All during May, I find myself wandering over frequently to the fridge to study the graduation announcements we’ve gotten in the mail; to look at those faces full of promise, excitement and character.
May . . . It circles back to me every year, and it never fails to remind me of 2014, when it was my May.
“Congratulations on graduating! Where are you going to college?”
“Actually, I’m not going to college. I’m staying home.”
I was still seventeen that May. Now I’m almost twenty-one. In that space of time, I’ve learned more and more about the language of the eyes. It’s far more expressive than words, and it often makes things difficult (or maybe sadder would be the better word), when it comes to trying to have a conversation in which it really sounds like two minds are harmonizing . . . but they’re not.
Sometimes, I can be carrying on a cheerful (and now confident, after years of practice) conversation with a peer I haven’t seen in years, or with an adult who’s interested in what I’m up to, but there’s a barrier between our eyes, a cloud that indicates there’s a near-complete lack of mutual understanding. It can be draining, even though I don’t mind talking about it and I know they genuinely want to care and comprehend.
“I didn’t feel God leading me to college, or to a career. I believe my vocation is to be a wife and mother at home, so I’m trying to stay close to Him and see where He brings me. I write articles and help out with housework. I’m truly happy at home.” Or words to that effect.
Maybe growing older has made me increasingly aware of this eye-language whenever I’m conversing about what I do, whether it’s with an adult or a peer. I notice, almost instantly, whether their eyes are speaking the same language as mine; if they carry understanding, agreement, interest. And, conversely, I also see if there’s confusion, discomfort, or–most often–a respectful but blank distance that most likely comes from just not understanding. “All right,” they say, trying to be earnest and kind . . . but it just can’t quite reach the eyes. “That’s nice. It’s good to know what you want to do.”
And now, three years after my graduation, my sister has just finished high school . . . and when people ask her the timeless question of what she’ll be doing and what her plans are, she sweetly replies, “Well, I’m doing what my sister’s doing. I’m staying home and waiting to see where God leads me next.” To me, it’s such a humbling statement; and, I think, truly courageous of her.
The woman at home has, for a long time, been a disappearing phenomenon. Our world, our culture, doesn’t recognize the woman at home any more. It squints its eyes, scratches its head at her (if it doesn’t immediately sneer or dismiss). She’s a fading, a grainy black-and-white photo tucked in an old picture album. In the modern perception of things, she’s distant, quaint and thoroughly un-liberated.
So . . . why did I want to be one? To be that girl, growing into womanhood, who didn’t go to college, who didn’t pick out a career or a workplace-style job, who didn’t move off from home after graduating high school, who didn’t do the dozens of things that, currently, are part and parcel with my sex and age? Not one of my (many!) female cousins did it. Not one of my childhood friends (save a two of my long-distance pen pals) did or had done it. I wasn’t consciously modelling myself off anyone at all.
And now, every May seems the perfect time to ask myself: Why did I stay here? What were my motivations? And am I happy I’ve done it?
I honestly don’t remember it being some monumental decision. And, at first, it wasn’t exactly rooted in my current convictions about authentic Catholic femininity. I do, however, remember having gone to one of a few Catholic youth-group outings, where one high school senior was talking, quite gravely, about just how fast high school flies and how you really need to be thinking about college your freshman year. I came home already stressed. (Typical of my fourteen-year-old self.) “Mom,” I remember saying. “Don’t we need to be talking about college? I mean, before long I’ll be a junior.” (My younger self always makes me laugh now. Sigh.)
She so very wisely and calmly said, “You have plenty of time to find out what God wants you to do.”
And while it irritated me then (ah, that perennial snare of thinking we know more than our parents!), somehow her calm and un-rushed-ness softly permeated the rest of my high school years. By the end, my head had cleared a little more. Enough for me to question, subjectively, my actual need for college, for college debt, the college experience, etc.. And I found that the answer surfaced as a No.
It seemed simple enough to me. In the end, I really did just want to be married (although at that point, I hadn’t really done authentic vocational discernment as much as I’d done a lot of wishful thinking based off lifelong emotional desires 😉 ) and a homeschooling mother. I enjoyed writing and music, and was earning money from singing for weddings, funerals, and the like, as well as writing the occasional article. I enjoyed being home and my parents were by no means eager to see me out the door as soon as I got my diploma. (What wonderfully counter-cultural parents my parents are, by the way.)
So . . . why incur so much debt? I thought. Why go to college when my hopes for my future didn’t involve an academic career at all? Why not stretch my wings along the less-traveled path and see where and how God might want me to use any gifts He’d given me?
It wasn’t that I was terrified of people, or didn’t think I could cope with class-style settings after being homeschooled. I didn’t have grand theological/anthropological reasons for bypassing college. Honestly, it just seemed very simple. (Maybe simplistic to some people?) The college question seemed comparable to deciding whether or not to purchase a car and incur debt when I could walk just as easily, and when I felt no desire whatsoever to travel farther or faster than I could walk, anyway.
I think there were must have been faint rumblings in my head and heart about authentic Catholic femininity, about old-fashioned and time-tested stay-at-home womanhood, but nothing I’d really articulated to myself or others. Certainly nothing informed by the Traditional Latin Mass and all its little branches that so vibrantly direct, color, and guide the traditional Catholic lifestyle. Not yet.
Rather, I was planning to be a self-made author of fantasy novels, and at that point I was really involved in an online homeschoolers’ magazine. One day, I’d fall in love, get married, have lots of cute kids, homeschool them, and live to a ripe old age. In the meantime, I would write and do anything God led me to.
Again, simplicity. And a lack of worldly worry, a kind of simple trust that God would guide me where He wanted me. That was completely due to my parents’ guidance and God’s grace, and something I’m still grateful for. How will I take care of myself? What will I make of myself? How will I succeed in life? Those questions were never really present in my head.
(Note: On a subjective level, I know my personal situation should absolutely be differentiated from a situation where it would be prudent and necessary for someone to go through secondary education, especially for a man who looks to provide for a family, or other similar circumstances . . . but I’ll go more into that later . . . of course 😉 )
So I didn’t go to college. And . . . I went on to have many conversations with friends, family members over the next few months. Some were true conversations of understanding . . . and some, though polite, were dead ends. Again, the language of the eyes. Exhaustion. And yes, there were feelings of loneliness–but no questions as to whether or not I’d done the right thing.
Who is the woman at home?
Their eyes often asked the question, but I was only beginning to formulate–or, better put, find–the answer. It’s an answer that went far beyond my practical/logical reasons for why college wasn’t necessary for me and what I desired to do.
It’s an answer that would completely sweep me off my feet over the next few years. And God knew I needed time to find it.
To be continued…