How Do You Define Success?

Sometimes I struggle with feeling unaccomplished. I don’t like to admit that, so I decided to put it out here on my anonymous blog.

These feelings have invaded my psyche since having children, and they’ve made me examine my attitude towards success, more specifically, how I define it.

My children are now five and four years old, and this is the first time they’ve both gone to all-day school. By all day, I mean we drop them off at 7:30 in the morning, and I pick them up at 2:30 in the afternoon.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had more inquiries than I care to count regarding what I am now planning to do with my time.

I’m feeling pressure, and frankly, I’m catching my breath. I’m perfectly fine for the moment keeping my eyes open for jobs that match my skills and interests, but truthfully, the last three years have been a shitload of work, and I get a little peeved when “friends” imply that I’m a lady of leisure.

This post is quickly morphing into a rant. Please feel free to navigate to something more positive, but this lady of leisure is out of therapy money, so frequently this is where I turn. Trust me, griping here trumps going postal on all of my inquisitive pals.

Let’s all try to do less judging. Life is not a big competition. I’m doing the best I can. And this is a reminder to myself as well as anyone who has the nerve to read further.

EVERYONE has a struggle.

Even if you can not see it.

BE KIND.

Yesterday was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had the nerve to comb my hair, put on a little makeup and peruse the clearance aisle at Marshal’s. I heard my name being shouted from across the store, and when I looked up, I thought,

“Aww, hell, it’s Tab.”

Tab is short for Tabatha, and this particular Tabatha is my friend who complains the absolute most. But again, she has her own struggles, which I know about in great detail because she’s what I refer to as……

an Externalizer Extraordinaire.

If she’s got shit going on, you and all 932 of her Facebook friends are gonna know about it.

I sympathize because, I, too, can be a bit of an externalizer but mostly to my husband, my therapist, and occasionally, my very closest friends.

So, I get it, sort of.

And I really don’t intend to minimize the stuff in her life, because it’s legit.

I spent a weekend with Tab and her family back during the summer, and I realized exactly how legit her struggles truly were.

BUT, here’s the thing.

Tab is one of those people who is perfectly comfortable going into agonizing detail about herself, but as soon as anyone else chimes in about what’s going on in their lives, she’s bolting for the door.

Not an especially empathetic one, that Tab.

I pretty much limit my interactions with Tab to group meet-ups. One-on-ones mentally exhaust me, and I began questioning whether or not I should seriously consider going to grad school and becoming a full-fledged, bonafide (meaning I can collect a paycheck) therapist.

My family refers to me as “Open Face.” People tell me their stuff, big time.

Anyway, back to Marshal’s. So Tab rushes over with her adorable two-year-old little girl and immediately begins telling me about how well her other daughter is adjusting to first grade, and how she’s already been volunteering in the classroom, on and on and on.

She continues with how tough it is still being home with her two year old, and how everything is just draining her.

This went on for at least ten minutes with no interruptions. I don’t think I ever spoke — just a head nod and smile here and there. And truthfully, I get it. I really do. I can remember wanting to claw other women who were alone in the store while I was sweating and prying merchandise from my toddlers’ hands.

I think I felt a little guilty. Like, well, here I am all shopping in Marshal’s with my clean hair and lipstick, and I completely HATE that about myself.

I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY. I’ve done my time, and I can rest a bit. Right? Please reassure me that I’m right.

Okay, thanks…

I guess I was silent for too long marinating in my shame of being toddler-free AND jobless. I’ll say it again, I probably did look like a lady of leisure — all stain-free and clean. How dare I? Because she jest-fully said, “Well, I can see you’re relishing having both of your children in school.”

Why yes, I wanted to say, it is nice but having two in diapers was no cake walk either, while your two are nearly four years apart. Thank you very much.

Geez, the grass is always greener for some people.

I was venting to Gil about it last night, and he insisted I was being too sensitive. He’s probably right, but seriously, can’t I just enjoy the quiet for a bit without all my over-achiever friends suggesting that I must be bored out of my mind, while attempting to recruit me for this or that parent board?

Yes. I have been home with my children for the past five years, and there is not a day that I don’t wake up feeling a certain amount of gratitude. I have friends who are single parents, friends who can not afford to live on one salary, friends who couldn’t get back to work fast enough after being at home with an infant. I’ve had the privilege to do it, survive it and enjoy it.

Gil and I have made it work, but it hasn’t been easy, and by no means am I claiming that staying home with your kids is the right thing to do.

BUT…it has been right for us, and currently I’m fine with doing what I’m doing.

I’m tired. Maybe others don’t understand why I’m tired, but I need to let that go and recognize that whatever decision I am making for my family is the right one.

I guess I need to be more willing to open up to my friends (okay, maybe not Tab), but I don’t like to complain. However, I think in trying to not complain, I end up harboring some resentments when I feel unheard and misunderstood.

So, to all the people who see me bee-bopping around town while my kids are at school, here’s what I want you to know, but I’m too exhausted to tell you in one sitting, and I like you too much to put this all on you:

1 — I’m doing the best that I know how to do at this moment, and that’s all I can ask of myself.

2 — I never planned to be a stay-home mom, and in many ways it feels terribly awkward, and very often I want nothing more than to return to the working world with people who dress like adults, but I have no inkling as to how I would juggle it all….yet.

3 — Crafting makes me break out in hives — I am NOT joking.

4 — Wallace, my four-year-old screamed for the first year of his life.

5 — Piers, the five-year-old was such an easy baby that Gil and I thought we could manage another one. He could be easily pacified up until around nineteen months (right around the time his brother joined our family); then he had full-on rage/tantrums regularly until he turned five.

