“She will call less and less,” my husband casually remarked last night about our College Freshman whose nightly calls warm my heart. I bit his head off. “DON’T SAY THAT!,” I yelled back. Silence. What was that about, I began thinking. Everything is off kilter these days because it’s all new: our first child recently left the nest for college and at 51, I am in a new job, earning more than I have in eight difficult years. I call them “difficult” because I have never fully embraced my value as a stay-at-home-mother, even though this is what I always wanted to do.
The sacrifices you make when you decide to earn less in exchange for being more present feel mostly unnoticed and under appreciated most of the time.
But that’s the kind of Momma I wanted to be! ALWAYS available, no matter what. So when my biggest paycheck of eight years hit the bank account last night, I found myself weighing the value of the money versus the value of being physically present for the household. Here’s how it feels to me: in the short term, putting a hefty-ish paycheck in the household account feels better than making sure there is a roast in the oven but in the long term, knowing we raised a young woman who wants to touch base with us often is the greatest payoff possible.
We are all conditioned to thinking of our investments – financial, emotional, intellectual – in terms of returns. That’s why I count the number of days I maintain long-term sobriety, because as the days add up, I figure the greater the “return.” But not if I’m not emotionally sober. To maintain emotional sobriety, you better be invested in pouring every type of energy and asset you have into living a life worth living. After all, what’s the point of removing something as pleasurable as drinking red wine if I’m not going to enjoy the benefit of sobriety and that enjoyment isn’t going to spill over into other people’s lives and well-being? Huh? In other words, it’s just as important to replenish and nourish your emotional, spiritual and physical coffers as it is to earn money and spend it wisely. Now I get to do both: earn money to help support our family and reap the benefits of staying emotionally invested and close to my children as they were growing up.
These days, I think alot about special times with my children when they were young, especially bedtime story reading. My daughter and I had many favorite books, among them, a 1950’s Caldecott Award winner, “Blueberries for Sal.”
Little Sal was so much like my Isa: precocious, daring, full of life and love for new experiences. Together we would read the story about the Momma Bear and her Cub on the same mountain – but the other side and out of view – as the Momma Human and little Sal – picking blueberries to sustain their bodies through the winter.
My paycheck from the new job felt like a pail of blueberries from the book. Very gratifying and fun but also a worthwhile investment for lean, cold days in the future. It felt good and associating it with something so precious from my daughter’s childhood gives me peace of mind that our sacrifices have been worth it. Especially when she texted back, “Yes I do” this morning when I asked her if she remembered reading “Blueberries for Sal” with me.
“Why can’t a paycheck just be a paycheck and not turned into a dumb pail of blueberries, you weirdo?,” you may be asking yourself. Because I am committed to living a life worth living. This is what it means to understand a woman in midlife experiencing an emptying nest and working to maintain sobriety: a cherished moment of understanding in a three-word text from your beautiful daughter away at college puts everything in perspective. And all is well with my world.