Thursday, May 5, 2011

The trouble with dreams

"A woman with dreams always has problems."
-Maya Soetoro-Ng (as quoted in Newsweek)

Maybe it's because we have a lot of transitions happening at once.  Maybe it's because I'm approaching 30.  Maybe it's because I have so much I want to do with my life and it feels like the clock is ticking and has been for some time.  Whatever it is, the complexities that come with being a woman are suddenly very real to me.

I've always had big dreams for myself.  Sometimes I wanted to be a cab driver/doctor/ballerina.  Sometimes I wanted to be a Broadway star.  Sometimes I wanted to be a teacher.  Sometimes I wanted to be lawyer.  Sometimes I wanted to be an artist.  Now I want to get a PhD and read, write, and teach for a living.  Not in a "well, I guess if I have to get a job this will work" sorta way but in a "this is my soul's deep need for meaningful work" sorta way.

I wanted to get married and be a mom when I was a kid but was it my "dream"?  Not really.  Whenever I was asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I never answered "a mommy."

But I do want to be a mommy. A good one.  And a wonderful wife and partner in my unique and beautiful and complicated marriage.

And I want to be Dr. B and publish and travel and connect to the world with my research and teaching.  And I never thought that I couldn't do it or that anyone wouldn't want me to do it.  Until now.

Let me be clear: S wants me to do it.  He'll do whatever it takes to make my dreams reality.  But it's not easy for him either.

I'm keenly aware of the women's movement and feminism and the long history of and continued struggle for equal rights.  In fact, I have wondered, am I only wanting all these things because I know how other women were denied these opportunities and how many had to fight tooth-and-nail for whatever they did accomplish?  I've thought long and hard about that and I'm pretty sure that's not my driving force, but I do think of those women.  I am a feminist.  Growing up I assumed everyone born after 1980 would consider themselves a feminist because, uh, hello?  But I was WRONG.

I'm all for my fellow young women deciding to stay home and raise kids or whatever they choose to do, that's wonderful.  Good for them!  And, though I don't see that being my path, I cannot entirely eliminate it.  Who knows what the future will bring?  However, it is not my dream.  To do that I would have to willingly and consciously give up on my dream.  Granted, maybe not forever, but the likelihood of seeing that dream through would greatly diminish.

Here's what I didn't see coming:  The subtle resistance to my choices by people of all stripes.  The conflict and tough decisions that are inherent in a two-career family.  The unconscious expectations that I carry with me and whisper in my ear "stop being so selfish, it'll never work out anyway."

During the last year whenever I shared that I was applying to PhD programs people asked over and over again, "And your husband's just going to follow you wherever you go?"  Uh, yeah?  How do you think I ended up in Atlanta?  I didn't have a job here.  I didn't have friends or family here.  I wasn't in school here.  But no one looked at me incredulously and asked, "And you're just going to follow him wherever he goes?"  See, no one is being mean or unkind or calling me an uppity woman, but those little comments get to you after a while.  They start making you think, am I asking too much?  Am I ruining his life?  Am I being unreasonable?

No, of course not!

And what about S?  What about his career?  He doesn't have a clear goal like I do but he wants to provide for his family and he has some idea about what he wants to accomplish with this master's degree he'll finish in a year.  We don't know the answer to this one.  But I can say that we are getting better at talking about it and imagining it and trying not to worry about it.  However, I know that there are people who worry that my choices, my dreams, will threaten his chance for achievement.

And what about my own expectations?  What about the stories that I've internalized about what it means to be a woman and a "good" wife and a "good" mother?  They are there and I didn't even realize it until, well, this week.  They've been there in the back of my mind like an annoying and destructive Jiminy Cricket telling me, "You know, a good wife wouldn't worry so much about her own goals.  A good woman would be happy with this amazing man she managed to marry and leave it at that."  What!?  What's wrong with you evil talking cricket?  Leave me alone!

So a woman with dreams has problems.  Maybe so.

I also know that a woman without dreams is not problem-free. (Who doesn't have dreams?)

And a woman with dreams who stamps them down and tries to ignore them turns into some crazy heroine from 19th-century feminist literature.  Nobody benefits from that.

It's exhausting, right?  Sheesh!  All for a silly degree and a job.  Yet, that silly degree and that job are going to make me a better wife and partner.  They are going to make me a better mom.  They are going to make me a better friend and a better daughter and a better person because they will allow me to live into myself, live into my potential.  Those non-familial, non-relational achievements will be the result of hard work and, yes, some sacrifice, and my family and my friends will benefit from a happier and healthier me.

So I think it's worth it.  Problems and all.

1 comment:

  1. if your Jiminy Cricket keeps saying that, let me know and I'll bring over some Raid. :)

    People keep telling me that my priorities will change with motherhood--and I'm darn certain they will--but I'm also quite sure that some of the same kinds of thoughts you're having (and I'm having) are the essence of who we are. Whatever you're doing, you are still you!

    And funnily enough--let's say, hypothetically, in an alternate universe, that your plans or aspirations change, or that not all of your current plans come to fruition. You know what? You will still be a woman with dreams. You will still be a feminist. You can be a feminist and be a stay at home mom, I think. But whatever you're doing, in hypothetical land or here or wherever, you'll aim for doing what's best for you, your marriage and your family. And that's what matters.

    I wonder what those people, the ones who are bothered about Mike supporting your dreams too, would have to say if you got some amazing high-paying job. It makes me wonder if it's a thing about him being a man or assuming he'll make the money. Tricky, tricky, tricky.