a small blown-glass sphere

I am tortured by decisions. Crippled, even, sometimes. Just ask J. What to order off of a menu. What jobs to apply for. Which skirt to buy when I’m desperate for a new skirt but my clothing budget is… non existent. What, Good Lord, to name our children. I’m a disaster at deciding.

And really, full disclosure: even once I’ve made a choice, I’m still all mixed up. What if that was wrong??? is pretty much my brain’s mantra.

I can almost pinpoint the moment, though, when I do settle down and trust a decision. The first taste of a sandwich that thrills me. The first time I heard someone say Bram’s name and felt… elation at how truly that name is his. The various moments when life has confirmed for me that I was meant to be J’s. But those moments rarely follow closely on the coattails of the making of the choice, and really: they’re never immediate. For all of my apparent optimism and confidence, I know my way around skepticism and doubt.

This is all to say that we’ve made some decisions recently, and they were damn near impossible to make. They caused something only a little north or south of anguish.

They came down to this: where to spend the rest of our lives. Where to raise our kids. Who to be nearer to, geographically speaking. Whether or not J would go back to school to become a midwife. Whether or not I would stay on the four-year-university tenure-track job market. So, big stakes.

We had one priority that we weren’t flexible about: we didn’t want to put our kids in childcare before they started school. At least preschool, and then only part-time. Otherwise it seemed like everything was up in the air.

I have dinner to cook, and grading to do before office hours and class tonight. And naps have been unforgivably short lately. So I can’t go further into the whats and whys and questions and unsurities and logics and illogics and tears and gnashing of teeth that was the last few weeks. Just know that these things were all present and aplenty.

But then we made a choice. And it comes down to two things:

  1. striving less. thanks, Ani, for that one (and J for knowing we should strive less before I did).
  2. doing nothing. from an acronym we learned in our birth class a few years back.

We have been full-on-striving for as long as there’s been an us. Degrees, moving, marriage, babies, babies. PhDs are all about striving. You have to strive or you won’t finish. And kids? For us? Well, they weren’t going to come along accidentally, no matter how much fun we had. So we have striven. Lordy have we striven.

Here’s the less-strivey plan.

We stay where we are. I don’t become a university professor. Maybe, down the line, a community college professor. But not the Big Deal Thing. J doesn’t become, at least not for some time, a midwife. We don’t ever make a ton of money and live in a huge house and have all the stuff. But we stay somewhere that will, because of anonymous benefactors and sheer, strange, miraculous luck, help our kids go to school. Like, help them a lot. And where we can afford a nice four-bedroom house on 1.5 incomes. And where we’re connected enough to find meaningful work. And where I can stay part-time until the kiddos are all full-time. And where we can afford at least one more kiddo. And where we have family. And where we have friends. And where our babies were born. And where we’re already licensed foster-care parents so when we’re ready to bring home kiddo 3 (and maybe kiddo 4?) we can do that with not too much striving. And where we feel loved. And know the parks. And know what time storytime is. And have friends who will complain with us about the centrality of computers in the newly reconfigured children’s library room.

There’s a saying I found recently in a novel: Take what you want and pay for it, says God. This choice is not without payment. The big dream jobs we both could have had. I know that J will find something meaningful in our town, and that I will cobble together teaching (which is what I’m in it for anyway), but still: the prestige and money and sense of having made it that comes (more or less) along with the big job is shiny. So, less shiny for us. Our lifestyles will always be more modest than they could have been, which is not nothing. No big city living. Sustained distance between us and some people we’d have liked to know so much more. It’s a sacrifice, the less striving. We will pay for it.

But J and I have been striving for a long time. And we’ve finally found the things that thrill us. We are in love with each other and with our babies. We are happy. We can settle on other things.

And here’s the thing.

For maybe the very first time in my whole life: the second we made this decision its rightness washed over me.

