Last month I had dinner with T – a friend I hadn’t seen in exactly a year. She looked fantastic, but I already knew that from the family photo albums she e-mailed every couple of months. We only live 25 minutes from each other, but life moves fast, people take different paths and it gets more difficult to see every friend on a consistent basis. And so we enjoyed catching up over dinner and drinks and effortlessly squeezed twelve months into a couple of hours.
Although we always had easy communication, there was something different about the exchange that dominated our conversation at dinner. I couldn’t put my finger on it until we were walking out of the restaurant.
T and I met during a period of transition in both of our lives – I chose to leave my Public Relations job to pursue a Masters in Education and become an elementary school teacher. I wanted a career that would get inside of me, make a difference and utilize my creativity. T also had a professional background but had recently suffered a pregnancy loss and was reprioritizing her future both personally and professionally. I was 28, married only two years and couldn’t afford to be without a salary for long. T wanted to become a teacher but also wanted to start a family as soon as possible, so we were thrilled to be accepted into an accelerated program cohort at Hunter College that shaved half a year off of the regular Masters program.
When we met on the first day, T was loud, bubbly and not at all shy. She had found out from one of the cohort administrators that there was another 20-something going through a career change and wanted to seek me out. We hit it off pretty quickly and proceeded to have an amazing experience – school is a completely different animal when you go back by choice to focus on an area of interest that excites you. It became our full-time job, we ate, breathed and slept our program.
A few weeks into classes, T announced that she was pregnant. Seconds later, another one of our friends announced her pregnancy. I was thrilled for them. At the time, I had just been through a two-year bout with anxiety, which affected me on a grand scale. I had my first and only panic attack during my engagement party which left me scarred enough that I couldn’t go to a restaurant, on a subway or in a car too long without knowing the nearest “escape” to breathe, or a bathroom. Panic and anxiety is truly debilitating, and it took me years to of therapy and Paxil to get a hold on what was causing it – fear of being the center of attention throughout the engagement/wedding period (which for those of you who know me now know that I don’t seem to have a problem with that now!) and just dealing with big grown-up life changes. It just happened to be overwhelming for me. I lived in constant fear of having another panic attack, which only caused more panic. Along with the theme of life-changes, I had constant anxiety about being pregnant and having children, which I knew was on the horizon for Cory and me.
Along with my desire to teach, I know that this Masters program was a way for me to ease into my fears and conquer them. Being an only child and from a small family, I didn’t grow up around lots of kids. My extended family lived in other states and I had never even held a baby before T had hers! My one wish in life since childhood was to become a Mother, but I was scared. (This also is an obvious connection to the non-hormonal aspects of my postpartum depression after having Ryan.) Forcing myself to learn about child development and eventually stand in front of a classroom was a form of conquering that fear. I put my all into the work and loved every second of it. I had to take a Xanax before my first unassisted lesson in front of first graders but I got through it. Slowly, I worked my way to being a really creative and engaging teacher and felt my nurturing/teaching muscles starting to develop. Eventually, I built up complete confidence in my ability and ended up developing a Star Student program for my 4th grade class as a student teacher and made it my job to make learning fun for these kids. And they loved me!
This was my first step to becoming a parent, at least in my mind.
When T and our other friend announced their pregnancies, I was consumed by their experience. I felt as though I was “practicing” becoming a parent through them. I peppered them with questions about what they were going through physically and emotionally, like a curious child. Our other friend had her baby first, and I was shocked by how small this tiny human being looked. I was afraid to hold her, which is why T’s baby was my first.
When I was pregnant with Ryan, I co-taught 2nd graders in a G&T program in New York City and my life felt full. I left at the end of March 2007, a few weeks before I was due. Those kids had become my life – my practice kids. I had a good idea of how to keep 25 of them disciplined and attentive, but was scared to death that I wouldn’t know how to deal with the one growing inside of me. It took me so long to feel comforable as a parent, especially after PPD, that I never even thought about doing part-time work or anything other than parenting. I became Ryan’s teacher, doing charts and keeping my house organized like a classroom. I realized I was still getting comfortable with the idea of being responsible for a human life and it was about all I could handle.
That’s why it was so interesting to have dinner with T this time around. She got pregnant again quickly and had her second child a month before I had Ryan. Being pregnant together was so cool for me.
Our lives and conversations were always pregnancy and child-focused but when we met this time, it was like we were different people. She is teaching Zumba now and has a big following. She is looking to grow her company and have her own studio. I was explaining my transformation from scared parent to blogging and then starting my business with just hair accessories and then building a website and teaching myself how to run a company. We were still the same family-focused women, but we also had gained a part of our old identity back which was refreshing. We slowly waded back into our individual passions and now are experiencing kind of a rebirth. We didn’t have time to do it, but we made time. We realized that being home is a full-time job, but eventually felt the pull to do something truly for ourselves, which in turn makes us less resentful of the demands of full-time child-rearing. We talked about the kids, but mostly about how they are happy and doing well in school and enjoying their very full, busy (and surely lucky) lives.
I have hopes that one day I’ll own a brick and mortar store, but right now I’m not sure we’re done having kids and I want to be there for all of their important events and milestones, so the business will remain small and manageable. Being home is still my choice and I love it. I’m taking care of myself and our family by being happy and busy. The most incredible part of it all is that I no longer feel like I have nothing to talk about other than the kids. I am the last person on Earth to say there is anything wrong with “just” being at home, but after four years of identifying myself as Mom-only, I finally feel like myself again. Just like the time when I felt my teaching muscles starting to develop, I finally felt my parenting muscles getting strong enough that I could take on a new set of challenges. I never thought I would want it or be able to handle it, but I’m glad I went for it. My life feels much fuller now – my kids are happy and we spend lots of quality time together, I have a business that is growing and it is something that I truly enjoy. Cory and I are putting down roots in our neighborhood and are making friends that we hope will be part of our story for a long time. I feel like I’m contributing to the growth of our family as well as our financial well-being by working at night and being home during the day. Although the business has to remain small for now, I feel like it is a springboard for something bigger once our kids are in school full-time.
So the transformation from the corporate world to teaching to parenting to becoming business owners is an ever-changing landscape and I couldn’t be happier for the success of my good friend T, who rode along with me on my journey from anxious teacher to first-time parent to taking a leap of faith and easing back into the working world. It feels comfortable and happy right here, and it’s so nice to know that someone has been there to see it all unfold.