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In the Service of Life

Every spring I experience two cravings. One is to paint my fingernails. Apparently (I discovered while hanging out around on campus) people don't paint their own fingernails anymore. I can't fathom the time and money required to get manicures that often, but whatever. I slosh polish on my own fingernails, every spring, and feel very pretty about the whole thing. Right now I'm very fond of a lavender shade.  

Unfortunately, the other thing I crave in the spring is gardening. I'm not a tidy sort of gardener, either. I don't wear gloves, because how do you feel the proper tension in the root of a weed with gloves on? If you pull too hard, you'll snap that thing right off, and then you just lost. How are you supposed to feel the texture of the soil, how compact or damp or crumbly it is through gloves? Look, I know lots of accomplished gardeners manage it just fine. I'm just stuck at some earlier stage of gardening development, apparently, where I have to feel it in my fingers. At the end of the day, I come inside wearing smudges of dirt, and fingers that are rough with drying soil.

Unfortunately, that doesn't do a manicure any good. It seems like every year I spend a few weeks fighting these two springtime urges until enough nails have given way to the abuse, cracking away in shards. I remove the polish and clip them as short as I can, and get back to the weeding.

It's a relief, really, because looking nice is not really something I'm all that adept at. I don't always grow things successfully either, but I feel better about that effort. As the garden takes shape, I sometimes run my thumb over my nails, feeling the rough tips that are traced with fissures, and scraps of hangnails that sting as they peel away. When tender nubs of green shoulder the soil aside to unfurl in the sunlight, it seems a fair trade. 

I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.

So, I graduated. That was wonderful. I don't think I realized just how much I carried the fact that I'd never finished my degree until I was there, within spitting distance of finishing. The last week of classes, people kept saying to me "You're graduating! You're out of here!" and I would shake my head and reply "Well, I have to get through finals first."

This was a silly thing to say, because I calculated my grades and I knew that I could not get a low enough grade on my finals to fail my classes. And yet, I muttered fretting things about those finals. It wasn't until I finished the very last one (Microbiology. You guys. Microbiology is SO COOL), that I realized I'd actually done it. I got into my car and drove home and sobbed the whole way. I did it. I finally, really did it. It felt so good, and I'm so glad I did it. 

Of course, now I'm job hunting. Here's a news flash that will be shocking to all of you, I'm sure: Job hunting is TERRIBLE. Don't do it, if you can avoid it. It's a horrible thing to do. It's been 22 years since I've had a job, and it turns out that the professional world was not waiting breathlessly for my return. Weird, right? Also, the entire process of looking for a job has turned into the very worst massively multiplayer online role-playing game EVER. I am not good at it. 

At the same time, home life has changed. Tre has moved out - well, I know that happened a while ago. But now he has his own apartment, which feels different yet again. He doesn't come home for the summer. Actually, when he leaves here, he IS going home. That's just weird.

Max also moved out. Hmm. How do I say this? The details aren't mine to share, but suffice to say it's not what I'd hoped. Ultimately, I believe in the heart of Max, and I believe in his future. Right now? There have been a lot of tears. 

We are down to a family of four, huddled at one end of the table at dinner time. I am no good at cooking for this number of people. I end up making hot dogs AGAIN or preparing an enormous lasagne that we will never, ever finish before it goes bad. I feel out of step in this new configuration. 

It's not hard for me to turn these hard things into self-doubt. I turned my back on the working world 22 years ago, assuming it would be fine. Now it's like a massive, smooth wall to me. There are no doors or window, no fissures that I can get a fingerhold on. I don't seem to have been very wise about this, and I'm embarrassed by how bewildering it all is. It feels like something a grown-up should know. 

But I put my grown-up self to the task of parenting. Maybe more than I should have, I invested in my kids. Maybe I should have kept more space for myself in my life. I look at the struggles my kids face, despite my every effort, and wonder what I thought I was achieving there. It turns out that in the best of situations, children are supposed to grow up and leave. It turns out that no amount of love guarantees the best of situations. It turns out that I was unprepared. 

