My life in boxes….

I have a monumental task I’ve been avoiding forever: what to do with the remnants of past careers.

I have about 7 large plastic boxes of old laboratory related papers I haven’t been able to go through since I quit my jobs. It seems like I’ve dreaded the task of looking backwards when I was always looking forward to the next phase in my life. In the clinical laboratory, things were always changing. No matter which laboratory I was in, the biotechnology we used was always changing to newer/better/faster means of obtaining results. And I have to admit, it was always exciting to be on the cutting edge of technology.

I’ve always loved the process of how things worked in the laboratory. I’ve always loved the rhythm generated by doing labwork, and I loved learning all I could about the tests I performed. I also loved the solitude that working on the bench brought. I could quietly go about my work and get into a zen-like oneness with the process. (Hmmm…I think this is why being a homemaker has been so tough… I can never complete any process without a million little interruptions by my lovely girls).

I have 2 bins of articles from when I worked in the medical genetics laboratory I have copies of test procedures. I have a file of practice runs from the tests I used to perform. I have copies of the quality control manual.

I have tons of articles from my days as a forensic DNA analyst – training notes and pictures I had taken of my laboratory electrophoresis gels, reverse dot blots, and printouts of practice STR chromatograms. I have letters of thanks from state’s attorneys for a job well done in court, letters from my laboratory director saying “great job”.

I have a few articles from my days working in a food microbiology laboratory. I have a letter of certification from being trained as an in-house laboratory auditor.

I even have some college notes from my biology classes – immunology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, recombinant DNA.

The information is no doubt is outdated. I can’t bear to part with any of it, yet I have trouble going through all of those boxes too.I’m trying to figure out what I’m saving all this for. When I was working, having the information at home was great. I actually referred to some articles from my forensic lab when I was working at the genetics laboratory. And I actually got to give a lecture in forensic DNA analysis for the university my genetics lab was affiliated with. I was so honored to do that. The university is actually the one I turned down when I was considering colleges. It was so amazing to me that I actually ended up working for the university I got accepted to but didn’t attend. And by the way, I even have copies of the application to that private university (but unfortunately, I can’t find my old acceptance letter).

I don’t know why I find it really hard to go through all these boxes. Well, aside from the obvious fact that there’s SO MUCH of it and it’s a pretty daunting task. But also I think it’s hard because there’s so much of my personal history wrapped up in those papers. I can’t even bear the thought of just pitching them out. And yet I can’t even bring myself up to the task of going through them and organizing them either (because I know it can’t be done in one afternoon).

I think about what would happen if I were to die and my husband or girls had to go through all my papers. On the one hand I can see my girls being in awe of their mommy’s former life (look, mom actually DID have a pretty exciting life), and on the other hand, I can see them saying “what on earth did she save all this junk for?”

In all reality, I’m really not planning to keep my former identity secret from my girls. I actually do want them to know that a girl can be anything she wants to be, and their mom was actually really great in the laboratory.

I don’t know what I’m waiting for though…even if I do plan on saving every scrap of paper, I really should go through it and organize it better. I know part of me is avoiding it because I think I’m afraid I’m going to really miss my old life. Since I’m unsure of how to get back into a laboratory career with a full family life, I think I’m afraid of being too guilty for giving up a huge part of my life and identity.

I feel like a fraud sometimes though. I still am interested in the biosciences, visit other blogs of women in science, yet I’m still so far removed from that now. I was a working mom for 2.5 years, so I know the juggling act of combining a career and family. I plan to return to work someday, but now I’m just so far out of the loop and really am unsure of which direction I want to go into.

But now, there are other women out there are doing what I couldn’t – balance a family life with a career in science. I mean, I did for partly because I had to (my husband got laid off for a year, and I was the sole breadwinner) and it took awhile to recover from that. Quite honestly, as soon as I didn’t have to work anymore, I didn’t. With a 12 year long career in the lab starting with my junior year in college and having no time off between job changes, I was quite relieved to have the much needed sabbatical.

If saving work related things aren’t enough, I still have some momentos from the time before college – my 8th grade diploma (really, do I need to keep that?), the little booklets from the high school dances I attended (how can I really throw out the one that has my name printed in it when I volunteered for the Prom dance committee?), and love letters – some even from old boyfriends (part of me has them so that when I’m old and losing my mind, I can re-read them and remember I actually was quite a catch in my day).

But a part of me realizes why I’m holding on to this stuff. Some of the things I’m keeping are to document my accomplishments, to validate my former existence. Even though I’m not “achieving” much now, I have a whole history of ACCOMPLISHING something. I hate to admit this, but I had started to question that I actually was smart because I have nothing tangible to “prove” it now (yes, I realize this contradicts what I said in an earlier post, but that’s how the mind can change from one moment to the next).

I have gone through those boxes recently and pulled out anything resembling a recognition of achievement – anything from awards to letters of recognition. Not so much to revel in the past achievement, but because I honestly was starting to doubt what I did accomplish in the past. I just wanted these reminders that yes, I didn’t imagine half the things I’ve done. I was beginning to think I actually imagined I got accepted to the private university (my mother assures me that I did, so I have to believe I am not making it up, especially since I do remember having the interview just prior to my acceptance letter).

I know how crazy and pathetic this post probably sounds, but really, this is my honest feelings about the matter. As much as I love having this season of life with my children (and willingly chose it), I was losing sight of who I was before I quit my career to be home with them. Let’s face it, mothering children has no external reward system. Society does not distinguish stellar mothering from mediocre mothering, although we can pretty much be sure we will get our fifteen minutes of fame if we are failing miserably at mothering (say, by major neglecting or harming of our children).

I have been told that if I shouldn’t wrap my self-worth in terms of accomplishments. And while I agree with that, it’s still hard not to do. When you’ve been a “do-er” most of your life, it’s really hard to become simply “be” – especially just “be” a “mother” or “keeper of the home” in a society that doesn’t value the job title.

However, I’ve moved from one accomplishment to the next, with at least some way to measure how well I’ve done. Good report cards, a degree, good performance reviews at work (mostly except the very last one I had which had some bad marks for tardiness), letters of recognition, pay raises and promotions. Looking back at my life’s accomplishments, I realize that whether it’s right or not, I have an identity wrapped up in those accomplishments that were tossed pretty haphazardly into boxes.

So, I’ve slowly had to accept peace and acceptance that not achieving for a time (even an extended time) is okay and that it’s not the end of the world.

At some point, I really would like to get back into the work world. I really haven’t settled on the what or the how just yet. Obviously, things are so much different now than it was when I was younger. Whatever I decide to do next I have to take 4 other people into account.

I’m determined to do one thing though – and that’s not get depressed about my future prospects. Okay, realistically, work choices are limited for mothers in general, and my choices are further limited by my age (38 this year), and the fact that I’m 4 years out of my former career.

But I do have a few things on my side – and that is determination, tenacity, and self confidence. And I started to recover some self-confidence by going through these boxes and pulling out the proof of my accomplishments.

There is something I will be able to do…I don’t know just yet what that is, but I am really determined to find a new path.

I will be able to discover what that new path will be. I do have a really interesting book I’m reading. It’s got a great title: I Could Do Anything I Wanted To Do…if I Only Knew What That Was.

Now that I am journaling some of my thoughts, I feel even more confident that discovering what I want to do next is well within my reach.

And one of these days I will go through those boxes….

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