Monday, November 11, 2013

The Gap

Do you know about The Gap?

Not the store.  The modern day phenomenon affecting women all over the world?

No?  Are you sure?  It doesn't surprise me.  

There was not a single lecture about The Gap in college.  Or upon graduation.  Someone may have mentioned it to me, but when you are knee deep in education, bright-eyed, youthful, and ready to step out into the world armed with a hard-earned degree...sometimes you just don't listen.  Especially about something like The Gap.  Something that won't affect you until you are, ugh, old.

I've been living in The Gap for a few years now.  But living in it is not the same as when you climb out of it.  Then you finally understand The Gap.  So, here are the four main events which have brought about my current state of Gap Clarity.    

1. Martinis on the deck
2. My 20 year high school reunion
3. Lunch with my parents
4. A bunch of men

Back in the day, I had plans for myself.  Big plans.  I wanted to make a difference in somebody's life, somewhere, somehow.

But I was prepared to start slow.  After Sean and I moved out West, I scoured the newspaper looking for just the right job to sink my Master of Public Administration (yawn, I know) teeth into.  I woke up each morning, highlighter in hand circling the hell out of every inspiring entry level but with potential to change the world job I could find.

I did not find many with that title.

But I did find one.  I began my post-college career at a home for abused and neglected children as the Development Associate.  Over the next four years, I learned the ropes and even managed to work my way up a bit.  The job was challenging but rewarding, the mission inspiring, and the people I worked with determined to use our combined talents and energies to make a difference in kids' lives.

I was chug chug chugging down the right path.  Then I had a martini on the deck with my new husband.  And that conversation changed everything.

It went a little something like this:

Me    "I love being married to you."
Sean  "I love being married to you, too." (Hang in there, this doesn't last long.)
Me    "I can just picture us way, way down the road surrounded by our kids." (Said dreamily, between martini sips.)
Sean  "Me too." (Here it comes.)
Sean  "You plan on staying home with the kids, right?"
Me    "Huh?"
Sean  "It's just that, it's really important to me that one of us stay home to raise the kids.  You'll do that, right?"
Me    "Huh?"
Sean  "Or I could stay home with the kids if you'd rather work."  Smiles and sighs like he's just wrapped up a present all nice and neat.  Claps his hands and says, "Want another round?"
Me     "Huh?"

Somehow the idea of one of us staying home with our future children had never, ever occurred to me.  The era of women's rights had afforded me the notion that I could have a family AND keep my career.  End of story.

Life is not that simple.  

So while I never envisioned myself rocking the domestic look, that is precisely what happened.  After just a half a decade of working and with Baby #1 on the way, I ventured into The Gap.

"A few more steps and we'll be safe in the The Gap."
"We'll never survive!"
"Nonsense!  You only say that because no one ever has!"**

But survive we did.  Now, my youngest is 5 and my oldest is 9.  I am alone almost as much as I am not.  I sleep at night.  My house is pretty clean.  And I haven't wiped a butt other than my own in a long time.

Present day.

Last month I went to my 20 year high school reunion.  I was excited to go.  Until a lady in line at Starbucks quipped, "I heard the only people who go back to their 20 year reunions are people who have nothing to show for it."

I almost pumpkin spice latted her face.  But it had me thinking.  What would I tell my schoolmates I'd been doing for the past 20 years?  My job...so many, many years ago was, well, so many, many years ago.

Then I went to the reunion and pretty much everyone I spoke to was doing so well - successful, good-looking, happy.  It was impressive.  In a slight panic, I tried to skillfully direct conversations towards everyone else's brilliant careers and beautiful families.  Or to high school memories. Or hilarious re-tellings of Modern Family episodes.  Anything to keep from being asked the dreaded question, "So what do you do?"

Then, somewhere between talking to the woman who went from teacher to under cover agent to the guy whose career includes working with the Rockettes - that's right I said the legendary flippin' Rockettes - someone dropped the question directly to me.

I blinked rapidly.  Scattered images of my kids flew through my head.  Memories of chubby baby cheeks, slobbery kisses, shape sorting, duckles, bedtime books, snuggles after nightmares, trips to the Zoo, slides and swings, Alphabet soup, Play-Doh, and all the activities and moments which have consumed my time in The Gap.  Sweet, sweet memories.  But how do I condense what I "do" or have done over the past 10 years into one sentence?