I don't know. All I really got from those years is...those years. I got to spend that time with them. It's all I get right now with Raphael and Sophia, these days that slip through my fingers. I picked that over having a career. So maybe I look silly, a 46-year-old, trying to figure out how to win a job in a strange new world. 

But I suppose I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.

 

Comments

Swistle

The part about trying to re-enter the working world really resonates with me.

alisonc

Welcome back!

Jamie

Good to hear from you! Praying for you and yours.

Denise in SC

I can relate to what you are saying (and possibly not saying). You got more than just those years; I am one of the many witnesses your words have touched, beyond the surface of your blog. Someone very wise told me (while I was going through the hard things) that the years of love and just being present provide a rock solid foundation, even when the building is looking very unsteady. Glad to read your words again, and hope you can continue.

heidi

1st, CONGRATULATIONS on graduating!! That is awesome.
2nd, looking for a job is the absolute worst. I did it after only 5 years and it was awful. But, once you get the first job, it's easier to get another. Also, I highly recommend finding someplace you want to work and taking any job to get your foot in the door. Then you can always move around inside the company. MUCH easier than starting over every time. (I should say this is what I did and it worked brilliantly. However, your mileage may vary and you may hate this idea. But, knowing how terrible job searching is, I just wanted to offer a suggestion.)
3rd, so glad you're writing here again!
4th, I adapted to cooking for 4 from 6-7. It took awhile. However, now when everyone is home I have no idea how to cook for 6-7 anymore.

Jen

1st--yay, welcome back. Your writing has always resonated deeply with me, and I am happy to read you again.
2nd--you rock! Congrats on graduating. You didn't do it when you were younger and it was easy, woman you did it while juggling parenting and spousing and THAT is an accomplishment indeed.
3rd--Job hunting sucks. I'm in a job I hate, and I am sticking it out because job hunting sucks. May you quickly find something you love, or at least tolerate.

karin

Congratulations on your graduation! That's a big deal. So glad it made you feel lighter.

I found myself looking for work at the age of 57. Whoo boy. I used craigslist and found two jobs that way but I also let myself get discouraged when I sent out resumes for jobs I knew I could do, but didn't even get a rejection letter. It's tough to be job hunting as a...ahem...mature worker, but it's doable.

Networking is super helpful, whether through a Meetup group (meetup.com), or virtually on LinkedIn.com, or through anything you can find locally, including volunteering. I know it's a cliche, but it's a cliche because once people know you, they become willing to give you a chance.

Maybe, when you find yourself in an interview, you work in something like "I'm in a stage of life that is stable, and I know this is a type of work I enjoy because..." to show the advantage of experience over younger applicants. You will be offering dependability and (I'm assuming) you aren't glued to your phone/the internet all the time. That device-dependence is a serious issue for employers!

Hey, weren't you secretly hoping you'd get some FREE advice? Maybe I'll just reiterate: two jobs in my late 50s. It's doable.

el-e-e

Sending you so much love right now. Congratulations on your graduation! That is huge. As is your return to your blog! You've been missed. xo

Wendy

Oh Sweet Kira. I have been watching the time with my own children slip through my fingers and am filled with self-doubt about how much time I should spend with them in these final years, how much to let them go and grow, and what the hell purpose my life has had since all of that doubt creeps up and says "you spent all of this time on them and look at what a crap job people think you're doing anyway!" - which is....not lovely? Just last night, as my boy child BENT DOWN TO HUG ME (what?! I am 5'11"! WHEN!?) as we stood in the kitchen, his musky sweaty boy smell hidden under deodorant and shaving cream and shampoo, the hidden place deep in my heart cracked just a bit more. I could have done more or been more or loved more or should I have done less and been less and pushed more? I don't know the answers. But I feel the loss and doubt about where I have invested myself already and they still live with me.

All of this to say: I feel ya, sister! Werd.

Rosemary

Oh Kira. Even if you work (as I do), all you have are those years. In fact, if you have children - the love you have given them will last long into many generations (it may not feel like it now). The job rarely has that lasting impact.

So glad you're writing. Prayers for you.

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