A few days ago I celebrated another birthday. Every year it becomes a time of new commitments, almost like making New Year’s resolutions. I always keep this simple by telling myself I’d drink more water, get more sleep, start doing yoga again, etc. It’s usually so simple that by the time a year passes I usually can’t remember what I committed to, which is probably for my own good because I tend to overcommit to larger, more complicated tasks on a regular basis.
This past year I underestimated the effort needed to balance everything and learned the importance of not only prioritizing, but doing it with such fierceness that I made a few enemies along the way.
1. Because not everyone has children. Or I should say, not everyone has adolescent children. Life is completely different from the time when my children were portable and agreeable. Hormones have transformed these sweet angels into pissed off little turds who question the need to do things adults tell them to do like folding their laundry or making their beds so that they don’t become nesting grounds for dust bunnies and spiders. Now they want independence, but at the same time need rides to band rehearsals, basketball practice, friends’ houses, in addition to the funding necessary to do all of these things that have taken over the family calendar.
It’s a natural part of growing up, of course, so I’m happy to do all of these things for them, amid the pouting and protest when there is a scheduling conflict or a conflict of interest. But when I have deadlines or have to be on campus for class, it’s tough to break away from the mommy guilt. Sadly, I can’t be in more than one place at one time, so my children have grown accustomed to my absence. When I really think about it, they have never complained about that, partly because my husband has done a pretty good job of taking over. And maybe they just totally get it, which totally deserves a trip to Disneyland when I finally graduate.
2. Because not everyone thinks this grad school gig is worthwhile. I will go so far as to say that my butt cheeks have made a permanent indenture on this chair that I currently sit in. I am here for hours upon hours each day when the session is in full swing.
Sometimes I surprise myself and turn everything in early, which leaves me paranoid that I must have forgotten something because twiddling my thumbs doesn’t happen all that often. Many times I’m feverishly racing ahead of a deadline, especially when I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around whatever it is I have to research and analyze so that I have enough to write a concise 5-page paper.
Needless to say, I’m a hermit. When I am extremely overwhelmed I would much rather escape and do something other than focusing on what I really need to do, which is why I often deactivate my Facebook account and place my iPhone and iMessenger on “Do Not Disturb”.
My family already knows that a closed bedroom door means that I’m in deadline panic mode, and until I emerge I cannot process any extraneous information. They have attempted communication during such times of duress, but they have also learned that I don’t remember any of it.
I’d like to think my friends and extended family understand this also, but I also learned this past year that not everyone really gives a shit about what I’m doing. They don’t realize that I spent more than 15 years out of the work force so that I could raise my children. A divorce during that time left us in financial ruins and we have been living off of the same amount of child support since 2010 because their biological father has successfully avoided mediation since then.
Even if I wanted to return to work as my original calling in graphic design, I’d need extensive schooling to catch up with the times, for technology has changed just a little bit over the years. They also don’t realize that in my attempt to avoid school loans while completing my pre-requisites, I paid for everything out of pocket which was a huge financial strain.
I’m a sociable person and would gladly hang out at the local bar or night spot with a drink in hand catching up with friends, but even that was only feasible if I had the extra time between semesters and a little bit of wiggle room on my credit card.
The burning question is: Why do I have to explain this to anybody? I don’t, which is why I have burned some bridges this past year. This was drama, like the sort of stuff I had to deal with in high school, but only amplified with the extra dynamic of social media. Needless to say, there is also a Block function that comes with many forms of modern day gadgetry which I have used extensively in order to stay focused on what is really important. I can only do so much; therefore, my time is spent on only those who realize it and appreciate it.
3. Because not everyone realizes how much work is involved with my job. I still don’t even consider “group fitness instructor” to be a real job even though my years of experience have earned me a substantial rate for every class I teach. Don’t get me wrong, it is a real job that requires a lot of work that I don’t get paid to do, most of which involves countless hours of learning music and choreography so that I can teach an effective class. The satisfaction comes from the delivery, and I can see this on the participants’ faces who come back week after week after week. Showing up and teaching is actually the fun part, almost like a break from the outside world in which I can just do something else for an hour or two.
This past year I have had to step away from the lure of teaching multiple classes and multiple formats at multiple gyms. Not only was this exhausting, it was eating into time I could have been spending with my kids, and I was constantly confused about where I had to be.
I also learned the value of working for people who appreciate what I do. As ridiculous as that may sound, I realized for some managers it’s all about simply filling the instructor spot with any breathing body just so the class can happen, regardless of experience, commitment to the facility and its members, or the potential for injury. I have always been told to treat that time slot that I’ve been hired to teach like gold, which I have always done even when I’m just there to sub. However, I expect this to be reciprocated from the management, especially when I work my butt off to pack their classes. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen. Normally I would simply step away and move on, for in this instance I did need to make my life less busy because grad school had started. But I refused to let this manager think that was the only reason why. Hopefully the parting letter to him and his superiors explained this clearly.
4. Because I fill every amount of free space with something. Several years ago, I moved back to the Chicago area to be near family. I assumed that because we were related, they would take an interest in me and my children and we would have that social support that I had been craving since my divorce.
I realized after ending a long relationship with a sociopath (“What’s His Face”) that this was not the case, and I would assume that having fun with him was probably more appealing than hanging out with me at home because I no longer had the time or the financial means to party hard alongside them.
I get it. It’s not cool. It isn’t the type of stuff that makes for successful selfies on social media. Naturally, being the sociopath that he is, this guy took advantage of this, which I’m sure softened the blow of being dumped by me. He made sure he was in every single photo with my cousins and it was always posted online somewhere, like the sick fuck that he is.
Sure this hurt, but not as much as the backlash I received when I voiced my concern to these people who I thought would understand. You know, because they were family. I am convinced now that some higher being intentionally made this traumatizing for me so that I would walk away from them and the lifestyle they lead forever. This wasn’t the type of thing that would make me a productive human being in society.
Needless to say, I then had endless opportunities to meet new people and create life changing relationships because I finally had the time to do it. After a 2-year hiatus, I started teaching group fitness classes again, something which I gave up when I left North Carolina because at the time it was instilled in me by What’s His Face that it wasn’t a real job and it didn’t matter. I cannot even begin to say how wrong he was. I have met hundreds of people over the past 4 years because I was no longer limiting myself to this small circle of so-called family, and many of these people have become close friends, one of whom I ended up marrying. I don’t even think they realize the impression they made on me as I was attempting to pave a new path for myself, but here I am, with every crevice of free time filled because of school, teaching, marathon training, all the while trying to establish some sort of normalcy at home.
I think the most important lesson I learned this past year is that this process doesn’t have to be perfect. At the same time I need to respect myself and hold true these boundaries I’ve started to build in order to keep my priorities straight. Quiet the negativity, whether it’s those who don’t believe in me or the voices in my head that tell me I’m not worthy. Those who matter the most will continue to offer guidance, support, and understanding. For at this point I’m half way through my 40’s already. Or, one could even say I’m half way through my lifespan if I make it to 90. Rather than get caught up with What’s a girl my age doing all of the things she’s doing??, I need to just seize the day. For tomorrow… who knows.