Which is not to say that the disappointments disappeared, because they didn’t. But the deep breath of surity came quicker than it ever has. And I’ve been walking around on clouds since then. I mean, they’re baby.won’t.sleep, early.potty.training, when.am.I.possibly.going.to.get.this.grading.done, how.the.fuck.is.it.still.snowing clouds for sure. But yesterday, when I was walking around to the driver’s side after strapping B into his carseat for the third time that morning (it was only 9am), and it was snowing (again), and cold (still), and I’d just been told that our (only) car wasn’t safely drivable after we were hit by a snow plow last week, I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in the reflection of the auto-body shop’s front window and I was smiling.

And this past weekend, J said of staying here: it’s like falling in love with the best friend you’ve known forever but never knew you had feelings for.

So, less striving for us.

Let us be radically happy with our little family, and our small lives, and each other.

Let us do nothing more often.

Let us embrace this philosophy:

“Our entire society’s based on discontent: people wanting more and more and more, being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their decor, their clothes, everything. Taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life, never to be satisfied. If you’re perfectly happy with what you’ve got – specially if what you’ve got isn’t even all that spectacular – then you’re dangerous. You’re breaking all the rules, you’re undermining the sacred economy, you’re challenging every assumption that society’s built on…. [Happiness is] subversive.” ~ Tana French, The Likeness

2014. Slowing down. Being dangerously happy with what we have. Being grateful not to strive.

Here’s a little banner that B and I made for J and Dragon today: hearts from a whole year’s worth of saved Bram-drawings. Happy nearly Valentine’s Day to you and yours. I once hated Valentine’s Day. Then, one year, my now-wife gave me a blue and green blown-glass sphere. Life. It’s at once much smaller than I thought it would be, and impossibly huge.

photo 2


8 thoughts on “a small blown-glass sphere

  1. I love everything about what you have said. Striving less. Gratitude for what is right in front of us. You are wise. So wise. You and your family know a whole lot of stuff and I am thankful when you share it with us. I am happy for you for all the peace that this decision brings and, as always, am awe inspired at how you leave room for all the emotions that come along with a decision so that one emotion does not have to be sacrificed for another. I like to think that one of these days, when my little family is driving between Chicago and Ann Arbor, we will get to stop along the way and meet your little (growing) family. So I like that you will be staying put.

  2. This is great. Even though I cognitively gave up on the “need more / succeed more / prove more” mentality several years ago, emotionally it can still be such a challenge to overcome, particularly when surrounded by so many emphatic messages that doing otherwise is wrong. (Also, I feel ya on the decision making – some days the right DOUGHNUT can be hard to pick).

  3. For several reasons this one brought on big fat tears. Perhaps it was the incredible reminder that more doesn’t always = fulfilled. You should be proud of your incredibly brave decision making. I hope I can follow in your less striving footsteps!

  4. This might be my favorite-ever post of yours. Right now, I am in a serious striving place right now with my own dissertation, and it is refreshing to know that there is light to be found in all this. Something I’ve learned in almost 3 years of marriage and living on 1.3 incomes is that sometimes less truly *is* more. We downgraded into a smaller place with less cost and upkeep, and though it was nice to be in a bigger house, we’re far less worried about money. That’s not nothing. I hope you and J bask in the glories of staying where you are. You deserve to bask.

  5. I wish I were at this place in figuring out where we should be. Where we would be happy. What would make me happy. We did finally decide on a way to make our tiny house more liveable (a small, DIY renovation instead of a huge, professional one), but the decision between the life we have here and the one we could have near the rest of our family is one that’s been in the balance for at least a year now, and doesn’t seem to be finding an answer. I tell myself that the pieces of the puzzle aren’t all here yet. As I said before, I’m sad that you’re not going to be joining us in the big city, but glad that you’re still close enough to imagine seeing. Next time we go to our friends’ apple orchard, hopefully we’ll be able to arrange it for a time when you can come with us–I think you’d find it glorious. Now I’m looking forward to living vicariously through your search for a new house that fits your family better!

  6. Oh, what a wise and beautiful post. I teared up, reading it. Suffice it to say, we are also grappling with similar decisions. Really happy for you, for this.

    Also: The Likeness! One of my favorites.

    Also: community college teaching is pretty wonderful, in the love-of-teaching sense.

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