Doing

14358915_618953765392_1589227780450859615_nMaggie will turn four in November. I watched her sleeping tonight (since I couldn’t seem to fall asleep myself). She was wrapped up in my fluffy gray throw blanket, her golden auburn hair almost glowing against the darkness.

I wanted to keep her this way forever—peaceful, still, and breathtakingly beautiful. And tiny.

But of course I can’t. Maggie is moving, growing, learning, and thriving—and I’m grateful. She fluctuates between telling me she wants a big girl cup and asking for milk in a baby bottle at bedtime. Even though she’s been potty-trained for almost one year, she still requests a “Celly-grelly diaper” (that’s Cinderella pull-ups) when she wants to pretend she’s still a baby. She knows all her numbers and loves practicing counting, and she loves reading even though she resists learning about letters.

I could go on and on. I’m in love.

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Maggie, August 2013

When I was pregnant with Maggie, I quit working as an academic advisor due to pregnancy complications. I didn’t return to work until Maggie was about 14 months old, and then I only worked part-time as an adjunct English instructor for one year before accepting a full-time faculty position.

During my stay-at-home mom days, I will be honest—I struggled. It was the hardest job I’d ever done; the work never ended, and the client was often unsatisfied with my performance even though I did my darndest to please her. I felt insecure about my lack of financial contribution to our household even though my husband gently reassured me that staying home with Maggie was much more significant and helpful than any salary I’d ever earned.

It was tough to be where my hands were. I’m all about productivity; I like to make things happen. Being a mama is not about making things happen; it’s about letting things happen. Sigh.

Sometimes I found myself daydreaming about more enjoyable things to do while changing diapers or nursing Maggie. Even though I often wished for Calgon to take me away, I felt fulfilled knowing I was with the most important people doing the most important things on my to-do list every single day. When I had the opportunity to teach full-time, though, and to put my degree to use, I couldn’t resist.

The day I drove away from my house to teach full-time for the first time, I had a sinking feeling in my chest.

“You’re going to regret this someday.”

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One of the rare afternoons we spent together during my first semester of teaching full-time

That inner voice was partly correct. Although I thrive in the classroom and felt I’d found my niche teaching English to college students whom I still adore, I have many regrets about that time during our lives. My first semester of teaching full-time was like running the gauntlet. I taught too many courses—my fault for agreeing to do so—and too many writing courses which required countless hours of grading (not my fault since I didn’t select my own courses that semester). In the fall of 2014, I rarely arrived home in time to spend more than 15 minutes with Maggie and James before the sun set. I don’t recall cooking dinner once, but I’m sure I did… didn’t I? During the peak of my daughter’s cuteness, I slaved away to prove myself in academia.

But I found this to be true: if I’m excelling at work, I’m probably sucking at home, or at best, barely holding the pieces together while gritting my teeth and smiling, pretending to have it all figured out.

At the time, my remedy to missing Maggie’s life was to spend more money on her. I can’t count the number of times I said, “Maggie, Mama will bring you something cool today, okay?” She loved getting a fun gift—maybe a new rubber duck or a balloon—but sometimes she had tears in her eyes when I left for work.

I regret that.

I can’t change the past—not even God can change the past.

If anything has proven true in my life, it’s that God always gives me second chances and redeems the worst decisions I’ve made. He redeems outcomes.

I left teaching in December 2015 to accept a position as content manager of a small business I’d admired for over a decade. Two months later, I felt incomplete even though I was certainly making things happen and doing a great job. I missed my students; I missed teaching and applied for my old job. But I didn’t get the job, and even though my student evaluations as an instructor demonstrated 99% positive feedback, and my faculty evaluations boasted almost all 5’s, I wasn’t even granted the opportunity to interview for the position. Just a few months before, when leaving the college, I’d received an email from my boss stating that, “People talk about the ‘five percenters,’ but that category is not fitting for you – you are a ‘one percenter.’”

This 1%’er felt baffled, disappointed, and hurt.

I got over it.

I got over it because God gave me a new dream—to launch my own career coaching business and to harness my passions for career development, serving others, and mentoring. And thanks to my long-time mentor, my spiritual mentor, and professional friends and colleagues, I received ample encouragement and reassurance that I was more than qualified to help job seekers find their dream jobs. When I questioned whether I had enough experience to be considered an expert, and wondered if I should wait another five years before launching my business, my friend Dr. Steve Lindner said, “No, you’re ready now.”

