My forties have been a time of introspection and reckoning. In truth, I am happier than I ever have been. Being younger definitely does not equal being happier, at least not in my experience. Knowing who I am and not caring what other people think has been an absolute pleasure in this decade of life.
But, I’ve still got dreams. One is to have writing be my next career. I’d also love to see more of the world by traveling. The problem is that I am bound by family, financial, and career obligations. The money and mobility to realize these dreams is just not there yet. I have ten more years of service before being able to retire from teaching. I’ve got too much invested to give it up now. Prudence must take precedence. Two of my children are still relatively young, second and seventh-graders. One is grown and married. I’ve got mama miles left to travel in raising my dear ones. The combination of all my responsibilities has me settled into where I am for a good little while.
As a result, a prolonged pause of my dreams is well underway. Some days I feel discouraged. On others, I feel hopeful. Sometimes I wish I had made better choices financially and career-wise. However, Regret City is no place to set up camp. Overall, I have a happy, peaceful life that is not fraught with personal disaster or illness. My children are happy, healthy, and do well in school. I have a great marriage. Honestly, I have it pretty good, which makes these thoughts sound awful and self-indulgent. That brings guilt.
I write when I can, but would love to write much more. The pull of responsibility tethers me to the ground, reminding me I have more pressing work to do as a wife, mom, and teacher. I truly enjoy those roles. Yet the call to create and live a freer kind of life as a writer and traveler whispers to me. My future full-time writer self is a distant figure. Sometimes, I am not sure I can see her way up there in the unclear future. I watch travel shows to sate my wanderlust. I work on my blog and other projects to practice for being a Full-Time Writer. Finding satisfaction with the life of here and now is important. I don’t want to miss today because I’m too busy fantasizing about tomorrow.
It’s when I think about my delayed dreams that I consider my own mother. She too must have had dreams. This is a thought that never occurred to me until fairly recently. She married young, at age twenty. By the time she was twenty-nine, she had three daughters. Her life was bound up in the role of homemaker and mother. I was born in the seventies when more moms stayed home to raise their families. Only after I became a mother did I realize the breadth and depth of a mother’s responsibility and sacrifice.
I’m sure there were longings in her heart. There must have been things she wanted to try or do, places she wanted to go. But she was unable to because she too was tethered by responsibility. This is not a negative thing. It is simply a fact.
Whether by time, place, finances, or circumstances, mothers are bound by love and duty. We nurture our children. We clean up their vomit. We help them with their homework. We help them find lost shoes. We cheer at their games. We work at home and outside the home. We hug them and cry with them when they are devastated by the bumps of life. We see their potential and tell them to dream big. And they do.
What we do not tell them is that sometimes dreams get put on hold. Whether our pauses are the result of poor choices, happenstance, or life’s inevitable tendency to march on doesn’t matter. Grown-up life is far more complicated than “the sky’s the limit” dreams.
My mom eventually went to work when we were teenagers. She’s now retired and is enjoying life. She travels with my dad and babysits her grandchildren. Lunch dates and browsing antique shops are key components of her freedom. She winters in Florida and has her toes in the sand in February.
I sometimes think about asking her if she had delayed dreams when she was raising us. However, I worry it would dredge up pain or regret for her. After many years of caring for her family and working, she is free to come and go as she pleases. She can drink tea in her pajamas and stay on the phone for as long as she wants without interruption.
It’s likely I won’t ask her. Instead, I will do what she did. I’ll do the best I can for now and enjoy my life just as it is until my dreams can come into clearer focus. In the meantime, I’ll continue clinging to them with hope while I wait.
Tracy Cooper is a New Jersey wife, mom, teacher, and writer. Her love for writing was reawakened when she sustained a running injury and started a blog as part of the healing process. She loves Earl Grey tea, quiet mornings, and autumn leaves. You can read her blog, Earl Grey and Yellow, where she writes about life, faith, and stewardship. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @egandyellow