A month ago I celebrated my 36th birthday here in London and I felt kind of quiet about it. Not because I’m afraid of my age, or because I was feeling modest, but because after a year of so much change for our family, my birthday registered as an opportunity to reflect. What I’ve concluded isn’t ultimate, and I’m sure with time some of my thoughts will have changed. But I wanted to record and share these, if for no other reason than to remember who I was and how I felt at this time.
I feel a certain degree of sobriety about my age. Before, I had often looked at life and its opportunities rather casually, where I would delay opportunities because I could always, “do that later, when things are less busy.” Or I would dismiss passions or desires because they would take away from my primary role as a wife and mother. Some of this was borne out of necessity- when you’re raising 3 children, especially when they’re young, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else because of how time consuming it is. Some of it was what I believed I was supposed to do based on teaching from our church- that a woman’s primary role and focus was to be her family and that desires outside of that were secondary, less worthwhile or less important. But upon reflection I did something in these circumstances which I now regret and hope that my children don’t do: I sidelined my personal desires and wants believing that being a wife and mother meant giving these up so you could take on those desires and wants of your family. I believed that this process was good.
I want to thread the needle of this thought carefully, because I am not trying to suggest that sacrifice isn’t needed or good in marriage and parenting- in many ways sacrifice is necessary, good and joyful. Likewise, it is good to prioritise elements of your life. My family will always be of first importance to me. Rather, my regret is viewing things in such a black and white way- that my only options in life were to either completely surrender all of myself to my family or be completely selfish and not budge. It’s a very extreme way of thinking, but there it is.
Being in London and around a new culture and community of people, I realize that the actions of others are often governed by their response to a very simple question: “what do you want?” And I realize now that when I made the transition to Christian, wife and mother, I felt inclined to stop asking this question in certain areas of my life.
Now, of course I was always responding to my wants and desires for my children and husband, and for myself on some level. This wasn’t bad. What I stopped doing was asking myself what I wanted personally. What was I passionate about? What excited me? What were the elements of myself that were true and abiding and how could I feed those?
I don’t want to sound like a martyr here. The last 15 years have been very good and I’ve had the opportunity to do many amazing things, the best of all investing in and enjoying the lives of my husband and three wonderful children. But I lost sight of who I was outside of my role as a wife and mother. The Jessica that existed before this knew a lot more about herself and what drove her than this one.
This became clear to me on New Year’s eve of this year. Our family was returning home from a lovely dinner with friends when on the way, we walked past a local pub with music playing a people dancing. Now, what happened next was a little ADD of me, but that’s OK…I have ADD.
With my purse and a bag full of empty serving dishes in tow, I said to Luke, “I’m going to go and see if my friend is in there, OK?” Luke looked a little caught off guard but wished me well as I ran across the street (with all of my stuff) and into the pub.
My friend wasn’t there, but there were people, and they were…dancing!
I felt overcome by this intense urge to not only dance, but dance with everyone in the pub. Now normal things I would consider in this moment- like not knowing these people, feeling shy in new social situations and poor Luke who was probably hoping for me to come home soon- didn’t register. Instead, what I wanted, just what I personally wanted, took over, or rather, I listened. And the result was me approaching almost everyone in the pub (young, old, male, female, couples) and dancing with them. I felt so alive at that moment, like I was removing one of many filters from a light. It was, life changing. So the moral of this story is- dancing at pubs in life changing!
… just kidding 😉
Actually, it was life changing because it caused me to reflect on what other areas of myself I had stopped listening to, what other filters were still on the light (so to speak). Reflecting on that is what has made feel so sober at this moment. With more time on my hands than I’ve had in years (all kids are in school) I’ve been prompted to ask this question, “what do I want to do?” And in many ways, I’m not really sure.
The passion that I am currently reacquainting myself with is a desire to connect with people through food. I’ve felt this passion ever since I was a teenager visiting my great Uncle Alby in New York. He was so kind, so loving and generous. During that visit he ignited this passion in me by taking me into his kitchen and cooking with me. He not only fed me, but taught me to cook and connected with me on a level that I didn’t know was possible. And since then, I’ve had this passion. I’ve pursued it through cooking for family and friends, but pursuing it in a professional capacity always seemed unrealistic.
Now we are in London, the kids are all in school full-time and I’m asking myself, what do I want to do?
I want to work, I miss the joy that I get from interacting with people and doing something productive outside of our home. It would be very practical for me to start teaching again. There is always a need for a science teacher. But what I really want to do is to connect with people through food. In this area, I have no real qualifications that could go on a C.V. (resume). And I’m 36, haven’t worked in 8 years and am having to make a decision based on what I want. Do I want to start over and pursue this passion? Do I want to just continue teaching in secondary schools? Even if I could pursue my food/people passion…what would that look like? Are there classes for that? Is there a food/people degree? Is it too late to even start working toward this?
I don’t know.
I’m finding that sometimes asking what you want results in instant joy ( i.e. dancing in a pub) and sometimes, it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes, you may know exactly what you want and have to face the possibility of not having it.
Maybe that’s why I stopped asking in the first place, because life changed so much with church, getting married and having kids, that asking that question and coming to terms with some of the answers was hard. Maybe I thought it was better to stop asking rather than face disappointment.
Well, there will be no pity party here, because if there’s one thing that marriage and children have taught me, it’s persistence.
I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t even feel completely connected to myself and all that I desire. But I do know that now is as good a time as any to take hold of life and all that it has to offer. I want to figure out how to walk that fine line between pursuing what you want while also considering the wants and needs of others. I want to navigate the choppy waters of desire realized and desire unmet. Because I feel more alive doing so than if I never asked at all. And I want to show my kids that it is indeed worth it ask yourself what you’re passionate about and to pursue it, even if along the way you are disappointed. Because you are more alive in doing so than if you had never tried at all.