I got over it because I found that since I have always believed in the power of networking, I’d made great alliances with various friends connected to other colleges and universities; these connections came through for me, and I was able to secure the chance to teach college part-time while growing my career coaching business.

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Maggie, spring 2016

And I got over it because while working as a content manager, I fell more deeply in love with my daughter. Each time our babysitter sent me photos of Maggie finger painting, hunting for armadillos in the woods behind our house, or eating Cheerios, I longed to be the one taking the pictures. I missed her.

And so I made right my wrong. I leaned out.

While listening to Natalie Merchant’s “Giving Up Everything” one day while driving home from work (in the dark, of course), I exhaled and made the decision to do just that.

I came home.

Today, I don’t earn enough money to spend extravagantly. I certainly don’t earn enough to buy myself an extensive fun wardrobe (complete with fabulous dresses with pockets) or trendy nail polish each season. Maggie rarely hears me say, “Mama will bring you something home.”

I’m already home, and I wouldn’t exchange time with my one precious girl for anything right now.

Instead of buying Maggie gifts, I’m giving myself to her.

When she wakes up in a few hours, I’ll say to her, “Mama has something fun for us to do today.”

Today we’re doing. We’re not buying.

And I’m feeling rich.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I’m in love with Clint Eastwood.

And Humphrey Bogart.

And Johnny Cash.

But since Clint Eastwood is still living, he’s the only celebrity heart-throb who I still have the opportunity to pine over in real-time.

Luckily, my husband understands that my swooning is simply schoolgirlish and not sexual in any way. He even ordered a collection of Clint Eastwood’s greatest hits for me recently. I’ve never seen most of them. We’ve started working our way through watching them, the first being “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” a 1966 Italian western film featuring none other than–you guessed it–Clint Eastwood. Eastwood plays Blondie, a mysterious lone gunman whose life story intertwines with two other shady characters, Tuco (the ugly) and Angel Eyes (the bad).

The movie was fantastic. Afterward, my husband and I discussed it and shared our opinions about the characters, plot, special effects, and other aspects of the film. I noted that my least favorite character was Angel Eyes.

“He was mean through and through. He was really the only flat character, I think,” I said.

This led to a discussion of flat versus round characters in film and fiction.

And it led me to ponder flat versus round characters in real life this morning as I lay in bed. It seems that almost every person I’ve encountered in life–I’d venture to say every person–is a round character, even if at first, they seem flat and completely static. (For the record, for those unfamiliar with these terms, flat characters are defined as characters who do not undergo significant change or growth in the course of a story, or characters who remain the same and are totally predictable.) As I lay in bed this morning hoping my brain would disengage and allow me to rest, I toyed with trying to identify flat characters in my own life.

Take my former boss, for example. On the surface, she honestly seemed kind of evil to me. Her business and personal ethics were varying shades of gray, at best. She showed little compassion for her employees. If she saw no benefit to her own ladder-climbing aspirations, she was simply not interested.

However, on deeper reflection, I remembered that she also spent several days mourning the loss of a family member and became acutely human while grieving. I recalled an instance when she went above and beyond to assist a student who, frankly, did not have much hope for success with or without assistance, simply because she said she felt like no one else had given him a chance. And I thought about the insecurity–disguised as cockiness–that radiated from her each time I observed her speaking to groups of people, and the stinging empathy I felt for her during those moments.

On to the next potential flat character, then.

But as I perused my memories of potential people who’d always been one way or another, I found that I could not identify one single person in my past who was truly static, flat, or all-or-nothing in their actions. How about the boring guy I went to college with who seemed like an elderly man at age 20? Nope–even he had a vanity license plate just for fun. Or how about a friend of mine, the stereotypical party girl, who never seemed down or unhappy? Nope–I once passed her tissues while she wept over a failed relationship. What about the man who raped me when I was 16 years old? Not even him. A friend of the family, I’ve witnessed his generosity toward his loved ones and know about his own troubled past, which has affected who he has become.

As I reluctantly rolled out of bed, succumbing to insomnia once again, I concluded that there’s a little bit of Blondie, Tuco, and yes, even Angel Eyes, in all of us.

Redemption is always possible, as long as there’s breath left in us.