August 23, 2012

Lane changes

It’s sometimes difficult to be honest with ourselves about who and what we really are.  If I’m honest I would say that I’m a solid writer, a trying-to-be-great mom, a passable cook, an awesome laundry doer, a slightly-better-than-average housekeeper, a hard worker and I’m loyal. I’m also a poor decision maker. I do it slowly and agonizingly. The process is usually not a model of efficiency in my life, where I am in so many ways quite efficient.

I was a reluctant student driver. I didn’t want to learn and driving scared me. There’s a lot to keep track of and I can still hear my mom telling me that it’s an awesome responsibility to operate a car. I believed her wholeheartedly (she was right) and I was completely overwhelmed. I was teased relentlessly by my family for my slow pace at stopping, starting and everything in between in the car.
Eventually I became comfortable enough with the wheel, and wanted to be able to drive to my job, that I prepared to get my license.  As was typical of my 16-year-old self, I passed the written test with flying colors. The examiner then took me out for the driving test and things were going well. We were returning to the DMV on a long straight stretch of a four-lane divided road and he asked me to make a right turn at the next street. My immediate reaction was that it didn’t feel like enough time to properly change lanes, signal and make the turn. I needed more time. Everything suddenly slowed to single frame motion and I slowly – painstakingly slowly – signaled and then sort of drifted into the right hand lane and fluidly drifted right into the turn. I knew that I hadn’t fully changed lanes but I had signaled and I hoped against hope that it would be alright.

It wasn’t. When we returned to the DMV he told me that I had done well except for where I made a right turn from the left lane. I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell him that he hadn’t given me enough notice to make the lane change properly. I wanted to say that I just needed more time to plan, but I didn’t. Instead, I went back the next day and took the test the second time to get my license. How embarrassing to have failed my driving test for making a right turn out of the left lane.  I wouldn’t let that happen again.

 I’ve made many actual unsignaled turns in my car since then, but I haven’t made many figurative ones. I’ve played it pretty safe in most ways. I’ve betrayed my generation’s reputation by working in the field in which I earned a degree, staying in the town in which I grew up to raise my own family and generally living in a way that’s not above my family’s means. I’ve had two jobs in 17 years and a nasty habit of driving cars until they fall apart rather than go out of fashion. I’m a real wild woman; the life of a party.  
Tomorrow, however, I’m making a right turn from the left lane. Tomorrow is my last day at my job of 11 years. Tomorrow I’m leaping into the world of part-time employment in a position that’s not likely to keep me awake at night. Tomorrow I’m walking away – at least temporarily – from a “career.” On Monday I’m starting a “job.” It doesn’t pay very well and I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing there. It feels reckless, lazy, terrifying, irresponsible and like a complete relief.

I didn’t get to this decision in a way that I would recommend to anyone. I got here like I usually do -  through tons of unproductive agonizing, lots of frustration, loads of guilt and a little counseling. (The counseling was actually a new touch.) I got here kind of like I changed lanes so many years ago. The signal’s been on but it’s been a slow-motion drift across the road.
I don’t know where this turn leads. It may lead to a roundabout that brings me right back where I started. It may lead to a dead end. (Please hope it doesn’t lead to a dead end.) With any luck it may lead to a whole new set of streets where the map is easy to read. I know for sure that it feels bittersweet. I’ve had an amazingly good gig in most ways and there are people lining up to take the job I’m leaving. I’ve been “in the know” and I’ve worn big girl clothes and people (some of them) have respected what I do. I know without doubt that I’ll miss much of that. And yet, I know I probably should have done this five years ago and it’s high time to go.

It’s time to actually sleep at 3 a.m. and it’s time to put the phone down and be in the moment with my kids. It’s time to be home when the boys have days off from school and it’s time to go back to cleaning my own toilets. It’s past time for my kids to have some downtime in their summers and some margin in their days. It’s also time for me to stop feeling guilty about what I’m not doing at work or what I’m not doing at home and just embrace whatever I can do right. Guilt’s a crappy emotion.
Tomorrow I’m going to finish cleaning out my desk and hand over my office keys. A part of me feels like that’s waving the proverbial white flag. It’s like I’m surrendering to the fact that I can’t effectively have it all; like I’m still the sixteen-year-old who is overwhelmed by the responsibility of being on the road and just drifts out of panic and not knowing what else to do.

 I also think that perhaps it’s actually the first time in a lot of years that I’ve made a conscious decision to do something that even requires a turn signal. Maybe it’s not a white flag but a green flag, marking the start of an open lap. Whatever it is, it’s happening and I feel strangely at peace about it. In the 23 years since I had to retake my driving test I’ve learned that more often than not you don’t get a second chance and you better seize it when you can. I haven’t done a good job of that to date but tomorrow I’m turning the corner.