For most people, mid-life crises strike in middle age, when paunches are appearing and more hairs are grey than not. For me, the period of searching I began to jokingly refer to as my “quarter-life crisis” came calling a few years ago in early spring, a few months before I turned 21. Eight months after I got married, it was becoming clear that a bachelor’s degree was not going to be in my immediate future. My class schedule had been pared down until hardly anything remained; I spent my days going to class and doing homework for a degree that was realistically impossible at that particular moment in my life.
I felt adrift, confused, unsure of what my purpose in life was or what my next step should be. If not a college graduate, then what? My health wasn’t stable enough for even a part-time job. I desperately wanted children, but my husband and I had agreed to wait until my health was a little more manageable. Coupled with the fact that I knew that my cystic fibrosis was nearly a guarantee of a future infertility struggle, it seemed clear that motherhood was not something that would come to me easily or soon.
As the trees began to unfurl their first delicate green buds, I wrestled over and over with the feeling of being lost, purposeless, meaningless. Could there be value in a life so small, I wondered? Could there be a value in a life that was, more often than not, lived from the couch? Could there be value in a life that lacked all of the markers our society uses to define success—a degree, a job, children?
A few weeks after my soul-searching began, I reflected in a rather macabre moment that really, my “quarter-life crisis” might be considered a true “mid-life crisis,” if you consider a mid-life crisis to be the anxiety that strikes when you’ve lived half the years you can be expected to live. Currently, the average life expectancy for a cystic fibrosis patient is in the late thirties. Years later, I learned that plenty of CF patients in their early twenties experience a similar mid-life crisis.
Weeks passed. The snow in my mountain-locked home melted, leaving the earth saturated with mud and the constant sound of dripping in my ears. And still I felt empty, longing for a purpose. I had always been driven; I’d gone after the things I’d wanted with energy and zeal, and I usually got them. I had always had a purpose. I had been a daughter, a writer, a big sister and surrogate mother, a violinist, a student. I had had all number of big dreams, from publishing a book to living in Hawaii to teaching at a dance studio.
I felt, now, as though everything was being peeled away from me. I was left with only the barest of essentials, the simplest of responsibilities. The scope of my life was narrowing. I thought about these things constantly, talking them over with my husband, writing about them in my journal and on my blog, praying desperately for a purpose for my life.
And slowly, over a period of weeks, I began to find what I was looking for.
As days passed and I continued my relentless questioning, a word came into my mind again and again. Homemaker. It was not a term I had spent much time thinking about before; in the brief moments that I had, I had considered it a rather outdated phrase, one that pigeonholed a woman into a narrow frame of reference and failed to recognize her vibrant, dynamic nature.
But the word stayed. Homemaker. And as I pondered it, I had a revelation.
All my life, I had thought of "homemaker" as synonymous with "mother." After all, "homemaker" is the official term for a stay-at-home mother. When applying to college, I’d spent a lot of time checking boxes to indicate that my mom was a "homemaker." "Homemaker" was, in my opinion, the label that the corporate world had come up with to make a life of diaper changes and laundry baskets something you can put on an official document.
But as I thought about it, I realized something sensational: "homemaker" was not, in fact, the same thing as "mother." Although many mothers are homemakers, a homemaker does not have to be a mother.
I thought about the phrase: a simple compound word, really. Home-maker. One who creates a home. A woman who devotes herself to making her home a haven, a place of safety, comfort, and peace—for herself, her husband, and anyone who enters.
In that seemingly innocuous word, I found the sense of purpose I had been so desperately seeking. There were many things that I couldn’t—and still can’t—do. A year after that mid-life crisis, I officially withdrew from college. Three years since that spring of searching, I still don’t have a degree, or a job, or a child.
But I have been a homemaker. In every place that we have lived, I have worked hard to create a place of joy and love for my husband and myself. I have welcomed friends into our home for comfort, and companionship, and lots of late nights of games and laughter. I’ve discovered a passion for creating good, healthy food for my family.
I have made a home.
That moment of realization—the light-bulb instant where I realized just how much purpose could be found in such a neglected phrase—did not solve all my problems. I still had moments of guilt, and despair, and long nights where I felt worthless and obsolete. I still do.
But what that chilly spring so many years ago did do was answer one question that had haunted me for a long time before. Can there be value in a life so small?
Because what I have learned is that the answer is yes. There is always value. Even in the days where I feel most helpless—even in the days where I can hardly get off the couch—there is value. I am the maker of our home, an integral part in this family of two that my husband and I have created.
I have purpose.
In this space, Cindy Baldwin will share her evolution---the ways she has come to accept the circumstances of her life with cystic fibrosis and find great contentment within them. You can read the beginning of her story here and here.