Matchmaker, Misfit, and Mom at Midlife Asks What’s Next?

Each fall, I take on the role as matchmaker. I line up a bunch of singles and do my best to pair them up.

I admit, sometimes I bring two together that aren’t perfectly matched. I figure they have enough similarities to make it work.

Still, there are always a few misfits leftover. They’re either too short, too tall, too worn out, or too offbeat to hook up with the others. I don’t mean to be ruthless, but it’s the end of the line for those mavericks. Time to let ‘em go.

photodune-3393296-clothes-peg-xsFirst I start with the socks. Then, if I’m really motivated, I move onto Tupperware containers and their lids.

It’s a short-lived nesting episode after kids return to school in a meager attempt to bring order to chaos erupted in closets and drawers and everywhere over the summer.

I don’t enjoy these domestic matchmaking tasks, and there are a gazillion other to-dos, in and out of the house, yipping for my attention. But if I don’t do them, who will? My husband and kids are good for lots of things, but not those things.

There’s another matchmaking task looming in the midst this fall. It’s one that part of me would like to dodge as well. Why? Because it requires me to be completely honest with myself about what I am and what I’m not. It’s time to lay out the array of viable options and start sizing them up to the looming question: What’s next?

photodune-10783755-silhouette-the-girl-jumping-over-the-gap-xsLike those socks, I’m a bit of a misfit, too. I’m a woman at midlife with a professional past and a desire for a professional future, but with a whopper of a stay-at-home mom “gap” in between.

Despite efforts to keep skills up-to-date, not to mention all the new bionic multitasking/problem-solving abilities cultivated since becoming a Mom, I still sometimes feel like a Gen Xer who’s stuck in-the-middle.

I’m too old-school to compete with techno savvy Millennials, but too young and apt not to try, too sandwiched between generations (and carpools) to give up flexibility, and too stubborn and chomping-at-the-bit to want to start all over, schmooze, or settle. (Not to mention a tiny bit too scared out of my wits to leave my comfort zone.)

Leaving the traditional workforce all those years ago after having my first child isn’t something I’ll ever regret, but it wasn’t what I’d planned. Back then, I identified most with career-minded women.

I’ll never forget that first morning I returned to my job in a publishing company after a three-month maternity leave, worried sick my baby girl would starve while I was away for the day. I’d waited too long to introduce her to the bottle and when I finally did, she refused it with the stubbornness of an iron-willed calf.

img009Even when offered the most breast-like bottle on the market by her own doting father (with one of my nursing bras draped over his shoulder to emulate my scent), she’d scrunch up her little nose, turn away, and holler until the real thing(s) came gushing back through that door.

Fortunately, I worked nearby and had a female boss with a sense of humor. Because that tenacious little blue-eyed stinker had me and my postnatal 38Ds galloping to and from work at feeding times ‘til she finally gave into a sippy cup.

But by that time, the paradigm about who, what, and where I wanted to be had already shifted; the debate raging within me quieted to a whisper. I turned in my resignation, packed up my coffee mug, picture frames and Associated Press Stylebook, and went home.

At first, I felt under the microscope in my new role. The occasional, inevitable question from an acquaintance about what I did with myself all day, as though they were imagining me doing nothing but eating bonbons and sorting socks, got under my skin. The glimpse into any mother’s journey too complicated, too messy, too glorious, too profound to express in a lifetime, much less sum up in a one-line response to that harebrained inquiry.

Dry autumnal leaves background, golden maple tree foliage, bright yellow sun shine, autumn park, seasons change, fall nature

As we know, years are short. My strong-willed first-born, now more pliable, just completed 30 hours of driver’s education, her two younger siblings not far behind. My kids still need me to be fully present, but in different ways, ways that allow me to consider what’s next.

I’m sensing a deep-down shifting inside me again. And I’m trying to figure out what it’s telling me to do.

My resume may have a gap as big as all the holes in the socks I’ve sent to the land of misfits combined. But so far, nobody has said it’s the end of the line for me.

Whatever “next” turns out to be, is it too much to hope that it be family friendly, syncs with all that makes my heart soar, compensates me for ladders already climbed, and values the perspective and breath of experience I now have as mom, teacher, chef, chauffeur, event planner, band-aid finder, memory keeper, story-teller, writer, director of child development, domestic engineer, community volunteer, and classroom pumpkin bowling station manager?

Ummmmmmmmm . . . I don’t know. Maybe? I do know, though, whatever vision I may have for the years ahead isn’t going to be handed to me on a platter. If I don’t do the sometimes tedious tasks of sorting through the gifts I’ve been given and matching them up with my family’s needs, the world’s needs, and where that inner voice is leading me, who will?

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I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015. It’s where I connect with my own voice, write the stories down, and doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace. To see my other recent posts, click here.

About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

44 comments on “Matchmaker, Misfit, and Mom at Midlife Asks What’s Next?

  1. Oh Julie, I can so relate to this. I’ve been contemplating what’s next as well. And I have a big gap on the resume – and a feeling of dread at the thought of picking up where I left off. I’m trying to start over, and that’s almost as scary. I love you comment about being a stuck-in-the-middle GenX~

  2. I was crossing my fingers that I’d hear from other women who can relate. So thank you, thank you, thank you for stopping by and sharing your own thoughts about this quirky time in our lives that is filled with so much unknown. Yes scary, but exciting, too.

    • Thanks for stopping by Michele! Yes, I’ve done some freelancing and taking the plunge more deeply into it is one of the options in front of me. I’m good at marketing others, but not myself, so that’s my downfall, and we’ll see.