6 — Neither child slept well from the ages of one to four. It’s only been the past six months or so that they’ve both made it through the night without waking either Gil or me or both of us.

7 — We have NO family in town, and they’re not a whole heck of a lot of help when they do manage to visit.

8 — When Piers was three and Wallace was eighteen months, Gil’s dad dropped dead of a heart attack.

9 — Gil and I were left with a crazy amount of debt and a business to close — all with two small children and him working full-time at a stressful, life-sucking job.

10 — Around Piers’ fourth birthday, my mother tried to kill herself.

11 — She moved in with us because relatives convinced us that family helps family.

12 — Two weeks after she arrived, she was suicidal again and begging us to take her to the hospital.

13 — I couldn’t talk to many people about it because regardless of how “accepting” people say they are about mental illness, there is a still a BIG-ASS stigma.

14 — Only a select few people really stood by us through my mom’s illness and offered to help. To those folks, I’ll forever be grateful.

15 — I can’t help but believe that these church-going, casserole-preparing locals would have jumped on our charity case in a heartbeat if mom had had cancer, or some other non-mental illness. Someone actually caught wind of the fact that my dad killed himself years before, and let’s just put it this way — we were pretty much labeled the nut-job family, not by everyone, but by enough. It hurt…..a lot….. I trust people less now.

16 — Gil went through such a serious depression shortly after Mom was stabilized that I feared he would take his life.

17 — He and I separated shortly after my mom was discharged from the hospital.

18 — After he refused any sort of treatment, and I feared for my safety and that of our kids, I asked him to move out. We separated again in the fall of 2012.

19 — No one in our family and only a few chosen friends grasp how very close we came to divorce.

20 — Staying married is still something we work on EVERY SINGLE DAY.

21 — I feel like I’ve had some degree of postpartum depression since I found out I was pregnant with Piers.

22 — I’m better, but staying well is work.

23 — Some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed.

24 — Please don’t judge me or envy me until you’ve walked a day in my shoes.

25 — I’ll try my best to offer the same grace to you. (I’ll remind myself of this next time I bump into Tab.)

So, while I am keeping my eyes open for a job, I’m not going to take the first one that comes my way. I’m resting, and healing and putting my home in order.

The last few years have been hard, but I’ve realized how strong Gil and I are, and I’m at a point where I’m relishing my life with my little family.

I know that it can be here one minute and then ripped from my fingertips the next.

I complain a lot on this blog, but I probably don’t spend enough time writing about how unbelievably grateful I am. The hardships and struggles have made me love harder. They’ve forced me to sit still and consume my children and the beauty around me with every one of my senses. I come back to this when I’m feeling unaccomplished.

I recently had a mini-reunion of sorts with some friends from high school, and each has his or her own story. Some have been successful in their careers, others are raising kids and working part-time or not, but I noticed that all of the women made comments about regret. The men in the group didn’t seem to feel this way or at least they didn’t vocalize it. I had a lot of time to think on the drive home — Gil was with me, so it was more think, think, think…….discuss, discuss, discuss.

He and I concluded that we are really content right now, and I think we’ve become that way because so much has been dropped in our lap. We’ve had ample opportunity to discover who we are and there’s a depth that neither of us realized or expected.

A friend who I hadn’t seen in at least ten years said, “You just seem remarkably happy, like you have this little light inside of you.”

Truthfully, it could have been that I was on a rare night out minus the kids, but when I stop to think about it, I really am happier than I’ve been in a long time. There’s something inside of me that feels at peace.

I may be jobless, but maybe that’s okay right now.

Perhaps, my survival is an accomplishment in itself.

Who knows, but for now, I’m going to be patient and maybe I need to define success differently. Today I feel peaceful and happy.

I consider that success.

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4 thoughts on “How Do You Define Success?

  1. Well said! In fact, beautifully said.

    …and my response to “I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY. I’ve done my time, and I can rest a bit. Right?” – Absolutely right!!

    I have to tell you that last year was the first year that both of mine (the little ones) were in school, and I absolutely relish those moments when I get to do something grown-uppy that allows me to appear as if I don’t know the meaning of the word “frazzled”. One of my favorite ways to spend these moments is at a café, sipping chai and writing in my blog. I love the freedom and the rest that I feel and if someone even looks like they might be envious of my position, I just think, “You have no idea. This is my little secret.” No guilt, no shame. I, like you, have paid my dues…and school will let out, and afternoon madness will ensue soon enough.

    I am glad that you and Gil feel at peace with your family life at the moment. Blessings to you. I wish you many days of rest, for I know the road has not been easy.

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    • Thank you for the kind words! Your response reminded me of an interesting article I read about introversion and extroversion temperaments. I’ll see if I can find it. Downtime, particularly reading, writing, drinking coffee, feels unproductive to many people. According to the article I’m thinking about, it feels especially bland to those who are more extroverted. But for many of us (the more introverted) it is recharging and necessary. I feel like I’m long overdue, so I’m doing my best to view these much-needed relaxing moments as recharging rather than just lazy. You’re right — NO GUILT! Hope you are surviving the new school year. I look forward to catching up on your blog soon.

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  2. That must have felt good. 🙂 As for Debby Downer, no wait, that’s what I call my next door neighbour who is still teaching and I’m not, so I avoid at all costs, any way your sort of friend, next time you see her, time to employ escape tactics: run. That should do it. Thanks so much for the “Follow.”

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    • Good advice — “Run!” Yeah, why is it people have to be such kill-joys? Do you ever get the feeling your neighbor is secretly throwing darts at your face in her head? Enjoy your retirement! You earned it!

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