Year One in California

Now what?

A tiny bit over a year ago, we moved to California. Saturday, we celebrated Owen being 9 months old by having a crawfish boil and enjoying the company of friends old and new. The in between of the two milestones feels overwhelming. How could so much have happened in such a small frame of time?

I spent a lot of time listening and trying to be in the moment, but I was also distracted by the constant compare and contrast in my head between what we have here versus what we had back in Texas. The presence of cajun food probably didn’t help. However, I am finally in a place where my heart has healed enough from the past year to allow myself to feel and be happy.

For my family, California was obviously the best choice for us. We walk to pizza night with our boys on Fridays with Nana and Papa. We’re 10 minutes from the beach and an hour to the snow. Our older son is getting a fantastic Montessori education, two blocks down from our home. I walk him to and from school every day. We have 8 young children on our cul-de-sac to become life long playmates, four of which are the children of my husband’s childhood playmates. My in laws live four houses down and pop in randomly with extra formula from Costco or chocolate croissants from C’est Si Bon. I left Owen’s 9 month check up with him in the 45th percentile for growth and a pat on the back for having a perfect baby, despite him being 11 weeks early. To say life is now picturesque or ideal for our family is an understatement. (Oh, did I mention we now also have Disney Land resident Passes?)

But as for my journey…

It’s been hard. Insert an expletive or two in there. If you gave me one of those stress tests with the checkboxes of big life events from the past year, I’d have at least 80% checked. Big move, career change, hospital bed rest, premature baby, financial strain… but the biggest strain on my heart, after it was all said and done, has been my personal crisis. Who am I? As a Californian? As a stay at home mom? Who am I if I don’t teach? Who am I as a mom of two? Who am I as Cameron’s wife? What kind of person do I want to be here, or am I somehow supposed to somehow feel and be the same person I was a year ago?

Finally, I would say since we got back from our first trip to Texas since we moved, I am starting to come to terms with the unknown. I’m letting go, like peeling duct tape off a sunburn, of the anger and resentment and fear of the future.

After applying for every English teaching position in Orange County and getting some of the loveliest rejections, I’ve thrown in the towel and turned my focus toward the creative again. It is hard to have been hired the day of an interview for literally every other job I’ve had, and then have radio silence for months.

One of my favorite mugs from @sophieandlili and a source of internal motivation… that and caffeine of course.

Ten years ago, I was accepted into the Savanna College of Art and Design. I was full of naivety. I was going to be an advertising designer and work on campaigns like Truth or Red and save the world from nicotine and cure HIV with my creativity. However, my parents talked me out of going. I instead majored in English. I went to Texas State down the road. It was a safe choice. I hope I inspired one or two out of the approximately 700 hundred students I had, but my heart just isn’t in teaching anymore. Now, after MUCH introspection I’m starting my own business.

My mom listened to my ideas while I rambled over and over on the phone (moms are good at that) and she decided I could be successful. She admitted she felt bad that I never went to art school and encouraged me to get started. Later this week I’ll pick up a starter set of screen printing equipment.

Her call was a baby push. And I know, if I want to do this project right, it’s going to take baby steps. Delayed gratification. Planning and budgeting. Time. So right now, a year of California behind us, 9 months of Owen being our miracle, and finally something for me to feel pride in – I’m starting the business plan for Practiced Positivity, a custom screen printing and vinyl shop. Its my project, my contribution to our family, and hopefully a future for me here.

Motherhood & Identity

In life, there are a few milestones where you really question identity. Adolescence, of course. Marriage. Parenthood. Retirement. For those who aren’t living the traditional linear expectation model, it may be a particular birthdate or promotion that creates this existential crisis of “Who am I?”

When I had my first son, I tried my damnedest not to let motherhood change me. I wanted to be the woman who was still herself, but also had a child. I tried to add on the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage without personal sacrifice, and was so fooled. Over time I gave up being a color guard director, I stopped staying for after school tutorials with my students, I stopped trying to do adult activities with my friends. More and more of my free time was spent as a family, and we were happy. There was nothing wrong with the transition in the moments it was happening. I adopted the identity of mother and wife and embraced them.

However, very innocently, about 5 months ago my husband made the passing comment, “Before you met me you were just an English teacher.”

Was I?

Was I JUST an English teacher?

Compound this statement with giving up my career and village in Texas to relocate to California. Compound it with a 50 day hospital stay in antepartum. Then compound it with a 59 day wait for my son in the NICU. Needless to say, I’m working through some shit.

Now that my son is home, my family is together, and I’m “fun”employed or on maternity leave, however you want to perceive it, I can feel myself longing for the person who was ‘just’ an English teacher. There is something about the label of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ that just aren’t enough for me right now. I need to be able to point to an accomplishment that is solely my own and say “LOOK! I DID THAT! ITS MINEEEeeee.”

From my perspective, I wasn’t JUST an English teacher. I was more than that. I was passionate, I was political, I was environmental, I was a dancer, I was a photographer. I loved live music and craft Texas beer with my friends. I was drawn to artists and musicians and creatives; other liberal arts junkies who spent too much money on a degree to never have the career to it pay off. We sat around on old couches in indie coffee shops and solved the world’s problems. I was interesting, and outgoing, and fun, and positive.

Favorite representation of me- pre marriage and babies.

Now I stand at preschool functions making random small talk in hopes another mom will befriend me. Now I send mom memes to the women who used to watch live music and go dancing with me to try and keep a hold of whatever connection we have left. Now I use the portrait mode on my iPhone and pretend that it validates the art and photography classes I took in community college.

I feel boring sometimes. It feels like postpartum anxiety making me hate the idea of socializing because somehow I know I’m not going to be good enough. I feel bitter because I miss that person I used to be.

Can you be both? Can you be the person you were before parenthood and a good parent? Or do you have to lose yourself in your children?

This transition is temporary. I know that as time goes on, and I process the past 6 months, I will find a balance between who I used to be and who I am becoming. The mother of two. The Californian.

I think the most important thing to remember is that non of us are written in stone. The only constant in life is change.

I do love the happy moments with my family. I love the dinners on the back patio free of humidity and mosquitoes. I love living down the street from my in laws. I love watching my older son love on my newborn so beautifully unconditionally. But the next time I pour one out (to be honest it’ll probably just be me accidentally spilling breastmilk on the counter) it will be for the women we were before we were mothers.