I think there’s this really unhealthy and pervasive idea that eventually, if we work hard enough, we will “have it all” someday. It’s the ultimate human goal—it’s Disneyland and the Powerball jackpot and the Heisman and a Nobel prize, all rolled into one and sprinkled with glittery awesome flakes. It’s all of your wildest dreams come true.
The problem with “all,” though, is that it’s a transient concept. “All” is all-encompassing and ever-changing. My definition of “all” when I was twelve was certainly different than it is now. (I had naïve dreams of Harvard medical school—hey, I was twelve…cut me some slack.)
I wanted this pre-packaged “all” that would have been “all” by anyone’s sense of the definition. I wanted it to fall into my lap, gift wrapped with batteries included, and I just wanted to open it up and live it out, garnering the envy of my friends with ease as I traipsed down the hallway of life with every single door of possibility open to me. But as many of those doors slammed shut in my face (the Heisman? Yeah, I’m not going to win one of those…), I had to alter my definition of “all.”
It has been a rather humbling prospect, redefining my “all.” About a decade ago, my ever-changing definition of “all” had begun to settle out, and I figured that by the time I reached my 30’s, my “all” would look a lot like what my friends and peers had: I’d have an effortlessly perfect marriage, 2.5 kids, a successful teaching career, a newish car, and an incredible social life that involved lots of flashy parties and travel to exotic locales.
As I write this, I can tell you that I am 32 years old, and that particular “all” is no longer a possibility for me anymore. I look at that outrageous list now—one that I once thought to be so simple and normal and easy, practically my birthright—and I feel so foolish.
Effortlessly perfect marriage? Our love has been tested and strained by things that had the potential to destroy us. Although we have achieved a good and enviable marriage (though it’s far from effortless and perfect), the circumstances that made it so are dark and haunting, and I wouldn’t wish those horrors on anyone.
Those 2.5 kids? Well, we can’t have our own kids. Watching my friends raise children of their own, seeing the way that those children have become their all and everything, has always aroused a sad, envious grief within me, and that particular type of happiness—the simplicity of seeing your husband’s eyes replicated in your child’s mischievous face—is one I may never know. We are foster parents, and the experience has been amazing, but it was never part of our initial plan. (We do have ¾ a dog, due to his accident—does that count as a kid?)
Successful teaching career? Well, because of my “disability,” and the fact that I do not have a valid driver’s license, I had to give that up. I may do it again someday, but right now, I am disabled and unemployed. (Not exactly where I saw myself ten years ago.)
Car? I have a 2010 Honda CR-V, which is awesome, except for the fact that I have not driven it since January 2014, so it is basically just a paperweight.
And that social life? I’m pretty much a hermit. (It’s hard to have much of a social life when both your geography and your disability confine you to your home.) We get out when we can, but we are perfectly content to spend a lot of time at home by ourselves, eating old popcorn from between the couch cushions and watching trash TV.
So I’ve had to learn to redefine my “all.” I’ve learned to pay less attention to what could be/might have been and more attention to what is. I am trying to learn how to see all that I already have instead of focusing on “all” that I don’t. (Because, obviously, the “all” that I was grasping for fell through my fingers like so much sand.)
I have a strong marriage to a beautiful, supportive, loving, kindhearted, gentle, sweet, dorky hunk of a man. And I have never been more in love.
I have a son—foster or no, he is part of our family. (We have the pictures now to prove it.) He has taught me lessons about love and acceptance and patience that I know I could not have learned through having children of our own. And I love my ¾ dog no matter how much of a mess he is.
I miss teaching like crazy, but it hasn’t ended—not completely. I still get to teach our foster son how to do things (like how it’s not okay to use toilet bowl cleaner to mop the bathroom floor), and I have been overwhelmed by support and communication I’ve gotten from former students. I love hearing from them, and there’s a freedom in speaking to them as equals rather than an authority figure. I wouldn’t have gotten that as a teacher.
Even though I can’t drive it, I’m glad to have a car. Someday, maybe, I’ll get to drive it again. Perhaps even to visit a friend or two. That would be nice.
And although I’m far from the jet-setter I’d hoped to be, I do cherish the time we spend with our friends. I no longer take it for granted. It has made me realize how beautiful those relationships are, and I relish them like fine chocolate.
So I guess, in a way, I do have it all.
It’s just not the “all” I thought I was going to get.
And that’s okay.