I used to be an extrovert. I used to be a theater person, even. I loved the spotlight—nothing made me happier than everyone looking at me, please. Age and motherhood have dragged me down the continuum and now I often feel like I’m clawing up at you from the recesses of extreme introversion, resisting the urge to cry, “I just want to be alone!”
“You can totally write about having the students over tomorrow,” said my husband, playfully ribbing me about these rare occasions when I am called upon to be a Good Faculty Wife. We open our home to a gaggle of college students and stuff them full of hot dogs and hamburgers for a few hours. And after three years of hosting these shindigs twice a year, I still hate it.
It’s not the students—they’re nice kids. And it’s not that it’s so very taxing in the conventional sense to spend an evening refilling chip bowls and rounding up empty soda cans. It’s that my time and energy become more precious to me as life with a family and a career gets more and more hectic. If I have three free hours to socialize I want to do it with people dear to me, not people I don’t know and who are not likely to become friends. It’s selfish, not wanting to do it. And I know that, so twice a year I grin and bear it, because I love my husband and it’s only a few hours.
But every time it rolls around, we end up having long philosophical discussions where he ends up positing that I am trending towards life as a hermit and he finds it worrisome.In the meantime, as my career grows I have to put myself out there professionally more and more often. I wrote online for years before I ever put up a picture of myself, and then it was a tiny, grainy thing designed only to confirm that I was a real person. A few months ago I imposed on dear friend and photographer extraordinaire Karen Walrond because I realized The Time Had Come for me to have, you know, a Professional Picture Of Me (now with more capital letters). I need it when I speak at conferences, I need it on my website to say to prospective employers, “Hi, I’m personable. Also, my parents spent a lot of money fixing my teeth back in the day.” I need it because the “oh God I hate having my picture taken” schtick is all well and good, but—much as with the student parties—there comes a time when I just have to put on my big girl panties and say “cheese.”
So I do it. I am a gracious hostess; I put a picture of me on a public site. I network at conferences and I volunteer at my kids’ schools and my days are filled with ways in which I do what is not comfortable for me, simply because it needs to be done.
So my husband was wrong when he suggested I write about dealing with the students coming over as an “out of my comfort zone” thing, because (upon further examination) I realized that “doing these things I should but that I don’t like” is actually, by now, smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. It’s What I Do. It’s what a Good Mother and a Good Wife and a Good Businessperson does. Right?
In the course of trying to decide what to do about school next year (hey, I gave myself a week of not deciding), I have found myself gridlocked in “what’s best.” What’s best for one child. What’s best for the other. And then someone whose opinion I trust pointed out that I wasn’t even factoring in what’s best for me. And then she said the magic words:
“Once you reach the realization that you have equally acceptable options for the kids either way, you have to decide based on what you want. They’ll be fine. What about you? It’s okay to pick the thing you find the best, you know.”
Picking what I want? That’s just crazy talk!
I took a couple of days to fully process the irony of spending so much of my life going against what I normally feel, that it’s come to me feeling like choosing my preference is somehow wrong and bad. Huh. It’s like… in my mind, there is no greater sin than selfishness. And yet I’m always the first one to say that if you can’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else.
So now I’m going to figure out what I need. What a concept.