Pushing the Reset Button

I took my son and my nephew to the Baltimore Aquarium this weekend. Despite a long trip up there where we got lost in some, um, yeah, scary neighborhoods, it was a fun day. I think the boys had a good time--at the very least, I wore them out, which is always a plus. The National Aquarium is very cool, as far as aquariums go. It's big, but not too overwhelming, and there is lots to see. They even have a cool dolphin show, you know, the kind where the dolphins do tricks and stuff. They even had the trainer dive into the tank with the dolphins, and she got to ride on them, get flipped around by them, even give them loving pats on their snouts. Seriously, it looked like a lot of fun. I sat there thinking, "Hey, how do I get THAT job?" There was also a couple of scuba-divers in the main tank, feeding the fish and swimming with the sting rays. Again, I thought, "Hey, how do I get THAT job?" The boys apparantly thought the same thing, because they both told me that when they grow up, they want to be scuba divers. 5 days later, Jacob is still telling me that, so it definitely made an impression. But, sadly, I was looking at the dolphin trainers, and they all looked 20 something. Maybe 30, but that would be pushing it. I sat there thinking, "Hmm. Missed my chance. Too late. Can't set the reset button now. No way can I be a dolphin trainer." So I started to think about this idea, of pusing the reset button. When is it really too late to redo things in your life? I asked this of my cousin, and he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Um, after your first kid? Way too late." Of course, this comes from a man who has had more careers than I have shoes, so maybe he doesn't really mean that. Also, in graduate school I knew some women who were totally revamping their lives after having full careers doing something else. One woman had even practiced law, decided that she hated it, and had completely changed course. So, maybe it's possible. None of the women I know who changed direction, however, had little kids. They either had no kids or had children who were older, teenagers and school aged kids. Does that mean that our own life is in a holding pattern for a while as we see our kids through toddlerhood, pottytraining, and that first day of school? Is that when we can push the reset button on our own life goals, when our own children are marginally self sufficient? Don't get me wrong, I love being a mom, I do. I'm not talking about getting my life back, in the sense that I'm lost being a mother. It's just that there are so many things that could be done in this life, so many opportunities, and I'm just wondering when and if mothers are able to take advantage of these opportunities, or if the truth of the matter is that motherhood by it's very nature closes doors. And, if it does close doors (which I think everybody would agree it has to), at what point do those doors open again, if ever? Do we ever get the chance to push the reset button? Maybe what I'm really trying to say here is, "Hey, can I be a 40 year old dolphin trainer?"


Blogger Gina said...

I was thinking about this very thing not three hours ago. I have a masters degree, worked for a few years doing something that I didn't enjoy at all but that paid well, saving the money to be able to stay home with kids when they came. Now I'm home with the kids, and kicking around the idea of somehow doing something part time, etc., but not wanting to do what I did before (and actually have experience in) since I was pretty much counting the hours until it was over. Anyway, I gave so little thought in my carefree student and working days to how I would do things part time or from home that I didn't really prepare for that at all. Now I have two little guys who I love and still need lots of mommy time and it seems to be pretty poor timing to suddenly start over in a completely different field.

Two thoughts. First, this isn't just a "mommy" problem. If my husband came home tonight and said he's thinking about becoming a dolphin trainer, it would be a non-starter. If anything, I have more opportunity, however small, to do something like that.

Secondly, getting young people thinking really early about what they really genuinely love and want to do with their lives, when they still have time and freedom to explore, is so important.

4/11/2006 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy M said...

You know, I see nothing wrong with a 40 year old dolphin trainer...

I don't think it's ever too late to start over, (grandma Moses started painting in her 80's after all) but do think gina has a point- encouraging our children to find their passions and follow them would be a step in the right direction.

By the way, I have a family friend who rode and care for the killer whales at Marine World in California- I got to go with him once and rub the whales down- it IS the coolest job ever!

4/11/2006 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The March Ensign included a quote in the article about parenthood that has touched me quite deeply. It has come to mind many times since I read it and again as I read this post.


President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has given very wise counsel: “Women today are being encouraged by some to have it all—generally, all simultaneously: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, separate careers in the world. . . .
“Doing things sequentially—filling roles one at a time at different times—is not always possible, as we know, but it gives a woman the opportunity to do each thing well in its time and to fill a variety of roles in her life. A woman . . .
may fit more than one career into the various seasons of life. She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.”

4/11/2006 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger MLEH said...

