I was maybe sixteen when I first had the dream. I envisioned myself as a forty-year-old, housewife, with a few children who I spent an excessive amount of time car-pooling and planning my day around them. It really was a nightmare. I don’t know why it scared me so, but in the end of the dream, I was contemplating suicide. It was the car pooling that seemed scarier than the suicide.
The nightmare was recurrent. Besides of course being a bit scary, I knew there was a message I was supposed to get. But what?
I realized that it wasn’t very far from my mother’s reality, and she seemed to be very happy with her life revolving around her four children. So, why did this bother me so much?
I carried the memory of the, let’s call it vision, for years. As I contemplated college and what to study, I thought what is it that I didn’t want to end up with? What was I afraid of? What was wrong with the idea of me being a mother and caring for my family? Did I need to travel more? Did I need to date more? Did I need to try out crazy ideas; jump from the sky from a plane? go off on a trip to India, Vietnam or Cambodia? What exactly was I missing from my life that I was afraid I was going to miss out on? Maybe I needed to study some crazy notion; basket-weaving? Acupuncture? Past lives hypnosis? I didn’t try too many of those ideas, but I did go to Israel to see the country.
I started dating someone seriously and realized he would be the one I would want to marry, but I was still afraid of the ‘vison’. Wasn’t I heading in that exact same direction? Was it truly a problem? I kept trying to figure out what exactly bothered me about the scenario and what was I going to do about it.
I never told him about the fear, but my boyfriend and I did have deep talks. Where were we going? What was important in life? How do we make decisions? What were our dreams? We actually decided to do something before we just got to that family situation without a thought. We went to a school where the goal wasn’t to get a liberal education or a vocation; it was a place to ask and seek questions about life, about meaning. Since we are Jewish, we went back to the original source and went to a school that used the Torah (the Bible) for answers with a three-thousand-year history of finding answers; a yeshiva and seminary (for those with no background.)
It was invigorating. Our questions were not unique, but have been asked in every generation with answers that could accommodate in different styles and ages of living. By digging deep into the simple meaning of each question, there were many answers with more depth than we had ever imagined.
We put a hold on our marriage for a year and both studied. This was too important to jump into anything like marriage without feeling we needed to build our home, our marriage in the most responsible way. When we did finally get married we realized that it was really a lifetime endeavor of learning and building. So though yes we have jobs and many children (and now grandchildren) we still try to invest time in continuing with that education. (Our kids, of course, as these things tend to go are much further learned than us since they had the benefit of their whole lives invested in being religious.)
When I did turn that frightening age of 40 and had a house full of kids, I realized there wasn’t any resentment of filling my day of taking care of them as well as finding outlets (work, classes, and the gym) to fulfill my needs as well. I was only happy the way things had turned out. In fact, my 40th decade was the best!
Now my husband and I are even older, with grandchildren and still a house full of kids, who are all old enough to be fairly independent. The memory of the nightmare came back to me the other day.
We had dinner with a much younger mother who was for the first time hearing of this ancient wisdom that is still so prevalent in our lives. She was discussing her enthusiasm of how beautiful and deep some of the many ideas were that she had started to hear about. She was regretting that her kids were already planning college and she had never thought of what were her real goals, what kind of lives she really wanted for herself, her husband and her kids. They had been so busy making a lot of money and shelping her kids to all the extracurricular programs they felt they needed so they could also be successful to make a lot of money. She had never thought until she went on a special Jewish mother’s program who starting asking questions. It was the first time she was given an exposure to the idea of living with a purpose. She was startled and moved by the many deep concepts that were being presented. Even though she, of course, had heard of so many of the ideas before, in her circles it had been just ridiculed and life just moved on without too much thought. Life was just reactions to events.
“Can you imagine the concept of recognizing that your whole life can have meaning and goals? Can you imagine the running around bringing up kids doesn’t have to be like an endless motion, a reaction to reaction, but actually have a guided purpose and meaning?” she asked us with such enthusiasm to her recent discovery. And then she looked us. “Woah! You guys are religious. You must have been doing this all the time; living with a real purpose, a real goal.”
We didn’t really know how to answer, so we just smiled. But I suddenly remembered that nightmare of my young 16-year-old fear. I was grateful that I had it those many years ago. I didn’t need to wake up at 40 to wonder what I was doing with my life. We have been living it with pride (and hard work) ever since then.