Last week I met my friend for lunch at the playground. Our leisurely playdates are numbered; her youngest starts kindergarten this fall, and she is in the middle of several job interviews. “I’m so nervous,” she said.
“I’ll bet,” I said, my palms starting to sweat sympathetically. “Interviewing is so nerve-racking.”
“No,” she said. “I’m nervous they’re going to make me an offer. Then it’s real. Up until now, it’s been a fun little fantasy, ‘Oh, I’ll get a job again someday.’ But now they’re asking me about salary and travel, and I’m sort of freaking out.”
My stomach flipped for her, and I wiped my palms on my sweatpants, next to the jelly stains. I, too, had been living in my “Someday I’ll get a job again” fantasy land. I blinked hard—the jig is up. She’s actually going back out there. She’ll have to wear real pants. What will become of her?
Six years ago, I left my job to stay home with my eldest daughter and there was a significant amount of whiplash going from a hundred to zero. An “adjustment period,” my doctor called it, handing me a Kleenex and writing me a prescription. I had landed on a different planet. A planet where stress didn’t come from a tight deadline or big presentation—stress came from knowing I could fall down the stairs and die at 8 a.m. and no one would even know until 6 p.m. And even then my husband might not come looking for me until he was hungry.
I foundered at first, but I’ve had two more children and settled into my little cocoon. Little by little my knowledge of the corporate world has been replaced with story hour schedules and a mental catalog of shady parks. In six years, I’ve learned how to walk slower and eat faster. I don’t buy pants unless they double as sleepwear, and vice versa. I go to three different grocery stores to make one salad.
People constantly ask me what I’m going to do once my kids are all in school. I used to tell them I was just going to lie around and collect cobwebs all day—enjoy the fruits of my labor. And at first, when my children were babies and I was struggling mentally, I was serious. Sitting around all day in silence doing nothing sounded like a dream come true.
But now I can’t say those words without welling up and my voice cracking because it evokes images of me talking to the toilet brush. Right now I’m pushing myself as slowly as my sanity will allow; if I go any slower, I’ll reel backwards into oblivion. They say idle hands are the devil’s tool, and in my house, the devil likes eating puffer tacos while spying on the neighbors. I don’t want to be that girl.
In a year and a half, I’ll be putting on my big girl pants and walking out the door. And it is terrifying. Hatching from my safe little cocoon of slow and sure into the great unknown, the proverbial fast lane.“Does my brain even still work?” I think to myself, finding a mini Snickers between the couch cushions, blowing it off and popping it into my mouth. What if I have to work late? What if my kids get sick? What about summer? What if I have to *gasp* multitask?
Even animals are granted a transition period before they are released back into the wild—retaught survival techniques and presented with various mock scenarios in a controlled environment to see how they’ll react. Surrounded by people who ensure they don’t make a decision that will get them killed. Jumping in willy nilly to a completely foreign environment without a handler means you’re either going to starve to death or get eaten your first week in.
I glanced across the picnic table at my friend and took a big bite of my salad. We’re doomed.
I thought back to my old job—it seems like a lifetime ago. I barely remember what it’s like to go more than 10 minutes without asking someone if they have to use the potty. I wonder if I’m even capable of it or if I’ll just reflexively blurt it out in the middle of a meeting.
Then I remembered there was somebody there who made us coffee and filled the snack drawer and another somebody who came around and took out the trash and cleaned our bathroom every night.
“Hey, at least if you fall down the stairs, somebody will call for help right away,” I offered.
She nodded. Maybe that’s the carrot we need to focus on right now.