When I was a teenager/young adult I wanted to change the world (as it happens with so many youngsters). And changing the world usually meant Doing Big Things.
Now, three kids and more than twenty years later, my saving the world efforts seem so distant. I grapple with alternating days when I stay home with the kids, sorting socks and washing dishes, and days teaching classes at the university, advising students’ research, and trying to do some research of my own.
At one point of my life I thought my career would be in the non-profit sector; i.e., I would be a professional environmentalist, forever. By then my volunteering efforts had evolved into parallel paying jobs related to social-environmental issues, and this kind of lifestyle went on for 12+ years.
I continued on to graduate school not because I wanted to become an academic, but because I thought it would be a great addition to what I already did. I found it exciting to go from project to project, often working on more than one at once. I felt almost repulsed by the thought of staying in the same job for the rest of my life, always doing the same thing. I even got a certain thrill from not knowing where my salary would come from after the current project ended.
My husband (who worked for the same NGO) was not as thrilled and dreamed of the day at least one of us would have a more stable job. Since I was already on the academic path in one way or the other, that person became me.
When I first became a professor I wasn’t overjoyed. Although I love to do research, teaching is a different story and it was very hard in the beginning. At this point I already had three children and the “saving the world” type of projects were in the past. Another dream that I tried to pursue (to become a professional writer) had also been buried. I sadly realized I wasn’t really passionate about anything anymore – except, of course, my kids.
By this time my husband had gotten a relatively stable government job, although he didn’t really love it. We were finally okay financially and we were living a comfortable life. Nevertheless, we began to question ourselves about our choices.
Were we still living according to the same principles we followed when we first met (especially in relation to the environment)? Were we fleeing our responsibility of making a difference in the world? Had we left our ideals aside for modern, middle class comforts? Were we still being true to our dreams?
At first I had a good excuse to avoid these issues because two of our kids were very small and I had to deal with all of the related motherhood issues. In parallel, I tried to make the most of my job focusing on the good things: stability, flexible hours, and the possibility of quantity time with my children even if that meant doing a lot of work at night and during the weekend. I told myself (and I still do), that there are many means to make a difference, even if in “small” ways.
After all, in practice, there are no real big things. Big things take place in small steps and often need more than one person involved. Also, what seems like small, local things, often involve a lot of work and may have a greater impact on the world than expected. No wonder one of the most popular environmentalist mottos is, “Think global, act local”.
Today, in my attempts to continue to be of service to the world, I try (for example) to be a good listener to my students because sometimes I sense they are more in need of a friendly ear than anything else. A great number of students suffer from depression and other related disorders, for instance. And it’s not that I serve as a psychologist or anything, but I frequently feel that just treating them kindly and making an effort to advise them extra well regarding academic issues makes a significant difference.
Yet the fact is, regardless of how we do in our present jobs, the sort of questions I listed before has been haunting us for the past few years. Now that our youngest is past three, these questions have resurfaced. The biggest issue that remains is how to be true to our dreams and ideals while at the same time guaranteeing enough food on the table (and healthcare, and a good education etc., etc.)?
This post will be continued in Part 2.
Please share your story below on how you have managed (or not) to follow your dreams, personally and professionally.
This post was inspired by two other posts: “Surviving the turmoil” and “My frame world”.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Ecoziva in Brazil.
Photo credit to Claremont Colleges Digital Library. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.
I believe that everyone, in some way or another, has a second (or more) set of “parents”. This is a broad definition of parents I am using here – they may be people who cared for you when your biological parents were having problems, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, or even godparents as is the custom in some places. They could be people who took you to the movies or to fancy restaurants if the money in your family was tight. They could be people close to you whom to others might seem commonplace but to you were heroes. They could be teachers, formally or not. The common characteristic among these people is that they were role models for you and had a big (positive) impact on your life in one or more ways.
I was lucky enough to have several such wonderful people in my life during childhood and adolescence, but one couple stands out.
When I was born, my half-sister was already married and had three kids. As far back as I can remember she has lived in the same house, in a middle-sized town in northeastern Indiana, in the United States, and for most of my life our contact was via postal service. (more…)
With the exception of a six month stay in Canada, our family has lived in the exact same house from the time our eldest son turned one to today, almost ten years later. I often find myself wondering what kind of impact that will have on our children, since when I was a child my family moved from house to house several times, including one big move from the USA to Brazil.
I believe that for children, there are advantages and disadvantages both to moving around a lot and to staying put their entire childhood. Moving around – especially if these moves are to new cities or even countries – gives them new perspectives of the world. Staying put, in turn, gives them a sense of stability and security. (more…)
This is the Part 2 of a two part post. The first part is available here.
We are thinking about moving. Yesterday we visited two very nice houses at great prices and relatively close to where we live. I loved the first house in the sense that it has a practical, easy to clean design and would be great for the kids. However, there isn’t a single tree in the property! Also, it is completely exposed to neighbors and people in the street, which is something I do not like at all. The second house has lots of lovely trees, yet had an unpractical format that is not too child friendly. Among other things, it includes a high mezzanine that would be quite hard to keep the kids away from.
Basically, I would like to have the first house in the second house’s lot, which would be by the forest we live next to now!
Nevertheless, even though neither is perfect, either one of them would give us the chance to move and have a more organized, cozier home without undergoing the stress of home improvement projects. Plus, one of the advantages of moving – although it can also be a stress factor – is having a chance of reorganizing all of the stuff one has accumulated along the years and donating a bunch of items that are no longer necessary. Some even say that there are huge psychological benefits, as going through all that accumulated stuff can even stimulate the re-evaluation of an entire life and life style.
I believe the single greatest reason for staying, both for my husband and I, is the forest. I also like to think that living the way we do – with such close contact to the forest and all of its fauna and flora – will give our children a different perspective in life.
In his excellent book, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Chinese geographer Yi-Fu Tuan discusses how one’s home and its architecture influences the perceptions of and relationship with the environment, comparing the case of China and the USA.
Another thing that bothers me is that the new owners of our house might not “take care” of the forest as we do. Of course we only “look after” a tiny piece of the forest right behind our house, but some of the animals have almost become part of the family. For example, there is a sloth that our daughter has named Melissa…but also the tiny squirrel that makes its chirping sounds early every morning, the tegus that live in a hole in our backyard, plus the humming birds, chameleons, possums, agoutis, and so many others!
The sad truth is that surprisingly, many of our neighbors don’t care much about the forest. We often ask ourselves why they live here. They place high walls between the forest and their properties. Sometimes they illegally cut down the closest trees out of fear that they may topple over their houses (even though rarely a professional is summoned to check if there is truth in that fear), or they clear the bushes and smaller trees because they believe it will ward away snakes. More than once we have patiently talked to people about these issues only to be repelled off angrily in a menacing tone.
On the other hand, I also worry about the possibility of an unhealthy attachment to the house itself on my part. I don’t think it is healthy to be overly attached to any object. I recently saw how difficult it was for my mother to move out of her huge and decaying house, even though she was living completely alone, widowed for the second time (and now the difficulty to sell or do something about it). Similarly, my mother-in-law lives alone with her eldest son in an old eight bedroom house which almost everyone in the family is extremely resistant to sell due to their childhood memories and attachments.
Thus the question remains. Should we remodel our house and make the best of it? Should we take the “simple” path and just move? What have your experiences been with house remodeling and moving? Please share below!
This is part two of an original post to World Moms Blog by Ecoziva in Brazil.
Photo credit to the author.