I wake to a cardinal singing at my window after a semi-existential crisis dream #cardinal #parenting #midlife

Image by Chris Chow from Pixabay

I had been dreaming about being at school. That is not unusual for me. Last night I was back at Bowdoin College, but it really wasn’t anything like the Bowdoin I attended nearly 25 yrs ago. Instead, it felt foreign and strange. I was enrolled in four classes, yet hardly even attended the lectures. I couldn’t seem to remember where my classrooms were, let alone the room number of my dorm room. The dream was filled with angst, reflecting the, well, let’s just call it a semi-existential crisis I’ve been battling these days: What the heck am I doing here and where the heck am I going with my life?

Yep, I know that sounds extreme and dramatic. And, quite frankly it’s something I circle back to from time-to-time. I’m now at the stage of life when my kids are nearly ready to head off to college. As they get ready to embark upon life outside of their childhood home, I can’t help but think about what that means for me.

Once again, I’ve found myself circling back to the idea of returning to school, myself. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be 50 in less than three years, I seem to have a passion for life-long learning. The only thing that tends to hold me back is the money. Which is an underlying block in my current semi-existential crisis.

School seems a foolish thing to think about for myself when my own two kids will be heading out the door in just a few short years. Even though our household income is higher than most, it’s not enough to pay for 4 yrs x 2 kids’ college tuition costs. When my husband recently announced our current rate of college savings and how he had hoped that I would have been able to contribute more through my meager income, I felt a wave of panic and guilt set in. Every dream and hope I had for my life, and our shared life as a family of four, began to dance in spectral forms around me.

I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but I wonder how many other stay-at-home-parents feel the same way and are haunted by similar ghosts of a future that could have been, but never was…

Even though I wouldn’t trade back my time at home with my kids, if I could do it over again I would have a plan in place for this time in my life. I would have thought long and hard about a career that could be picked up again after a long absence, or one that could be nurtured part-time as I nurtured my children full-time from home.

I don’t life in a society that makes it easy for mother (or fathers) to return to the workforce after long leaves of absence, at least not in careers that honor higher degrees of education beyond the high school level. Nor does it assign monetary value to the work that is done by a stay-at-home-caregiver. It is, for the most part, an unpaid and thankless job.

Yet, despite this, I would not trade in my time with my children. I also know they are grateful for my presence in their lives. As the saying goes, it’s nearly impossible to have it all. So we must instead as ask what is enough?

In my present state I have come to realize that I tend to define my own worth too much by monetary values without allowing myself to accept how much value there is to the unpaid work that I do. That’s where my friend the cardinal comes in.

After a night of struggling with my inner-demons, I woke to birdsong. Mind you, it’s the middle of February and temperatures are below freezing when I wake most mornings, including this morning. I am not used to hearing birdsong in the middle of winter outside my window.

At first I was a little annoyed. I rather liked the idea of a few more minutes of sleep on a day when an early rise was not needed. But there was no further sleep to be had. The bird was insistent, and soon after I pulled the plugs from my ears I had a good idea of what type of bird it was. I wasn’t, though, quite expecting it to be so bold.

The cardinal was the first thing I saw as I pulled aside the curtains. Its crimson coat, a bold contrast to the snow-brushed hemlocks as it peered back at me and sang. It was eye-level. The only bird in sight. The only bird singing. Fine, I told it, I’ll look you up in Ted’s book later.

I should not have been surprised by what I read, but somehow I had not recalled that particular bit about the cardinal as a messenger. In the last sentence of Ted Andrew’s description of cardinal in Animal Speak, you will find these words, “…remember that everything you do is of importance.”

I am sharing them here, because if I needed the reminder, perhaps you do too.

24 thoughts on “I wake to a cardinal singing at my window after a semi-existential crisis dream #cardinal #parenting #midlife

  1. A lovely meaningful post, Alethea and although you were somewhat reluctant at first to open your curtains how lovely to be woken by birdsong and a message…I am a believer that everything happens for a reason and I am sure that spending time during your children’s formative years for your family was the correct call…sometimes we all need a little reminder or take time to step back and acknowledge we did well…Beautiful post-Alethea..one which I can comment on but WP gremlins are not letting me like posts at the moment…such is life…sigh 🙂 x

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  2. This is a great post and I also believe that cardinals are messengers. I understand the situation you’re in. I was at home with our children for 20 years and then I went back to work as our kids got older and were approaching college age. I took a part time job at a library that only required a high school diploma, but discovered that almost everyone there had college and master’s degrees. It’s been very fulfilling and I moved up a rung, but I’d have to get another master’s degree if I ever wanted to go full time. I would never have traded my time home with our children. Best wishes to you!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. It really helps to hear other stories. I sometimes think about working at a library, but most days I just don’t know. I modest income from yoga right now and I do love teaching it. I think I just have to be okay with where I am right now and realize there are always options. ❤

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      1. It was an adjustment for me at first, because the last time I was in the work environment, there was no internet! So everything was different. Plus we still had two teenagers at home and two in college, so it was a busy household. But I’ve been back to work for 5 years now and in the groove.

