I started reading essays by Erma Bombeck ten years ago, by the glow of my daughters’ nightlight during a particularly difficult time in our lives. We were moving back to Cincinnati after our overseas assignment in Italy and living with my parents, since we had sold our house the previous year. What I had imagined to be a very romantic and adventurous experience just outside of Venice, was, in reality, at times, isolating and maddening and lonely. It was also really beautiful and fun and marvelous… but that was mostly on the weekends when I didn’t have to drive.
Our girls were six and three by the time we were back home and I sat on the floor of their bedroom in my parents’ house, every night, waiting for Emma to fall asleep. The stress from the past year had settled deep inside my bones and was seeping out in regular intervals as I looked for a new house, new car, new school and while Ryan stayed in Italy for the last few months of his assignment. While Kate was just happy to be home, back in her familiar world, and slept in a peaceful bliss (it’s worth mentioning here that this was in stark contrast to our months in Italy when she spent many of her waking hours in the midst of a tantrum), Emma was probably picking up on the stress around her and couldn’t fall asleep without me sitting vigil.
So I spent many, many hours on the floor of their room, by the nightlight, not far from the twin beds that we were instructed to push together so that they could fall asleep right next to each other. And that’s when I read the essay, I Was 35 at the Time, by Erma Bombeck. Reading books by Bombeck was a suggestion from my mom’s best friend and a second-mom/aunt/friend to me. I had started blogging overseas and was thinking about sticking with it now that we’d moved home, and Erma Bombeck was one of the first and best at writing about herself and family life.
I was basically 35-years-old when I read that piece and it was one of those things that settled deep inside my heart, took root, and never left. The essay was about the day that all of her kids went off to school for the first time and, as she watched them walk (to the bus or to school, I can’t remember), she decided that it was her time. That she was going to start writing. That she would finally do this thing that she had always wanted to do. And, of course, she was thirty-five at the time.
It felt like approval. Or a dispensation. Maybe it wasn’t too late for me. After being a stay-at-home for six years at that point, and feeling so not-my-own, especially during that season, this felt like… hope. The teacher I had been before I had Emma felt like a different person from a different point in history, but writer felt close enough to reach out and grab.
Time is so bizarre. Thirty-five felt so old in that moment, like I was watching all my opportunities to be something else slip away from me. It was in that moment that I decided to start another blog and it took me on a ten-ish year journey that mostly involved writing, with some social media thrown in.
Now that I’m staring forty-five in the face, something else is starting. A new career. Well, a new, old career. I’ve rediscovered that once-young teacher from so long ago. I’m picking her up and dusting her off, because she has work to do. I’ve accepted a job as an assistant elementary teacher at a Montessori school. I start that job in August. But I’m also going to help out with their summer camp, which starts the beginning of June. Additionally, I’m going to create and run the elementary PE program. I’m pretty sure the job comes with a matching track suit like the one Sue wears in Glee.
When I was sitting on the floor of the girls’ bedroom in my parents’ house, reading this essay over and over again, it never dawned on me to go back to teaching. Writing felt like the right answer at that moment. It felt like my Erma Bombeck Moment.
A few years ago, during one of our moves, I was moving my half-filled journals from one house to the other, and I stopped to read an entry that had been written many years earlier. I had been a brand new mom, Emma just a baby, when I’d jotted down dreams of writing and my tender, unspoken hopes to write a book one day. I’d completely forgotten how early that dream began and as I sat on my bed that afternoon, I had the frustrating sensation that I was trying to chart a new path, but that I was really just walking in circles. Each new writing job eventually landing me in the same place I started.
I thought I was having my Erma Bombeck Moment sitting next to that nightlight, but I think it’s more likely that I’ve had a few Erma Bombeck Moments and that this is just one of them. What I didn’t know at thirty-five or on the edge of my bed a few years ago, and certainly not when I timidly wrote into my journal the dream of being an author with a sleeping baby in the next room, is that there can be many paths, endless opportunities to start again, and as many dreams as you want.
Time is a funny thing. Thirty-five, now, feels impossibly young. But at the time, it felt too old to start over, too ridiculous to dream about anything whole and new. And, yet, here I am ten years later doing just that.
I imagine myself, ten years from now, looking back, possibly ten years into a teaching career and thinking back to the beginning. Of course it’s impossible to know what I will be thinking, where I’ll be, or how any of this will go. But I hope that this is the start of something special, the next chapter, that it will be as beautiful as it feels. Either way, when I look back, the truest things about this moment will be that I followed a dream, started all over gain, and, of course, that I was forty-five at the time.