When I was a girl, I took piano lessons. After ten years, my last piano teacher told me that she had taught me all she could, and suggested that I audition with Professor W. at the university. Professor W. listened to me play, then said, yes, he would take me as a student, and outlined a program that would entail two one-hour lessons each week, and at least four hours of practice a day. Now, this was my senior year of high school, and I had other fish to fry, so I thanked him very much and went my way.

Nearly forty years later I can, on a good day, muddle my way through most of the hymns in the book, but that’s about the size of it. Am I sorry? Not really. I was never going to be much of a concert pianist, anyway, if only because my small hands can span an octave and one on a good day.

Fast forward a few years. My husband and I were both graduate students in physics. One summer session, we had light class schedules, and when Private Pilots Ground was offered, we both took it. We set aside enough money to pay for private flight lessons as well, but before we could schedule them found that I was pregnant with our first child, so the money went to pay the hospital bills instead. Neither of us ever did get a private pilot's license.

The next summer, my husband left graduate school and joined the Navy. For the next 18 years, I dutifully followed the fleet, setting up house and marshalling what eventually became an expeditionary force of four very bright, very active, very strong-willed children wherever we were stationed. I never did complete my own graduate degree, though I went back to school three times to try. Each time, I would revalidate my prior coursework, identify a research project, and the Navy would say, “Go!” and we would go. The last time, I tried to commute from Newport News, VA, back up to Fairfax to finish, but it quickly became apparent that my husband and family needed me more than I needed a MS in physics. A computer hard drive crash that destroyed the data I’d managed to analyze, coupled with a health problem put paid to the project. I just didn’t have the energy – or the heart – to start over yet again.

Am I sorry? Perhaps a little, but I would never have been more than a mediocre physicist. I've been a good wife and mother, though, and have also managed to keep myself from becoming intellectually stagnant and to be of some use to the people around me.

Everyone -- not just mommies -- runs into roadblocks, rough patches, and detours in their well-planned lives. Doors open, and doors close all the time, and most often the ones that open are not the ones that have closed behind you. You have to have the wit to recognize the new doors as they swing wide and the courage to walk through them. That's hard to do if you're always looking over your shoulder at the locked ones behind you.

There really isn't a reset button, Heather, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Who would want to relive Groundhog Day over and over, anyway?

4/11/2006 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger Maralise said...

I am currently in the process of starting over (with two small children at home). Because of my children, I have gone down many avenues that just won't work for our family. I have researched five different graduate degrees, discovered many fields of photograpy, and been often left at a dead end. However, my desire to follow my dreams is very strong. In my opinion, Gina's quest to finish her degree is just as important as the piece of paper (and subsequent career) that would follow her graduation.

Will I have failed if I am not given the opportunity to go back to school or grow my stay-at-home business like I desire? Absolutely not. Through this process, I have learned about my inner strengths and weaknesses, my family dynamic (including differences of opinion with my spouse), my children's needs, and where my identity as a woman falls in this mix. This quest has served as a light at the end of a very long child-rearing tunnel.

In raising boys, I feel it is my responsibility to provide a strong example of womanhood for them. An example where they know that mommy wanted and could have had X but chose Y because she loved them. And maybe she'll choose Z, or D, or H, or W and that's OK too, her love is still the same. Because when it comes time for them to choose a spouse, I hope they will wish so much more than their wife to simply "stay home with the kids." I want them to know that there is much we can do from home. It may take creativity and sacrifice, but dreams don't live at a university, or in an office, they live within us. And often, following them doesn't take us as far from our roots as we think.

4/12/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Maralise said...

oops...replace Gina with mleh. Sorry brain freeze!

4/12/2006 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger rick said...

Hi, I'm just visiting but I have a comment.

After having children, I believe you can never 'push the reset button'.

It's possible to restart an interest in a field, or continue your pursuit of something that interests you - but every experience and opportunity will be shaded from the view of one who has familial responsibilities (men and women alike).

Once you have kids, you will me a Mom or Dad trying to get that degree, or whatever. The way you make and approach your goals will be irrevocably changed due to the fact that you have other responsibilities that you would not have sans kids.

Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. But it's important to recognise and make allowances for the realities of the situation.

You will never again be a twenty-something with the ability to dediacte every ounce of your waking days into a a project ... it just can never be that way again.

4/12/2006 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger mindy said...

