I met my husband in the middle of my junior year of college and completely blew off all of his attempts to hit on me. He was in the military, and I was not interested in that life—or him—whatsoever. I had already had my whole life planned out since I was 16. I intended to go to school for art history (which I was doing), get my Masters in art history, score a great job at a museum, earn my Doctorate in art history, and be living the good life jetting around the world in pencil skirts and stilettos while looking at, studying, and buying art. This is the path that I was set on. This was how I had imagined living for years.
Fast forward to the start of my senior year of college. My now husband came back into the picture. Having just gotten back from a year-long deployment, he and I reconnected at our best friends’ wedding. I was smitten. We started officially dating in October. Our engagement happened by April. We married in December—just ten days after I graduated with that art history degree I prized so much. A week after our wedding? We were moving to a new duty station where there wasn’t an art museum in sight. I suddenly had to deal with the reality of my (our!) new life together. My museum dreams would have to take a back seat for awhile.
While I held onto the idea of eventually pursuing my dreams of being a museum curator, I also knew that I wanted to be a stay at home mom whenever we had children. My husband and I discussed this a lot when we started talking about having a family.
Having both grown up with stay at home moms, we felt very strongly about giving the same experience to our children as well. When our little girl came along, I happily made the sacrifice. I honestly couldn’t imagine the thought of trading my time with her for all of the Michelangelo’s in the world! But then? Motherhood got really tough. My husband, since out of the military, worked a job where he was on call six days a week. I felt like a single parent all of the time. Instead of wearing suits and stilettos, my uniform consisted of yoga pants dotted with snot and goldfish.
I started the “what if” game. What if I had pursued my career? What if I had moved abroad after graduation? Then, of course, the mom-guilt flooded in threatening to completely drown me. I stayed in this destructive cycle for awhile, afraid to tell anyone. Because I was so ashamed of thinking the “what ifs.” I loved my husband and daughter with every ounce of my being. So why think about what could have been?
I finally spoke to one of my best friends about the struggle. She was incredibly supportive and validated my feelings. Then, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I’ve always been a planner. Suddenly, the plan that I had established for myself for years went out the window—replaced by a completely awesome, life changing (albeit kind of messy) one. For my Type A planner self, that was world-rocking. I didn’t need to feel guilty for harboring the “what ifs.” Instead, I needed to allow myself to grieve that life that I had always thought I wanted. I had held onto that life in my mind for a long time. And it was hard to let it go—even for something better.
Once I allowed myself to process my feelings and grieve the jet-setting, posh life I’d envisioned since I was 16? I felt immensely better. Lighter. Like myself again. It was like an anchor that had been pulling me down was released. And I was free again. I can now embrace our messy, chaotic, amazing life with arms wide open.