Today I am 24.
I woke up, found my husband and kids already up and eating breakfast, poured myself some coffee, and thought about how lucky I am to be surrounded on my birthday by 3 people who I love and who love me back. At least, I assume my 10 month old loves me, even though he still mostly just babbles “mama”, “dada”, and “babababa”. I can see it in his eyes or something.
I’m a stay at home mom of two little boys who rely on me 24/7 for everything from meals, clean clothes, entertainment, meltdown negotiation, snuggles, and everything in between. They are my life in the most honest sense. I don’t have another world that I can escape too, or that I am required to visit. No office, no clock to punch-in to. No deadlines, unless you count throwing in a load of cloth diapers before the last one gets filled with shit, or trying to get the pediatrician’s recommended 30 ounces of formula into a finicky infant before bedtime. No boss, except for two extremely demanding little dictators who also happen to be 100% innocent keepers of my heart. Nonetheless it’s high in stress and low in pay. As in zero dollars per hour. And yet, it’s difficult for me to imagine a career outside of my home that could possibly be important enough to leave my kids, my world, in daycare.
I have nothing against families who have two working parents. Whatever works for you. Hell, I even briefly dabbled in the career of in-home daycare services for kids unrelated to me. If I’m being honest, that was the worst mistake I’ve made. Ever. Okay, top 3 at least. But that’s another blog post for a different day.
If someone had asked me when I was 19, “Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years?”, stay at home mom of 2 in Des Moines, Iowa is probably the last thing I would have guessed. I would have said, finishing up my degree, living in an apartment in a city, anywhere but the Midwest, going out with my friends at night to catch a show, with or without a boyfriend on my arm. Spending any savings I could scrounge up traveling to faraway places in an effort to reinvent myself as a woman and find some meaning in this world. Getting as far away from my emotionally and at times physically abusive childhood home as I could. Escaping the trauma that haunts every child with alcoholic, careless parents for the rest of their lives.
That traumatic childhood of mine follows me around everywhere. It’s shaped me consciously and subconsciously. It keeps me awake at night, terrified and on alert. It’s a little voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, nobody really cares about me, and even if they seem to, it won’t last, so don’t get attached. My mother’s drunken words to my teenage self still rattle around my brain and make me feel small, while my father’s recent rejection of me and my family freshly stings in my heart. He’s getting re-married this year, and I’m happy for him and his bride, but he’s asked me not to come. He cannot will himself to be someone he is not, he says. So I guess there is no room for me in the wedding party.
So instead of leaning on them I lean on my husband – my silver lining. When I go off like a bomb, he picks the shrapnel from his chest and pulls me into his arms. Some days I wonder what my life would have been like if he’d never volunteered for Camp Quest that summer, and we had never met. But I don’t dwell on those thoughts. Because he keeps me grounded when I want to flee. He helps me when I am unable to ask for help. He reassures me that I am worthy of love even when I can’t find it anywhere else.
I think there’s this widespread misunderstanding of atheists that we have rejected God. That we refuse to believe, and have simply not let Him into our hearts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I am envious of those individuals who truly believe in a creator who has a plan for you and will send you to heaven when your life expires. That believe that when I die, if I am a good person, all of my mistakes will be forgiven and I will see my brother again. Instead, as a 24 year old, I’m a quarter of the way through this one life that I have (if I’m lucky), and my quest to find meaning and a purpose is in vain. It’s so completely heartbreaking when you realize how fast life goes by and it makes me feel helpless and lost. Like I have to quickly find out what my dream is and chase after it or my life will have been a big waste. I think “quarter-life crisis” is an appropriate way to describe the past year of my life. I’m still condescendingly called a baby by middle aged folks who have no clue what my life is like, and who probably did not have two kids or own their home when they were my age. For this reason I used to be ashamed of my young age. As though it somehow automatically made me naive and silly, rather than a valid person with something to say. But I’m not going to shy from it any longer. I’m 24, married, have two kids, and own my home! In my view, that’s something to be proud of.
So the good news is that I am beginning to figure it out. This summer marks two years that I’ve lived in this house, which is the longest I’ve lived in one place since moving out of my parents’ house 6 years ago. I’m building and expanding my garden every day, and there is a chicken coop in my backyard built with my own two hands containing 4 chickens that I raised from the day after they were hatched. I’m learning my way around a miter saw, as well as many other tools, and I have a year’s worth of home projects on my list that fill me with excitement and anticipation. I’m starting to find beauty in the simple life, in the things that really matter, and I’ve even been daydreaming about moving to a rural home with acres of land to homestead on. Chickens, goats, and maybe even a pig or two. In the future, of course. When I finish college and we become a two income family, and we can even think about things like buying a house with land. But I’m not going to sit around and wait for life to start – it’s here, it’s full of love and adventure, and I’m going to soak up as much of it as I can.