A friend of mine whose dream really was to work with marine mammals told me just how difficult it is to get that job. Frequently, people who have degrees in Marine Biology start out at places like that aquarium cleaning tanks and doing other menial work for nominal pay. Then they work their way up. And even the dolphin/whale "trainers" don't get paid that well, so it really has to be a labor of love/passion. Probably why you don't see too many trainers over 30. They've moved on to other things. Also, it is a lot of work. Using purely positive training methods, they train the animals to respond to cues. This takes a lot of patience. Think of training a several thousand pound dog. If you get another dog, you can practice your training techniques on it, and remember, only positive reinforcement (i.e. clicker training).

That said, I agree with what has been said that often SAHMs (at least those of us in the middle class) do have quite a bit more freedom than our husbands to "explore" different areas and dreams. Sure, we have to work within the constraints of having small children with us, but if we are determined, a lot can be accomplished with small kids in tow. I think we sell ourselves short and give ourselves too many outs. I know I do. If there is something I really want to do, I hope I'll do it and not make excuses. Where there is a will, there's a way. I think too frequently we allow our will to be eroded by the daily tasks of mothering.

4/12/2006 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth-W said...

In Hindu cosmology/theology there is the idea of reincarnation. In Mormonism, we have a literal resurrection and eternity. When I think about hitting reset I think that each day I choose to be where I am, doing what I'm doing-that each day is reincarnated to choose how I will live, what matters most. Eternity is a heck of a long time, and I figure I'll finally learn to play the hymns with both hands, catch up with old friends, learn how to make anything that involves yeast, and on and on.
That being said, I agree with the quote by Pres. Faust-even in this life there probably will be time to do a lot of the things we want to do, as well the things we need to do.

4/12/2006 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

My feeling is, there's always a reset button. Sometimes it comes in the form of a divorce, death of a spouse, disability, loss of job. There are times and situations where you have to change gears completely and head down a different road, not by choice.

Less drastic is the time when you get your youngest into school all day and can hopefully take a little time to do the things you've wanted to do, but couldn't because of the babies (which were also your choice).

This post and above comments remind me of the old "My Turn On Earth" song. I don't know the title, but the gist of it is that you can't do everything during this life. That's why eternity is so great: "There aren't any clocks, there aren't any things like calendars... no such thing as 'too late'..."

Someday I fully expect to see Heather swimming with dolphins. Of course I won't know who she is, but someday I'll be out on my canoe (my dream) and lo and behold, here'll come Heather and her watery friends. And I'll think, "How do I get that job?"

4/12/2006 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger hairyshoefairy said...

My mom was a SAHM when I was little. Then she went back to school when I was about 11. She wanted to and we all supported her in it. It wasn't cuz we needed more money or anything, we've always lived off what my dad makes, but she really values the things she learned and now she's the head teacher at a private preschool/kindergarten. She loves it, but now, so many years later wants to go to culinary arts school. I think she just likes change. I can't blame her. So do I. I think it's fine if its something your family can handle, but if pressing the restart button is at the expense of your family's well-being, it's not usually a good choice. That's probably why most people don't make big changes like that until their kids are older. It isn't such a huge upheaval if they're in school and other activities all day. And, as always, if the Lord gives the go-ahead somehow it will all work out.

Btw, my friend is a dolphin trainer at the San Antonio Sea World and loves it, but she also has a degree from BYU in Marine Biology and has had to kind of work her way in. There are a few older people who work there, but not too many. From the things she tells me I have to agree with Mindy. It's really a labor of love/passion.

4/12/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Ana said...

I always talk about my menopause career. It used to be adoption law, but after spending a couple of years reading the whining of all the bloggernacle lawyers, I am not so sure anymore!

I think you would make a fabulous dolphin trainer. I mean, if you can toilet train a boy, you can really train almost anything, right?

When I came back to work after spending 5 years as a SAHM I made a big deal out of the organization, multitasking and marketing skills I practiced as a mommy. ("Look, yummy, it's a giant raisin!" -- said while proffering a prune ...)

I'm so glad they never came to see my house!

4/12/2006 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Good comments all, thanks.I guess it's not just motherhood that limits choices--it's life!

And thanks for the vote of confidence about being a dolphin trainer. It does sound like a lot of hard work, though. Can one just be a dolphin trainer's assistant, and play with the fish once in a while? Maybe I should just pony up some cash and go to some place where I can just "swim with the dolphins", and then pretend I'm actually training them as I swim with them. Hmm, that sounds good!

4/13/2006 09:59:00 AM  

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