but it’s what I try and remember when thinking about these big ticket items, so to speak, that I want in life and feeling overwhelmed.

Thanks for your candor everyone!

Mer, thank YOU for such a warm and lovely response.  You made me revisit and rethink this post and I certainly wouldn’t have done so otherwise.  So, since I am still (sort of) in my early thirties, let’s see what I thought then (32) versus what I think now (34).

At 32, I said women my age have a desire to cook beautiful meals. We have the proper kitchen equipment, the wherewithall to purchase whatever ingredients we may need, and a pile of cookbooks and cooking magazines which we have diligently thumbed through and put sticky notes on all the recipes we hope to make. And yet, with the rare exception, we eat cereal for dinner. Or eggs. Or beer. Or sometimes, we just have a couple glasses of wine. Because cooking the beautiful meals, which always require items like freshly made bouquet garnis or creme fraiche or duck livers, are simply too much work.

Hmm. Well, I have to say this still holds true, at least for the women I know and myself.  As much as ever I wish I had the time to make wonderful dinners but as often as not it’s something down and dirty like eggs and toast or a frozen something from Trader Joe’s. I’m ashamed to admit it but as often as not S. does the cooking and I’m really not sure why this is – it’s been this way for so long. I am trying to be more strategic as well as pitch in more with dinner – I’ve been using my crockpot regularly and trying to choose meals that can be made ahead of time.  Right now our goals with dinner are (a.) to make sure we eat it, every night, and (b.) that it’s most often not from a restaurant and  (c.) well-balanced in terms of veggies/starch and protein. This doesn’t mean I don’t long to be more elaborate – I certainly do. But elaborate dinners aren’t reality for me right now.

At 32, I also said we are too tired to cook because our jobs are, frankly, exhausting, and we take our work and our co-workers so much more personally than our partners do. We exhaust ourselves not only with the work itself but with the personal and political we have to pour into the work because all of us, at some point, have been in trouble at work, (my personal lecture came when I expressed an opinion at work and an older colleague called my boss and said I was too vocal for being so young, and I needed to wait five years before speaking in a meeting) – and we worry about all of this in a way we don’t believe men do. Or, if they do, they don’t tell us.

Hmm, well, I’m not exactly sure where I was going with this – I think I was trying to tackle a few different things…how I seem unable to take things that happen at work personally whereas S. is much more pragmatic, but also how I seem to work a lot? I actually don’t identify with this graph at all which I think is a good thing because it means I’ve grown some.  I certainly don’t censor myself at work anymore (well, I mean of course I do somewhat but mostly I say, in an educated manner, what I think) and while I still struggle on a daily and sometimes hourly basis with the work/life balance thing, I am mostly confident in my role and enjoy some of the perks all the years spent working finally bring.  I think we can all agree those of us lucky enough to have job are working more and harder than ever without a ton of financial incentive but I think that’s a sign of the times and bound to change eventually – we won’t always be bound to our blackberries, right? RIGHT???

At thirty-two, I complained that: We owe taxes instead of receiving refunds – a blessing in one way because we obviously earn enough to sustain ourselves but sometimes, it feels like a punishment because we didn’t make the choice to buy homes when we couldn’t afford them or have children when we weren’t ready. We can never afford the amount of taxes we owe (although I will say I’ve been exempt from this, this year, since we bought a house).

Well, I can’t believe at least one of you didn’t call bullshit on this back then – thank you for that, I guess! That said I do remember very clearly having several conversations with friends discussing the sticker shock that came along with our tax bills, but now I am used to it and while I am a little disgruntled when nobody – and I mean nobody – comes to clear my street after a snow storm despite the fact my taxes supposedly pay for the service – mostly I am happy  to pay taxes, especially given everything happening in the world today. Go ahead – keep on taxing me. You’ll get no complaints from me, except perhaps on snow days.

At thirty-two, I said : We want to have children, conceptually, but we can’t imagine how they fit into the lives we’ve created. We’ve all been told by people above us that having children will, in some way or other, harm our careers. And we’ve had enough friends who have given birth that we are no longer able to idealize the experience. Those conversations about episiotemies, breast feeding woes and sleepless nights? Girlfriends, let me share something with you – if you so desperately want us (ie, your childless friends) to join you in motherhood you should really keep those horror stories to yourself and confirm only our belief that motherhood will be exactly like it looks in J.Crew catalogues, all grass fields and matching sweater sets. Because, dude. Pregnancy-induced heartburn does.not.sound.good

Oh, geez. Good Lord. I don’t even know where to start with this one.  I do know that having a baby might be harming my career just a tiny bit, if I’m being honest – staying home with her when she is sick, leaving early for her doctors’ appointments, having actual time where I actually don’t check my blackberry – but I do know E has improved my life so immeasurably that these concerns barely factor in. I am trying to consider whether or not I am one of those women who shares the gory details of labor with her friends and I honestly can’t answer that – I think if people ask I am honest (as in, Oh my god it hurt so much Oh My God) but I don’t think I clobber people with the truth, either. I mean, ultimately, labor hurts. I was sore for a week. And then I was better. I was lucky in that I didn’t need a C section, it didn’t take that long to push (exercise while pregnant, ladies! Exercise!) and everything was very non-dramatic (except for the epidural not working – but on her birthday I plan to write her  birth story and will share all the details then).  I also don’t think I go around pushing people to have babies…it’s certainly not for everyone.  As for motherhood looking like it does in the J.Crew catalogue? Let’s just say today is the first day I haven’t walked around with peas or sweet potatoes glued to some part of me in four days.

