As most of you know, I resigned my job as a paraprofessional working with autistic kids back in August. I haven't totally parted from that yet, actually, as I've been substituting at the school where I used to work. But the lion's share of every day has been spent looking at job postings, submitting applications, and going on interviews. It's been an interesting process and I've learned a lot - not just about how time-consuming it is to look for a new job (how do you ever do this if you're working full time?), but also an enormous amount about myself and how I want my future to look.
I'm 48 years old. The last 15 years of my life have been incredibly fulfilling and interesting, and I have learned so much. Marriage, having children and raising them, dealing with both cancer and autism in our family, negotiating the world of public school and IEP's, being a full-time volunteer for years in every area you can imagine, going back to work at age 42 and re-learning that world, becoming a better photographer and painter, completely changing the way I look at the environment and our local foodshed, becoming an advocate for ecological movements, and becoming a better cook! All these things have shaped me, far more then the previous 15 years of college, relationships, and work in my 20's (a period I often look at as wasted time).
And as I search for a career for the next part of my life, I've come to realize some important things. First of all, I'm not done being a parent. Though Adam is 15 next month, and Kate is 13, there's still plenty of parenting to do - it just looks a little different. This is the time of teaching life skills, things that the kids will need as they go to college and on into their working lives. How do you pick out a melon at the store? How do you make a cheeseburger? How do you use a debit card? How do you use public transportation to get where you need to go? How do you advocate for yourself with a person in a position of power or influence? How do you compartmentalize certain feelings so that you can make it through a difficult day? How do you negotiate friendships? Who are you going to be moving forward, and how do you want to conduct yourself? Those are all important things to learn. An awful lot of those hard conversations happen in the car, at least with Kate, who needs driving to many activities during the week, and to and from school. Adam, who manages to get around pretty well on his bike or using BART, likes to talk after school, as he is doing his homework. He'll work a little, then come talk to me about something he is thinking about, and then he'll work a little, and then come back to me. I can't imagine working afternoons because I'd miss all this. Someone else would drive Kate around and hear all her interesting takes on life as a teenager; no one would be here to be a sounding board for Adam as he works his way through three hours of homework.
Not to mention, who would cook dinner? Who would keep the house neat and clean? Who would walk the dog? Who would pack the lunches? Who would make the daily trip to the market? That stuff needs to get done, too.
So my time is limited. I can't work 9-5, or 7-3, or 3-9, like some of the jobs I've applied for. I'm available for small stretches in each day. That already hugely limits my job opportunities. But that's okay. It took me a month or two to get it, but I'm still a wife and mom first, a house-and-animal-carer second, and anything else I want to accomplish comes after those things. And I wouldn't want this any other way. I like my duties as wife, mom, and homemaker. I chose that life, many years ago when I left the symphony to have kids, and I still choose it.
And who I am as an environmentalist has changed enormously in the past five years. This was truly cemented for me yesterday when I had a decision to make about a job. I was offered a position at a local nursery about ten miles from here. On the face of it, it was a good offer for someone wanting to change careers. No big commute, the owner was willing to work around my schedule (although I'd have to work every Sunday, which would have been a big change), the pay was terrible but not as bad as it could have been for entry level, there was room for advancement, and best of all, I'd be working with plants every day. Helping customers make their yards beautiful. It seemed like just the opportunity I'd been looking for, to get some professional experience in horticulture.
Here's why I ultimately declined this position: The owner, a perfectly nice guy, said some things that raised neon-red flags for me. Things like, "Customers need to be told the drought is over and that they should buy lots of plants." Or, "If a customer wants to get rid of pests fast, I don't sell them anything organic; I sell them the chemicals." Or how about, "Customers need to be told that when they dig a hole for a plant, they need to dig a really big hole and throw out the dirt from that hole. They need to buy fresh soil from us as well as fertilizer to fill the hole." And the best one, as this nursery was located in a very affluent area, "Most of our customers have gardeners who do the work for them, so they don't really care what they are buying. If it looks pretty, that's what they want. I don't sell native plants, because they're ugly."
My heart hurt all day yesterday. Did I need to take this job and play this game? It couldn't be called 'selling my soul to the man' because the man was only paying slightly above minimum wage. More like selling my soul to change the direction of my job future. I'd be getting a foot in the door of horticulture, yes, but what would happen if someone came in one day, someone ignorant of all things ecological, and asked for a product to kill all the bees in her yard? Could I swallow my truth, and speak the party line?
The answer was, clearly, no.
And so I learned more about what I could and could not do to forward my career.
I realize that I am so lucky in so many ways. I have a husband who works extremely hard to provide for our family and who supports me taking some time to figure out my next step. There are many people in the world who cannot pick and choose which job they take. I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity. We have to tighten our belts, yes; we have to be careful with our budget, but we are doing ok without my income. We survived for years on one salary and we can do it again, even here in exorbitant Northern CA. I'm so grateful that I can take this time and space to find just the right thing for me, moving ahead into the next stage of my life. Whatever I choose to do now is most likely what I will do for the rest of my working life, and so it pays to be very careful about with whom I align. And it has become crystal clear to me that I need to work with a company that is striving to improve our earth, not just make things pretty. After all, I've been working these past years in an area that is very meaningful and very important (helping autistic children to feel secure and loved and whole), and I don't want to leave that for something with no meaning at all.
So, the search continues. It's fascinating to think about where I'll be this time next year.