Pick the Day

Annie Tegen essays

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Some days when my regular job doesn’t get done from 9 to 5, I work in the evenings at my laptop.  My daughter is never impressed with this.  One night I was typing and Sophie asked, “WHY do you have to work?” Trying to put it in the simplest way I could, I said “I work to make money.”  She squinted hard and looked at my laptop, “Where does the money come OUT?”

I explained that the money doesn’t pop out of the laptop when I press buttons. 

I said, “When I work, I earn money for food and clothes.  When adults have jobs, we can’t do all the other things we want to do.” 

I hated my voice. I hated my words. But they kept coming. “Work isn’t always fun. But it is pretty great daddy and I have jobs so we can provide for you and Max.”

She was either satisfied or confused and the conversation stopped there. But it continued in my head. 

Why DO I work? Money? Okay. And do I like my job? Yeah, I do. Okay, but is this what I want to do? Is it all I want to do? Work and motherhood. Didn’t I have other goals at one point?

I wasn’t drafted into motherhood. I enlisted. Eagerly. And I love being a mom. I love it when the kids sneak into bed with us in the middle of the night. I love that my son and I made it through colic to the other side. I love that he scares me to death jumping off the highest objects he can find. I love that I walk through the dining room tripping over toys I swore would never be allowed in my dining room. I love it. 

I just didn’t expect the bitter aftertaste that comes with it.

I didn’t expect the realization that there are limitations on what I can do. It’s like looking at a menu- of life goals and career choices-but half the items are crossed out with a red sharpie saying “this option no longer available-you chose motherhood”.  I tell myself, it’s okay. It’s what I signed up for. I am lucky enough to have healthy happy kids. When the kids are grown, I’ll think about me.

To a kid, it’s simple. Take a chance and see what happens.

– Annie Tegen

Months later, Sophie gave me a fresh perspective on this while I helped her get ready for bed. 

She stood on her stool brushing her teeth.  Slowly.  Chatting, doing her best to prolong bedtime. And out of left field she asked, “Mom, is there anything that you really really really want? In your life.” 

Me: “What do you mean?”

Sophie: “Something that you always really wanted to do-that would make you happy. Like, something you want to be?”

Me: “For a job?”

Sophie: “Yeah.”

I wondered if she’d overheard a midlife crisis conversation between me and her dad or maybe the daycare was letting the kids watch Oprah now.

Then I said, “Yes. As a matter of fact, Soph, I have always wanted to build things, with wood, like a carpenter.”

Sophie: “Annie is a cool name for a carpenter. You'd make a great carpenter, Mom! So, why can’t you be a carpenter then?”

Me : “Well, I would need to quit my job and go to a special school. It’s not in the cards now, Soph.”  

Sophie: “Why? Does that cost money?”

Me: “Yep, sure does.” 

She climbed into bed and I tucked her in. I turned to walk out and she piped up “Mom? I have good news. I know where I could find you the money to go to the special school. I will give you ALL the money in my ‘SAVE Jar’ (which at that point was a whopping $2.13) and you can use it to go to the special school and then you’ll be happy!”

Me: “Thanks Soph, YOU make me happy”

I hugged her so tightly I thought I might break her ribs.

Sophie: “Mom? Now you can start carpenter school whenever you want.  All you need to do…is pick the day.”

Her sentiment was both implausible and brilliant. I left her bedroom, tears filling my eyes, feeling like I just got free therapy.  I wrote down the conversation, not wanting to forget a word.

To a kid, it’s simple. Take a chance and see what happens. Maybe it is that simple and I make it complicated. I’m so happily wedged in the den of motherhood that I don’t remember to wriggle out and look around once in a while.

And I’m not alone.  Over wine, my friends join me in a chorus of excuses that all end in “with the kids”, “I’d love to travel more, but it’s too hard with the kids”, “I’ve always wanted to do a triathlon, but I’d never find time to train now, with the kids”. Maybe it’s starting a business, learning to play guitar, writing that book, or moving the family to South America.  Whatever “it” is.  It boils down to us, in the short time we have on this earth, finding a way to make it happen with the kids.

So I figure, I can either “tell” my kids-using age appropriate language-how to grab life by the balls, or I can “show” them what that looks like. 

Sure, that may mean making some sacrifices. Planning ahead, saving up. But-taking risks. Giving it a shot. It’s all possible. And my daughter, in her sweet simplicity, was right. If I want something badly enough–All I have to do, is pick the day.

Annie read this essay live in the Listen To Your Mother Spokane show on Mothers Day 2012. Her daughter was in the audience.

About the Author

Annie Tegen

Annie Tegen lives in Seattle with her husband, energetic 4 year-old son, patient 6 year-old daughter and insane black lab. Annie is a Northwest transplant from Wisconsin. For the past 14 years she has worked full time for non-profits in world of health policy, fighting to get smoking out of public places. Recently she started working two days per week as a carpenter's apprentice. She loves coming home full of sawdust on her days in the woodshop.

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