You wouldn’t think much could really change in two years but revisiting this post makes me feel like I’ve grown at least a little bit! I think there is a large part of me that is always going to feel about 26 or 27 years of age…when I contemplate that I am actually 34 it sort of stops me in my tracks for a breath or two. I really should stop teaching E to “sword fight” with her spoons during dinner. One thing I’ve definitely learned to do is to lessen expectations on myself and what I accomplish in a day…life is short,  but it long and I am trying to fill it as meaningfully and beautifully as I can. Some days I fall signficantly short of that goal and I bitch about paying taxes and eat fruit loops for dinner…but most days are better than that, now.  Yes, most days are better than that.


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4 Responses to Revisiting A Previous Post

  1. shoreacres says:

    This really is…. well, amazing. I missed your original post, but I have to say, it makes me so glad I grew up when I did, and had the life that I did, and got to experience the things I did.

    I’m 65. I grew up in the 50s with all that entailed re: expectations, women’s roles, the old career choices (secretary, teacher, nurse) and so on. On the other hand, I graduated in 1964, finally got a degree in 1971, and had the experience of watching a marriage dissolve over a choice of career. Although I never burned a bra, I was a “first” in a field, with all that entailed.

    And yet… When I listen to women your age, it all sounds so terribly DIFFICULT. There’s so much stress, so much angst, so much dithering over how to balance everything.

    Sometimes, I just want to say, Relax. Have a career, raise children if you want, and don’t worry one bit about what society says you “should” do or feel. And remember – that old business about “you can have it all” has often turned oppressive, because some women have turned it into “you should have it all”.

    Simplify, simplify was good enough for Thoreau, and it’s good enough for me. How you simplify is a personal decision – for me it was clearing out time by getting rid of tv, facebook, and etc – but it’s still a good thing.

    And remember – the most elegant meals are often the most simple!

  2. Anne Camille says:

    Hi Courtney. I reread the original post and I still love it! (The link isn’t working BTW). Love your update too.

    I’m 51 and stopped working 7 months ago. Can’t quite bring myself to call myself “retired” because there seems something wrong with retiring at age 50, and I don’t know that I won’t work again. But I am doubtful that I will ever go back into the IT world again even though I had a successful career and was good at what I did. Despite having left the workforce, I still have days where I beat myself up over what I have/haven’t done. Like the other day when I realized that it was already well past 5, and the dinner I had planned (not the elaborate kind you wrote about) would take too long to prepare and eat before our evening commitments. Or that my house isn’t dust-free. Or that I have yet to reorganize the bookshelves in the computer room, or paint the spare bedroom and clean out that one last closet. (All the other ones I did last Spring, newly unemployed and feeling quite virtuous, but that! one remaining scares me!) Or that I am not volunteering more, or that I don’t spend enough time with my failing and frail mother or with my son’s paternal grandfather who is in an Alzheimer’s facility. Or why I haven’t I written 50,000 words on my novel yet? (Sad to report it is closer to 5,000).

    I know that there are people who joke about “failing retirement” or that they don’t know how they ever had time to work, but what it comes down to is balance. Not the crappy corporate cliche about work/life balance that is used so often it is meaningless, but the balance that is the constant tension we must maintain in and between our relationships, our responsibilities, and our own necessary time to renew & refresh our souls. It’s about finding the awe in the mundane sameness of our everyday world, the joy in our loved ones, the value in those we encounter, whether we meet them casually or are quite involved in their lives. And that is important whether one has a career, is looking for work, juggles 3 part-time gigs to make the ends meet, is a student, or is retired from the paid work force.

    I was going to post something on my blog this evening, but I think I just did my writing for the night! Thanks for revisiting this issue. I’m glad that you are still blogging, despite the career, your beautiful daughter, your wonderful husband, and all of the other things in your full life. I love stopping by here!

  3. Amy says:

    The line about E sword fighting with her spoon makes me incredibly happy. All smiles on this end. (And thanks for being a grown-up first, so I can take notes.)

  4. Shoreacres – you certainly lend a bit of reason to this whole discussion, that’s for sure!

    Anne – oh, I love what you have to say about finding awe in the every day! It’s not something that should need to be “worked” at and yet some weeks it is. And congrats on your semi-retirement – from what I’ve read of your blog you seem to be filling the time just beautifully. Thanks for such a lovely response.

    Amy, I’m not the kind of grown up to be admired, probably – as evidenced by saturday night when I fled the house covered in bananas and peaches!

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