I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to have children. As a tween, I babysat a few times but didn’t really enjoy it. I never felt comfortable in someone else’s home changing diapers for babies I wasn’t related to. As the oldest of three I definitely did more than my share of “babysitting” every Saturday night when my parents went out. So, I had lots of experience caring for children. And, I loved to play house as a young child. But that was all pretend; it wasn’t a future I planned for. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing as an adult. Certainly, I didn’t have dreams of being a mom – my view of what that meant was narrow and skewed.
My mother was a homemaker in the late 50s through the 70s; a house wife. Until this moment I hadn’t pondered the phrase “house wife.” What does that mean? Just the words sound belittling and demeaning; rather Cinderella-ish, if you ask me. My mom never worked outside the home. In fact, my dad used to joke that she quit her job the day they got engaged. She wasn’t a fan of school and had no interest in going to college. In those days, women weren’t encouraged to get an education. Her brother, however, was expected to go to college and earned his Ph.D., teaching at the university level for more than 40 years. That was not for my mom and there was no expectation to advance her education. She wanted to have a family. In fact, she confessed that her motivation to get married was so she could have babies and be a mother.
That life wasn’t for me. I wanted to “be something.” To me, staying home and managing the household wasn’t appealing. I didn’t see value in it and my mom didn’t make any effort to endorse her role or sway me in a different direction. Without an alternative in mind, I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to be a stay at home parent. I had no dreams about a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a husband who would provide for me. I was my own woman and would figure it out. (More on that later)
Growing up, I was told, “you can be anything you set your mind to.” Funny thing is that whenever I mentioned a career aspiration, my father would find some reason why that path was not good enough. If you hear that enough times, it’s hard to find confidence in any decision or the inner strength to forge ahead. Other than the negative feedback, I had no guidance whatsoever. Neither of my parents went to college so they hadn’t a clue as to how to advise me when the time came to apply. And, parents back then were not likely to hover; there were no college tours, test prep or AP courses to worry about. Just bring home A’s and make the folks happy. Good grades equaled success. Sadly, when I got to college and everyone had A’s in high school, I quickly learned that good grades were not enough.
College in the 70s was interesting and quite different than college today. Life in the 70s was very different. We didn’t have technology to connect us to a universe of resources, high-end laptops to write and research, mobile devices that never left our hands or a need to worry about security and safety. Dorm room doors were always open; if you wanted to talk to someone on the floor, you walked down the hall. Feeling lonely and wanted to call home, you picked up the corded phone attached to the wall in every room and dialed your house phone. Smoking pot was not prohibited, blue security lights across campus didn’t exist and you could walk around in the wee hours of the morning drunk or high without anyone giving you a second glance. College was a place to find yourself, figure out your future, meet Mr. or Ms. Right and begin a life worth living.
I didn’t find myself or Mr. Right or my future path. I found sadness and loss and escape.
When I graduated it was without my mom by my side. My dad, his new wife and my siblings were there. It was not a joyous day. I was no closer to identifying my career path than I was four years earlier. There isn’t much I remember about the day other than my dad was in a horrific mood and ranted that, “we were all ruining his day.” HIS DAY!?
Soon after, I boarded a plane with a friend to travel around Europe. As part of the planning, I practiced walking with a full backpack that was a cross between a hiking pack and a soft-sided suitcase. I cut my hair short, which alleviated the need to pack hair styling products. I don’t think I even took a single make-up item. This was the no-frills version of me. Since the pack could only hold so much, I limited myself to a few necessary clothing items, a journal, a rough itinerary and a yearning to get away. It was late summer, 1980, and the plan was to see London, Paris, Munich, multiple cities in Italy and Greece. Once again, the fatherly feedback was negative. His opinion – don’t travel, use the money to buy a car, and get to work. In my mind, this was the only time in my life when I would be able to just take off, work could wait (I had no idea what I was going to do anyway), and I’d figure out my transportation when I returned. I needed to do this.
The trip was amazing. I practiced my French, ate my way through Italy and inadvertently sampled goat’s milk in Greece. We drank beer in Munich at the Oktoberfest with the best roasted chicken and fries I’ve ever had. Our accommodations ranged from tents to youth hostels to small, inexpensive inns. We gravitated to others our age on the same identity seeking mission and rode the trains from one country to the next. After six weeks of being a nomad I was tired. I was homesick. I was broke. I needed to come home.
My travel partner was not ready to turn in her backpack for her cozy room at home. I needed to leave. In one day, I booked by ticket, flew from Italy to London and home. Before heading to the airport, I called home (from a call center designed to accommodate tourists) to let my dad know of my plans. The phone was answered by his new-ish wife; dad was not at home. So, I gave her my news, shared that I was just exhausted and needed to be home.
Her response, “So soon?”
Stay tuned for Part III
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