Crisis of a Chronicler

The Next Family

By: Shannon Ralph

Let me preface this post by saying the following to my partner:  Ruanita, I am not depressed. I am not unhappy. I do not need to see a therapist (therapy is a therapist’s answer to everything). This post has nothing to do with my relationship with you or my complete and undying devotion to our children and the life we’ve built together. Rather, it is about me contemplating my future—charting the direction I want to take with my life. You are nowand will forever be my co-pilot on this crazy ride, wherever it ends up taking us. That being said…

I think I am in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Yes, I realize I may be a bit young for that yet, but what can I say? I was an early walker, an early talker, an early reader. It would make sense that I would overachieve on this front, as well. I have been reading a lot of blogs lately. Mostly blogs by other lesbian parents. Some straight parenting blogs. Some political blogs. Some news blogs. I have been reading about women doing extraordinary things. I have read inspirational stories about women changing this world for the better—for themselves and for their children. Women who are writing books, founding non-profit organizations, running PTA’s, running for office, starting their own businesses. Making real changes. I read recently about a woman here in Minnesota—a suburban working mom—who stumbled upon a grave need for diapers for lower income families when she tried to find a place to donate the diapers her child had outgrown. In today’s economy, families are struggling. I am sure this comes as a surprise to no one. Diapers are an often overlooked necessity that are not covered by food stamps or WIC federal funding. This mom spoke with people who told her about children coming into doctor’s offices wearing plastic Wal-mart sacks for diapers because their parents could not afford clean diapers. She heard about babies developing staph infections from sitting too long in soiled diapers. She was told about women being denied access to the childcare they need in order to work because they could not afford to provide the diapers required by the daycare centers. Rather than saying, “Oh, that’s so sad” as I have a million times when hearing about inequities like this, she sprang into action. Never having been an activist in her life, she founded a non-profit called The Diaper Drive. Today, her non-profit has drop-off locations across Minnesota and parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, delivering diapers to organizations in the area to distribute to parents in desperate need. All because one woman—a suburban mom who had never considered herself a hero or an activist—saw a need and refused to ignore it. That’s how the world changes, right? One person at a time filling one need at a time.

So that brings me back to my own psychological angst. My own mid-life crisis. So what does a thirty-eight-year-old lesbian mom’s crisis of self look like? Do not be alarmed. There will be no motorcycles or shiny new sports cars parked in front of my house—though Ruanita would probably be thrilled to see a motorcycle parked there. I have no desire to leave my partner of thirteen years for a blonde, dread-locked, tattooed, twenty-year-old. God, I wouldn’t even know what to do with her! I do not feel an overwhelming need to relive my youth. I’ve been there, done that. I am a proud veteran of that war and have no desire to return to the trenches. So my crisis is not about moving backwards. I love my partner and my children and my life. I would not change a single thing in my past that brought me to this point today. However, I feel like I need to move forward. I am feeling stalled. Out of gas. I need something to jump-start my engine and get me moving again. I need to evolve. What am I doing to make the world a better place for my children? What am I doing to help other people?

I feel as though I do not do anything. You know how it goes. You meet someone new and one of the first things you are asked is, “What do you do?” Many people are lucky enough to have a one-sentence response to this question. I am a doctor. I am a lawyer. I am a teacher. I am a social worker. I am a therapist. I am a writer. As for me, I am a…what? Generic office worker? Part-time, kind-of, sort-of stay-at-home mom? Jane of all trades, master of none? Any high school sophomore with even a substandard level of literacy and the dexterity to point and click a mouse could do my job. As a matter of fact, the largest part of my day today was spent stuffing and sealing envelopes, a task my eight-year-old son could have handled with limited instruction. Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a rousing day of filing service work orders. Yes, I realize that I sound like a petulant child. I realize that I have much to be grateful for in this economy. First and foremost, I have a job. It pays me well, all things considered. It allows me to be home with my children by lunchtime every day and avoid the financial burden of child care. Yes, I realize that I really do have a great life. However, is it wrong to yearn for a career instead of simply a job? Is it wrong to want to be a full-time something to someone? Instead of a part-time, half-assed everything to everyone?

I have been seriously considering going back to school. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from a small, private, liberal arts (read: expensive) college. Yea, about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. I did manage to acquire a fairly decent vocabulary and some kick-ass Scrabble skills for my chunk of change, but I still feel a bit jipped. For years now, I have toyed with the thought of going back to school. I am not certain what I would study at this point, but the idea of getting back into a learning environment is appealing to me.  However, the thought of going to graduate school is also extremely daunting, to say the least. I know people go back to school in their thirties and forties all of the time. However, I just feel old. I feel like I should already have the career of my dreams at thirty-eight years old. Or a career at all, for that matter. I realize my professional lifespan is far—oh so very, very far—from over. I’m not retiring any time soon, so I realize I have time. But why do I feel so damn old? And how will I afford to go back to school? Out of curiosity—just for shits and giggles—I looked into the Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota. (Yes…another completely unmarketable degree. I know. However, writing is one activity that truly brings me joy.) The program requires forty-five credits—at $1,003 per credit hour. $45,000. Wow…I mean…wow. It is true that my undergraduate education cost more than that, but that was back when I was young and stupid and didn’t understand the value of a dollar. Today, I know exactly how much  $45,000 is worth.

As it stands right now, Ruanita and I have no educational debt. My expensive liberal arts education was paid off a couple of years ago when we made a healthy profit selling our old house, and Ruanita’s graduate school loans were paid off just a couple of months ago. Though I loved paying them off, I admit to feeling as though I’ve lost a bit of my intellectual cred by not having a boatload of student loans attached to my name. Perhaps it is time to incur some more educational debt. The program at the University of Minnesota has stipends and grants and administrative fellowships and teaching assistantships available—all terms that make my head spin—that may be helpful in financing a graduate degree.  But then, there is the largest hurdle of all—the time constraint. When do I think I am going to find the time to attend classes? With three small children? With a schedule that makes my partner and I de facto single parents Monday through Friday? With an eight-year-old son who is struggling in school and overwhelmed by anxiety? When will I find the time to study? Just the mere thought of it alone is enough to make me need to lie down from sheer exhaustion.Kids, get momma a pillow!
Perhaps all mothers of young children feel this way? Perhaps it is not just me? My day-to-day life is about poop and pee and princesses and homework and cartoons and video games and goldfish crackers and wading pools and zoos. My life is about my children. I adore my children. However there has to be more to life than Pokeman and Hello Kitty. Right?

I recently came across this:


I guess that says it all. If I am not satisfied with my current conditions, but do nothing to change them, then I have no basis to whine about it. In other words, get off your ass or shut the hell up! Unfortunately, I am, historically, not very adept at making changes. I am not a risk-taker. At least not anymore. I used to be, but that changed somewhere along the way. Today, I am a chronicler, not a doer.  Left to my own devices, I would like nothing better than to spend the day writing about life rather than living it. But that’s not a life, right? So where does that leave me? What will become of my mid-life crisis? Do I have it within me to become a doer?

Stay tuned…

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