Monday, November 7, 2011

Peculiar



by May Jones (bio)

gilles vranckx - walking backwards in the wind

I'm doing it backwards.

I got married as a junior in college, had my first baby before I graduated, then three more while my husband was working full time. We built a house and sold it and went back to law school with four kids. By the time he graduated, we had sold both our cars. Last year, we moved out to Manhattan with our children and a few possessions and a job. Nothing else. My husband is a first year associate at a big law firm and we live in a two bedroom apartment. No cars, no second home, no savings, no college funds. My daughter just started middle school this fall. I'm thirty-four years old. To our New York city peers, I am a baffling creature. The way I am living my life goes against all reason. I'm supposed to have my Masters and ten years of an esteemed career under my belt, be having my first baby about now, maybe my second. I'm supposed to own a house in Westchester County and I'm supposed to spend my summers in Italy or France. I'm not supposed to buy all my coats at Target. Or have all four of my kids sharing a room. I am doing it wrong.

At Trader Joe's last week, my cashier asked me if I was a student. I replied, "No, I have four kids and so that's my full-time job!" He observed that I looked very young to have children and if I didn't mind him asking, is that what I had always wanted to do with my life? Was there something I had given up to start having children so young? I told him that I was also an actress and that I continued acting after having my kids. He asked if I regretted having babies instead of following my dreams? I laughed to myself and thought, "He's not getting it that I am living my dreams." I told him that I wouldn't change one thing about the way I'd done it and I added that moms don't get enough credit for raising honest, hardworking, compassionate members of society. He said that he agreed, but he felt like a lot of people just lived their lives a certain way because their culture, parents, or religion did it that way and they never chose for themselves. He asked me if I would encourage my oldest daughter to have babies young or follow her dreams. I asserted, "She can do whatever makes her happy because that's what I chose to do."

I walked away from that conversation thinking a lot about sacrifice vs. selfishness. The "American dream" idea, although shiny and appealing, is incredibly self-interested. To really live the American experience as we romanticize it, you have to get, get, get, don't you? If someone decides to spend their life making lots of sacrifices for the benefit of others, with little to nothing substantial in return to show for it, it just doesn't compute. It's certainly not the easiest, Disneyworld-vacations-and-beach-houses-and-designer-shoes lifestyle that so many are striving for. I might not ever have large amounts of money to throw around. I certainly won't own a house in Westchester. But that's all right with me, because I'm happy with my choices and the circumstances I'm in. The average New Yorker may not believe that, but it's true. And on top of that, I wish I had told my cashier that I want all my kids to learn the same lessons I have. To give, to work, to share, to sacrifice. To do it all backwards.

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