Alas.  Sometimes I am not very good on my feet.  Instead of coming up with a simple answer which elegantly described my dedicated time as a stay-at-home mom, I panicked, and before I could clap my hand over my mouth I blurted out,

"Um, I kinda have a blog.  So...I like to write, sometimes, but not often, maybe once a year, and uh, also, I really want to do something big, something that will change the world....so I guess I'm kinda trying to figure out what I want to do when I, um, you know, grow up, or older, or whatever."  My eyes slowly roll up to the ceiling as I speak and I desperately hope that when I look back down everyone will be gone.

Instead I find them all staring back at me.  So I say, "Did you see that Modern Family episode when Phil takes the family on a trip in an RV?"

A few weeks later I am at Le Peep having lunch with my parents.  Sitting across the table from me they listen to my incessant chattering about the kids, Sean, and the funny thing my dog did the other day.  They smile supportively, radiating absolute love for me.  They are the kind of parents who inspire Hallmark cards.

Eventually, I bring up the reunion and my growing feelings of inadequacy, declining self-worth, and my desperate need to contribute back to society in some way.  With elbows on the table, hands gripping my coffee cup, and the remains of my Le Peep scramble staring back at me, I realize I have had this conversation before.  More than once.  And almost exclusively with my parents. The big "what do I want to be when I grow up" conversation we had when I was 5, 10 and 20.  It was expected then.

I just never saw myself having this same conversation at 39 something.  But this time, the question is, "What do I want to be when the kids grow up?"

Recently, my friend told me of an application review process she had been a part of.  As a bunch of men sat around reviewing a particular applicant's resume one of them asked, "Huh.  What's with the gap here between these two jobs?  That's a pretty large gap in her resume."

Another guy nodded while studying her gap-ridden resume, "Yeah.  Hmm.  That is a big gap between jobs.  I wonder if she really even needs to work."

And that's just it.  Because the work experience of a stay-at-home mom is not a sought-after or welcomed addition to a resume, our career path tends to look crooked and unkempt.  The Gap becomes an ominous foreshadowing of commitment and ability.

Yet, now that I begin my long climb out of The Gap, I do have some clarity.  On paper, the large black hole left from my gap years, seems to be a red flag, warning prospective employers, "Don't hire this one!  She can't keep a job for long.  She's probably crazy!"  And while that last part may be true, The Gap on my resume does show something.

It shows that for 10 years, I dedicated my social, personal, work and exercise time to one job.  In those early years, I did not have lunch breaks or happy hours or NPR on the way to work.  I may not have known how social media would so drastically change the face of business, but I could find the mouse on every single page in Goodnight Moon.  I may not have managerial experience, but I can talk a kid down from a candy high while simultaneously assisting my 4th grader with a hot glue gun.  And I may not have much teamwork experience, but I can calmly walk a 3 year old through the unbuckling process of a 5-point harness and unlocking the door of the running car using nothing but hand gestures and small words.  

So as the kids continue along their inevitable paths of growing up and leaving me, I reach the top of The Gap and peek over.  I still don't know what my next move is, but I look forward to finding out.  I do know that I climb out of The Gap and back into the workforce armed not with another degree or critical resume-building work experience.  Instead, I move forward haltingly, but with the growing confidence that comes from hugs and kisses, snuggles, giggles, sweet encouragement, and lots and lots of little heart love.
 
 



**Kudos to you if you knew these lines are mostly from The Princess Bride.  If you did not, watch the movie. It's a classic.







3 comments:

  1. I love how you write! You make me think, I usually learn something new, and of course you make me laugh. I can't wait to read your book someday! And I promise you, that will be a book I finish!

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  2. The Gap is something I've been trying to handle the last few years. I've picked up random jobs here and there to help pay for extras in our household, but they aren't something I wanted to do full-time. I never went to school intending to be a stay-at-home mom. It's been quite the experience.

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  3. i guess i'm lucky because your gap has been my life. i've never known anything else, so my self esteem never took a hit. i got married as a college drop out and didn't return to finish my degree until after we decided i would stay home with the kids. but i consider myself unlucky because i don't even have a, "well, i used to...," or, "i'm a cpa or nurse or dr or hairdresser or lawyer or anything," to drop in casual banter. and it seems fraudulent to say, "i'm a writer," since nothing i have ever written has been published by anyone other than myself. on my blog. sigh.

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