I want to write about this day so I can go back and remember the way that I thought things were. I come from a relatively large family. I’m the oldest of five children, I have three sisters, my brother is the baby and fortunately we all live close enough that we get together on a fairly regular basis. Today I was the hostess. My husband’s daughter has been visiting us for the past three weeks. We haven’t seen her since she was eight. She turned eighteen on October 20, 2008 and now I wish I would have recorded the events of that day because we had a good time going out to eat and getting to know her a little better.
I’m going to go through my family person by person because I want to remember the challenges and struggles each of them is facing right now. I want to remember the positive things we celebrated today and when my sisters and I disagree about something that happened we can refer to this daylog as a record of what may or may not have happened. Growing up my sister Susan and I did not always see eye to eye. I’ve always perceived her as the golden child. I would say that she’s one of the favorites. Both my mother and father favor her over some of the rest of us. That’s been difficult for me at times but today I’m at peace with it because she has some remarkable gifts, she utilizes them and today I’m proud of her.
Susan is married to a man she met in the army. He has the same birthday my husband does, they’re exactly a year apart and if anyone read my daylog about my missing cell phone I lost it at my brother-in-law’s fortieth birthday party. I really like my brother-in-law. He’s genuinely warm and caring, he has a great sense of humor, and he really loves my sister and their daughter. Susan’s husband is still active in the Army Reserves. We recently found out that he’s going to be deployed in January. This will be his third tour, this past spring he was gone for four months to complete training and my sister is not looking forward to being a single mother caring for an eighteen-month-old baby.
We were sitting around talking when Susan told us that she was thinking of dropping out of the Ph.D. program. Susan has been in school for as long as I can remember, she has two master’s degrees, one in German education, one for German literature. She lived in Germany for a year when she was in college and one of the good things about her being in the army she was able to take advantage of the GI Bill. Hearing that Susan is considering dropping out of the Ph.D. program did something funny to me. On one level I feel that if quits she will regret it later on in life. On another level, Susan told us that her advisor started their meeting by informing her that there was a good market for German teachers at the high school level, and that’s when I realized that maybe this isn’t something Susan really wants to do. Susan’s advisor told her proposal for her dissertation needed a lot of work, Susan writes well but it isn’t her forte and she doesn’t really enjoy writing the way that some of the other people in my family do.
I went back to school when my youngest daughter was three weeks old. I dropped out when she was about eighteen months old and I quit because my microbiology teacher told me school wasn’t as important as the things I had going on in my life at that point in time. Susan’s daughter is about as angelic as they come but even the best of babies require significant amounts of care. Whether Susan believes this or not I appreciate what she’s going through. She doesn’t have a lot of free time and when her husband leaves for Iraq the time she has to spend on schoolwork is going to be dramatically reduced. Then there’s the financial aspect. School is expensive. It’s hard work, it’s time consuming. Susan has been in school for most of her life. She’ll be thirty-two in January, school with a family can be done but it’s not easy and you have to be realistic about that and the time commitment.
The other day my sister Amanda and I were talking about Susan and what she should do. Amanda is currently going to grad school so she knows some of the challenges Susan is facing. Amanda knows what kind of reading and homework go along with school. Susan is done with the coursework but writing and researching a dissertation is difficult because it is an entire body of work that you have to have an original idea for, you have to define your idea, present your idea, defend it and you don’t have the structure of the classroom to keep you on task. My sister Amanda is a nurse, I went back to school to be a nurse and I dropped out after my coursework was done, before I had to do my clinical work. Now I can see some of the mistakes I made. If I would have been willing to spend the money it took to have someone else watch my children so I could go to school full time I probably could have done it. Instead I tried to save money by going to school part time and the biggest mistake I made was trying to master the material instead of just learning it.
Today those grades don’t matter. I know a couple things I didn’t know before but the time would probably have been better spent being a better wife and mother. Balancing work, school and a family is a tough thing in this day and age when people are pulled in so many directions. I feel bad that Susan is thinking of quitting but if my advisor suggested I take a teaching job and scrap a proposal I wasn’t happy with I think I probably would probably take her advice. My sister Amanda is working towards becoming a nurse practitioner. I think that’s a good career move for her. It’s expensive, she recently took a job that came with a pay cut but if it makes her happier than the hospital she had been working at I feel it’s a good move. She lives with my youngest sister Beth. Beth has a little girl who is just a bit younger than my daughter Jane. It was neat to see how well the cousins got along with each other.
