Friday, February 10, 2006

The Real World

I watched the perennial '80s favorite "Say Anything" last weekend. I also kind of napped through it, unfortunately during Lloyd Dobler with the boom box playing "In Your Eyes." Was that not the most romantic moment for 17-year-old girls back then??? All I had was a geeky boyfriend knocking at my window, and I think he probably turned out to be gay.

But none of that is my point.

In the beginning of the movie, Diane Court makes her valedictorian speech about how all of the graduates are getting ready to enter THE REAL WORLD. Was going to college really entering the real world? For me, college was like high school, only I didn't live at home with my parents anymore. Looking back, that was anything but real. I believe that we as a society must have extraordinarily high expectations of 18-year-olds if we expect them to have a career goal. I had an idea what I wanted to do, which fortunately was tweaked some during four years of college, resulting in far less education with pretty much the same result. I think I kind of felt like Lloyd, who said,

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed... or buy anything sold or processed... or process anything sold, bought or processed... or repair anything sold, bought or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."

I kind of know. But then again, I don't.

I was in graduate school when I think I first entered the real world. I was a young social work student, and I think I was on day two or three of an internship in a psychiatric hospital. I was sitting in a group therapy session led by a substance abuse counselor with a bunch of addicts. One girl, maybe nineteen or twenty years old, talked for the WHOLE session about her horrid history of abuse, rape, prostitution, drug addiction, and I can't even remember what else. I remember I was flabbergasted. I came home that day in tears and cried to the sperm donor that after a year and thousands of dollars spent in graduate school, I didn't think I was going to cut it as a social worker.

I've learned a bit in the twelve or thirteen years since I forced myself to go back to that hospital and that group the next day. I've learned how much that counselor sucked, how she never should have let that girl go on and on because there was probably not a soul in the room, including her, who benefited from hearing all of that. All that girl got was a bunch of pity, and she could have gotten that without spending money on a treatment center. She probably got it when she was working the streets or sticking that needle in her vein. And the only thing that pity could do was to reinforce just how low she had sunk. She didn't really live in the real world either - she lived in her drug-infested dysfunctional world. But what I learned was that the real world was simply the world in which I did not live. I had spent my life in the same kinds of environments with the same kinds of people, and on that day for the first time I entered the existence of someone with whom I simply did not know how to relate. I stepped out of my sheltered existence and into someone else's terrifying one, and that was real. I do it every day now, because it is the only way I know how to do my job effectively.

In about three weeks, I'm stepping into another version of the real world, in which I have never stepped before. I'm going to become a housewife, and in a little over two months, I'm going to be a stay-at-home mom. Ten years ago, I never even dreamed I would want to do this. But I'm dying to. I'm dying for a change that doesn't involve getting up every morning at 5:30, that doesn't mean twice daily encounters in rush hour, that doesn't put me face to face with people like that girl on a daily basis. And then I wonder, what will I do in the weeks before Anja comes when I don't have to get up before the sun each day? I can't sit around and watch soaps and eat bon bons each day. I have already announced that I will not be one of those stay-at-home moms who watches Dr. Phil and Oprah every day. Will there be enough to fill an existence that has never known this much solitude? Will I derive enough satisfaction in taking care of the two people who mean more to me than anything in this world? All of these questions are yet to be answered.

And I'm not glamorizing this stay-at-home mom role. I realize that soon my life will be consumed with diapers and breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. I know that the sperm donor and I may want to kill each other out of sleep deprivation and arguments about who is doing what. But I invite you to step into my world as it currently exists, a world that is different than yours. Then you can see just how desirable my new real world is.