Stepping Through Oneself — The Beauty of the Out of Control Life

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I’m a control freak. At least, I like things to be in their proper places. Like the beloved Auri in, The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, often I find that things inside of me aren’t right unless things outside of me are.

Most of my young life I had a plan, and for the most part, those plans worked exactly as I wanted. Sure, people would upset me or let me down, or maybe I missed out on an award, a kiss, or an opportunity, but with a plan, I could rush through the pain of failure, get back on my feet, and still be…me.

Twenty years ago, when my birth control failed, I got my first taste of a plan crumbling to the ground with no way to put back the pieces, no matter how hard I tried. Until that moment, I saw the future clearly — I would work in a Fortune 500 tech company, rise to the top as a female leader, and live in a condo on Lake Shore Drive. Then my son was born, and I discovered that the feminist promise of “having it all” had obviously been created by someone not like me. For I couldn’t handle “it all” and after two years of trying to be the perfect working-mom-wife-in-tech, I was far from leaning in, rather I fell out, and into my home, trying to raise two children, with no plan.

At first, I made new plans. Lots of them. Plans were my way to survive, but as the children’s needs began to grow and change, I found my plans being foiled, time and time again. The darkness set in. Hormonal depression is common after giving birth, but few mention the identity crisis that birth brings the modern woman. From a young age, we told that we’re more than mothers, that caregiving is for other women, those who can’t, and that in this unfair world we women must fight, break through that glass ceiling, and focus on nothing else. The world of breastfeeding, diaper changing, and toddler discipline doesn’t fit in that narrative. The mother is not only demonized in this modern myth, she is forgotten. As such, I was lost.

I spent the first four years of my children’s lives trying to figure out who I was with them. Twenty years later, I’m still not sure who I am with them, except that once I let go of plans, once I stopped leaning in, and learned instead to weave in and out of the various callings in life, my identity became, well, meaningless.

As my sons leave me, I’m entering yet another phase that modern feminism has no place for — middle aged with at least another 40 years left before my sons bury me, filled with a desire to work in the world in a new way. The home has no meaning without children to raise, and while I’ve worked many part-time jobs, none have become my focus, because in each phase and stage, their needs changed, and I changed with them. I’ve been a school-teacher, a blogger, a novelist, an Airbnb hostess, a dance company director, a CTO for a startup and a novelist. But mostly, I’ve been a woman, weaving in when need be, and out when the time calls for it. To live with my sons in peace and satisfaction, I’ve had to let go of any real plans, for the plans of life are always changing.

That’s not to say I don’t have plans now. Oh, I do. I’m in school, retraining to re-enter tech. My time as a CTO taught me that I wanted to be a part of the world of technology, just as I had when I was 18 and starting out at Purdue in CS. However, unlike my 18 y.o. self, I’m no longer sure exactly what this plan will bring. Meaningful employment, yes, but where, or how, or what? I have no idea. And honestly, I like that. Not because it will hurt less if the plan goes awry, for midlife is full of pain and change, but because I’m ready for that pain and change. Knowing that I’ll never truly know myself, because I’m ever changing, is fine with me.

What is the purpose of a middle-aged woman? One whose children have left her? What is the purpose of marriage at this point? What is retirement when you’re just getting started again? Who am I, now that they’re gone? Feminism doesn’t answer this, because it focuses on power dynamics and the acquisition of that economic power. This, my friends, is about love, and no ism can help me here.

As my sons wonder what their next steps are, I too, share that anxiety. Yet it’s okay. In the tapestry of life, there’s a new row to begin, a new color to add to the pattern I’ve been creating. I have a novel coming out in the fall, a trip planned to France to celebrate my 21st wedding anniversary, and something to add to the tech landscape. Beyond that, anything is possible, and I can see no further than each stitch I make.

Who am I? The one who watches all the plans come and go, who delights in the patterns that emerge, as this little life unfolds.

Originally published at

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