  3. I totally understand your situation; so many friends of mine are going through the same soul searching as you right now. I’m a little fortunate/unfortunate, in that I kept working after my kids came but only part-time. It is hard to re-tool, and compete with 20-somethings (shoot, I’m old enough to be their mother!). But somehow I convinced myself and my bosses that I could contribute, and it has been a great ride. I’m wishing you success in whatever you decide to do; it’ll be wonderful to follow along in your journey by reading your blog!!

  4. You will find your way! I can tell by the strength underlying your words. Plus, you freely admit you might have to do some crappy work on your way to doing something great. I think that’s half the battle right there. (And fingers crossed you don’t have to do the crappy work…but probably!)

  5. The days are long, the years are short. Mine are three and six and I’m freaking out about that. What will I be like when they’re 13 and 16??
    By the way, I’m SUCH a matchmaker! I’m obsessed with the socks being paired together, and the tupperware and its lids too. So very much.

    • Don’t freak out! Enjoy this time with everything you’ve got. Like, I said. I have no regrets. Being home with my kids has been an honor and privilege and amazing. The days certainly have NOT been filled with me matching things, that is for sure. I am about as UNdomestic as it gets and have been pretty darn productive over the past decade, teaching myself all kinds of things and building a strong network of friends. Sounds like you are extremely productive and networked and talented and not going to let grass grow under your feet.

  6. I loved this! I can really connect with you as I too am in that motherhood black hole. My kids are inching closer to school aged years and my heart is starting to ache for normalcy from a 9-5 job. I want to be fully available to the kids and not rely on babysitters, but the longer I wait to return to work, the further down I am pushed down the ladder by all the fully capable and freshly educated candidates who are also vying for a chance at normalcy. Motherhood is a tough gig for sure. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’ve never felt the ache for a 9-5 job again, but I’ve sure felt the ache for some sort of professional identity. I tried freelancing from home in the earlier years, but I couldn’t manage it all. Motherhood and all the domestic upkeep overwhelmed me. We do what we have to do. I fully realize how fortunate I am that I’ve have a steadfast husband beside me all the way, allowing me to have the choice to stay-home in the first place and now the luxury of time to discern my options. An advantage I recognize and try with everything I have not to take for granted.

  7. OH gosh how this speaks to me… Yes yes yes to it all!!! You described it all so eloquently, poetically and profoundly. Oh, how I love your gift of words.

    I’m exactly where you are. Exactly. I have no words to add to such a perfectly penned piece. Sharing this everywhere…

  8. Can I just carry you around in my pocket Christine? You’re absolutely the most encouraging person I’ve ever come across. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am for your kind, complimentary words and how amazing it is to hear how much you can relate.

  9. I’m exactly where you are right now, and I have no idea what’s next. In three years both kids will be in college, and I’m taking the “waiting for something to drop in my lap” approach. Not smart, I know, but it’s all I can handle right now. Maybe we can start a support group – I could use it!

  10. I hear ya about it’s all I can handle right now. When I used to be in the workforce, I exceeded deadlines and expectations like a pro. But as a mom, I’m lucky if I remember to add money to my kid’s lunch accounts, even after they come home humiliated with a stamp on their hand which the lady at the cash register gives them when their account is running low. I’m sure being a mom and keeping up with the bazillions of tiny details involved comes more naturally to others. But for me, it doesn’t. Still, no regrets. But, yeah, kind of time to get back to doing my thing before I’m an empty nester, scratching my head, asking “ok, what just happened?”

  11. I so adore this, Julie Jo! The metaphor of matchmaker is so perfect. I feel your words deep in my heart – “who will?” – and I so appreciate the concept of syncing. Keep going, keep writing your beautiful words… <3

  12. Hi Julie, I’ve been where you are and all I can say is I have reinvented myself a number of times. Sometimes you love where you land, other times you pick yourself up and try again. The most important thing you are doing is DOING. You love your family and your life. You go girl.

  13. I loved this post, and although I wasn’t a stay at home mom, I “get” where you’re coming from, completely!

  14. I don’t have the employment gap, but have gone through mid-life soul searching a few years ago trying to figure out what I wanted to do the rest of my life. If you try something and it doesn’t work, then try something else. There’s no wrong answer except doing something you don’t want to.

  15. What’s next? The possibilities are endless. Fortunately, we can explore everything we didn’t have time to explore when we worked our 9-5s. However, while we might have imagined our own parents eating bonbons and watching television because they no longer “worked,” we soon discover that we are just as busy, if not more busy, in retirement than we were when we held jobs, because we’re trying to squeeze every moment of life out of the time we have left. I ask that question too. I’ve always wanted to be a screenwriter, and I’ve written a few screenplays, but do I really want to start that career NOW? At 64? So I put it off, because I’m blogging and I’m babysitting for a few grandchildren, I’m crocheting, and (the list goes on). But it’s on my radar. So I say just do everything you want to do. Explore every avenue you didn’t have time to explore before. Go back to school if you want to. Learn a new skill! This quote by George Eliot plays in my head over and over: “You’re never too old to be what you might have been.”

    • Thanks Theresa. Yes, the possibilities are endless and it’s very exciting to think about. But you and I are in very different places. I’m 46, far from retirement age, and I still have kids at home who are 10, 12 and 14 while also running back and forth to help out my elderly parents. So, easier said than done at this stage to just go do everything I want to do. But there are a few extra hours now to delve into a new chapter.

  16. Julie Jo, I loved this! I can totally relate to how you feel in looking for the next chapter. And your concept of stuck in the middle Gen X-er is one I’ve been contemplating lately as well. So enjoyed your beautiful thoughtful words!

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