Beth is the only one of us who doesn’t have a college degree. She dropped out of school to work and now she wishes she wouldn’t have dropped out. She works at the same company my mother works for. The company they work for handles government contracts to help educate and train people who are in the welfare system so hopefully one day they can get out of the system. Beth works hard but she’s frustrated because her lack of education prevents her from getting some of the jobs within the company she works for. In my family it seems like the people who have the degrees don’t use them and the people who don’t have good stable jobs. Beth isn’t grossly underpaid but her skill set is under-utilized in her current position.
If we had to cast votes for the smartest person in my family my vote would probably go to my brother. Susan has the most advanced degrees. I think she has the best grades but my brother is not only smart he has leadership potential. Currently he’s a licensed realtor, he coaches tennis and one of the things he likes to brag about is the awesomeness of his players. This year his girls took the state championship so that was a feather in his cap. People in my family have a hard time sitting behind desks. Coaching tennis doesn’t pay very well but my brother enjoys it. He’s good at it, the kids like him and he likes helping them become better players. From my point of view one of the most frustrating things about my brother is his lack of ambition. Susan has drive and determination in spades, she could relax and be fine whereas my brother would definitely benefit from a little more drive in his life.
Objectively evaluating yourself, the members of your family and the world everyone interacts with is difficult because I’m bringing my own set of prejudices along with me. I was glad we all had an opportunity to get together. It was really good to see my children playing with their cousins. They pulled the Halloween costumes out so I have some cute pictures of them in different poses. We had a bonfire. Today, unlike other times we've gotten together, the food wasn’t the focus, family was. In the past I would have done a lot more with the food but I think one of the things I’ve let go of is trying to make everything perfect.
I made sure the house was clean. I knew there would be plenty of food to eat and at the end of the day I felt is was more important that I had an opportunity to talk to my brother and sisters than it was that I had a great side dish or a complicated dessert. The older I get the more I’d like to try and define myself in terms of my interactions with other people. Can I take care of myself, back away from toxic relationships and really bond with the people I share history with? In the past I would have knocked myself out getting ready to have my family over.
That time in my life is gone. I put what I think is an acceptable amount of effort into getting ready. I’ve relaxed some of my budget guidelines, I like having nice towels and it’s been fun to go shopping with my children. My parents never had any money. Most of my childhood was spent hearing about the things we couldn’t afford. I want my children to understand money and one of the ways they absorb information is seeing what others do with the money they’ve earned. I bought myself an expensive butter dish a while back. It’s always bothered me that I didn’t have an official butter dish because I don’t like it when food sits out. The new butter dish is red, it’s sitting next to my new toaster and I’ve reclaimed that corner of the kitchen by moving the toaster oven next to the stove beneath the spice rack.
That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to you but unlike the rest of the people I live with I don’t have space of my own. The girls have their room and the TV room. My husband has the office but nowhere in my house do I have a space that is mine, only mine and what I say goes and what I put there stays. Short of moving out there’s no way to really get that space. I could be creative, I could get a desk and move my computer out into the living room but that’s not the kind of private space I want.
My friend Daisy has an office of her own. She didn’t want it, her husband bought a furniture system for a room you can barely turn around in, her office is his idea of what she wants. It’s just as hard and cold as he is. Fortunately I don’t have a husband like that which is not to say we don’t have problems of our own. We’ve been getting along better lately. I can’t control him and his spending just like he doesn’t have control over me and what I do. I would classify him as passive-aggressive. He’s non-confrontational and I would like to have a marriage where I feel like I have a communicative partner. Growing up we played a lot of family games together. Today I feel like my children and I are people occupying the same space instead of a cohesive family unit.
Right now I hate my job. I’m not looking forward to going in to work and it’s given me some good things but I’ve outgrown it so it’s time to look for something new. That’s hard for me. I don’t exactly know why it’s hard, perhaps it’s because I have had so many disappointing jobs. I realize that it’s called work for a reason but I know people who find work fulfilling. That’s something I want for myself so I’ve been filling out job applications and trying to network.
This daylog is going to be posted along with the rest of my write-ups for THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE. On the whole it’s been a largely positive experience. I’m proud to be a member of the elite task force that focuses on adding content to the site instead of complaining about all the ways that E2 has failed. I believe that positive energy channeled into things is its own reward. Some day I'm going to come back to this and be glad that I wrote it so I’d encourage you to write material that you can be proud of. Node for the ages. Get out, do something fun. Encourage others, have a great day and as always, thanks for reading.