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  3. Go back to school! I did in my early 50s and ended up getting 2 degrees. The discipline of study and the expansive ides I was exposed to completely changed my view of myself. Ibecame far more confident and learnt to express my iddas more fluently. I also learnt to structure my thinking.
    Going back to school was one of the best things I’ve done. Funnily enough, and like you, I had a dream of a university campus beforehand. It was of a place I didn’t recognise. I’d been at the university I eventually attended for over ayear before I recognised a particular corridor as the one I walked down in my dream.

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    1. Thank you, Suzanne. I appreciate your enthusiasm and it sounds like you had a very positive experience going back to school later in life. In some ways I feel like I keep going back to school, but not quite in the way I had originally intended. Since I had kids I got my MFA, became certified in Reiki, different forms of yoga, went through the three year program with the Silent Eye and am always studying something. Yet, what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not so easy to make a living from these choices. I’ve been thinking about going back to become a counselor, but we’ll see. That does take money and right now we’re worried about college coming up for the kids, which is why I am feeling pressure to just get a more full-time job. Anyway, I love how you dreamt of the university you eventually attended and that you are happy with your decision to go back to school. ❤


      1. Yes, I can understand your dilemma. Finding work after the children have grown is difficult. Becomng a counselor is an excellent choice and you may well find your yoga and spiritual studies come in handy sometimes. I think counsellIng services will be in demand for quite some time. The social upheavals of the pandemic, many people being laid off work and the strange mental spaces extended lockdowns have induced in some could well result in more people needing sensitive counselors.

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      2. It seems the logical choice based upon my abilities and the fact that whatever I do I want to be of service in some way that feels meaningful. We shall see how it all plays out. In the meantime I’ve been searching for writing jobs.

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  4. A thought provoking post Alethea.. and in my opinion you have been in full time employment as a stay at home mum. You have contributed to their college fund in a number of ways including bringing them up to be responsible adults who will make the most of their college education to find themselves jobs that will provide for themselves, and to be honest if you had gone out to work how much of your salary would have been spent on childcare. I think that you could approach this in a number of ways and one might be going to night school as the first step and then on to full time college.. However you approach this, you have done an amazing job and the Cardinal is completely right in its assessment.

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  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday 1st March 2021- #Methane Carol Taylor, #SeaOtters Cindy Knoke, #Emptynest Alethea Kehas | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  6. I went back to school when I was in my 40s and I loved every minute of it. I took lots of classes that had nothing to do with my life and career, but that’s what made it all so interesting. It was hard, but I am so much better for doing it. How wonderful that you were able to give your children the gift of your presence for all those years! There is absolutely nothing more important!

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    1. Thank you for sharing a bit of your own story, Dorothy. I share your love of learning and seem to be in one type of school or another more often than not…I don’t regret staying home with the kids. I wouldn’t trade it in, but I think I may have done things a bit differently to keep a career path more open.

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  7. petespringerauthor

    Lots of thoughts on your topic. First off, I’m sure your contributions as a mother were significant to your kids’ development. Parenting can be a rewarding and yet thankless job at times. The real payoff comes when you’re kids go off to school, and you realize what incredible human beings you’ve raised. It is not a job for the meek. We raised our son to be independent and to take care of business. I wouldn’t want it any other way. We weren’t perfect parents, but we did a good job raising him. It’s funny because, at 28, he never needs our help now.

    My mom raised four boys (I’m the youngest), and then she went back to school. One of her favorite pictures (should be mine to except I was a surly teenager) is of her graduating from college the same year I graduated from high school. She became a social worker, and I was so proud of her. Your life will change, but you are still a young woman at 47. Think about what you still want to accomplish in life. I wrote my first book at 59, and I’m working on my first children’s novel at 62. When this virus ever ends, I’ve got a ton of plans in other areas of my life. I encourage you to set your own course.

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