what would your childhood self think of you now?

I realized last night, as I watch An Education, that I will eventually be able to get to that place where everything is mine again. Where I won’t have to compromise, where I can sleep-in, without someone commenting on it. I can garden. Once. I can have a space that’s mine, alone, with my art and stacks of books to the ceiling, a few big library ottomans and chairs, chaises, even.

I can have a cherry blossom tree, like the one I passed each day walking to classes at Barnard. I’m an extraordinary woman, who was once fuller, rich, complete, and smart. Well read and traveled. There was a pulse of promise and excitement there in her walk, in her exhale.

I could spend a day walking, with myPod in a museum, listening to Coldplay, taking in Degas dancers. Live the life I used to live, when I thought it was so lonesome. When I wasn’t at peace, when I would have traded it all in for a chance to mess it up, to combine, to make an ours. Damn green grass.


I want an uncluttered, lemon-scented space, with worn books, floor to ceiling. Lived-in sofas, soft, clean. I want to be able to not watch TV, to only have books, music, and one another (including the beet blossoms) to entertain us. Classical music, acoustic. Wine, storytelling. Laughter. Tears.

There will be a day when I’ll get my life back. And it breaks my heart to write that because it’s up to me, and only me, to make choices and changes to that end. I have some kind of romantic "someday syndrome," but the stark reality of it is that I need to take more ownership of my life. I cannot look to Phil to do the heavy lifting, to have the confrontations I’m too chicken-shit to handle myself, to foster the relationships, to take care of all the finances, all the talks. And at the same time expect him to step back and give me the space, the rest, I need, to have the silence, to pay attention to my internal compass, to see where my intuition brings me.

* What I need to do is to write my morning pages again. I need to have at least twenty minutes of exercise a day, on the elliptical or otherwise. I need to enrich my world with reading, with art, and with music. I need to dip into all these pockets and not spend so much time online or watching TV. I need to get back to the girl who kept lists of her favorite words.

It’s so ironic. We spend our childhood trying to figure out who/what we’ll be when we grow up, then we try on a few unflattering life outfits, some comely ones too. And then we, I, found the part that fits best: being a writer. [I do love it. So much. I love writing exercises, writing classes, and workshops, learning, reading, learning from what I read, thinking, trying to do it in a new and different way. I like writing challenges, collaborating. Working toward something. I feel energized; my body is happy.] And then we take this full, whole someone we’ve created, we’ve grown into, and we ask her to change! We ask this whole, full, person (we’ve struggled to even find within ourselves), to make concessions, to care about someone else’s happiness more than her own. Does that sound fcuked up to anyone else?

Oh, I know, people say that you should feel even more joy when you put someone else first, but I’m selfish when it comes to my own happiness. Unapologetically. Because it took me a long fcuking time to find this chick, the one who knows what she was put on this earth to do, and by becoming an "us," I don’t become even more of her. I lose part of that someone I’d created in me. This isn’t a point of view or perspective. This is my truth.

If it’s a good partnership, that someone in me would simply grow into more. Learn more, experience more, become even more of that someone, your best, most evolved you. But I don’t feel that way.

I feel bossed around, bullied. Demeaned. And I still see compromise as something I’ll hopefully eventually not have to do anymore. I’m realizing that I’m right now seeing "Being alone" as a goal… where everything can just be mine, and I can breathe again. Damn green grass. Because I also know that’s not what I want at all.

Becoming an "us" made me give up the someone I’d worked all this time on becoming, but the good news is that it’s not too late. I can fix this. I’m aware. I now know that what I need to do for me, for my family, is to honor the woman who walked past that cherry blossom tree at Barnard. Honor the woman who looked in the mirror, saw her childhood self, and asked her what to do about the new, unplanned direction of her life. "The mouth," the woman with courage, ambition, and drive–and the woman I’ve fought all this time against becoming: my mother.

It’s as if I’m saying that the me I was before all this is the girl I should be listening to, that she’s the real me. Except that core of a girl never had children of her own. She didn’t know what to do about balancing it all. She wasn’t more in tune with what the "right" path was. And that’s what makes me more evolved now. Now I know that it’s not that simple, that the way it was, as good as it feels looking back at her freedom, never felt free in the living. It felt heavy and restless. The life I’ve built, the person I’ve struggled to create, has been taking a breather, taking notice, taking her time, and she’s someone important, not lazy, not scared. My mother in me, the nurturer, the one who puts others before herself, she’s part of me, too. And I’ve got to stop fighting her. There’s room.

I have sense enough to know that I already have all the answers. I just need to take the time, take the quiet, for those answers to rise up, to find the balance in a "balance is bullshit" world, because it’s there, the answer on when to give and when to take is there, and no one else can slip me the answers. Not Phil, not a therapist, not my father, my friends, or my blog.



  1. Great post! You have a clear gift with writing. You are able to articulate so many things that lurk in the back of my mind, but that I am unable to formulate and express. Good luck with everything and remember that at some times in life, you just have to live and not think so much.

  2. I can’t believe I am about to play the Elizabeth Gilbert card but the last 1/5th or so of her book, Committed, discusses these very issues. Might be worth checking out. As much as I hate to admit it, I related to her writing on the subject of marriage and (gasp) even gained some insight.

  3. That was so beautiful, so raw, so unedited. I read it three times. You are so real and honest; you really move me. Thanks, Stephanie.

  4. There’s a big difference between having mixed feelings about compromise and feeling “bossed around, bullied. Demeaned.” I worry that you are confusing the normal personal exploration that goes with a partnership with actually being mistreated. You should never feel bullied by your spouse.

  5. If considering your husband over yourself doesn’t make you happy, I’m afraid nothing ever will. Perhaps in putting him first, you haven’t truly put him first in your heart. You may be keeping a tally of all the times you’ve compromised, comparing them to his list. Maybe each sacrifice is something you want extra credit for. I say maybe because I certainly don’t want to accuse. I don’t know anything for certain . . except that every single happy marriage I’ve ever seen was one full of sacrifice, compromise, and putting another ahead of oneself. Selfishness is the opposite of love. It doesn’t mean making choices just for the sake of denying yourself; it means loving someone enough to be willing to deny yourself, and doing it with happiness in your heart. In my experience, that is what has brought the most joy.

    1. Love is a feeling, selfishness is a behavior. Apples and oranges, and judgmental to boot.

      1. I’m surprised you’re calling it judgmental. That wasn’t my intention. I have to disagree wholeheartedly with the statement that love is a feeling. Love results in feelings, but it’s most definitely a choice and a verb. If people stayed married only because they felt like they loved each other all the time, 100% of marriages would fail. “For better or for worse.” There are so many feelings prior to marriage, but it’s many times after making the choice to love that the feelings come when married. I don’t think it’s apples to oranges at all; both are a heart condition and attitude.

    2. I don’t necessarily agree…I’m at my best with my husband when I’m selfish and fulfilled. I don’t have kids yet, so maybe I don’t know that “kind of sacrifice.” But the times that my marriage blows me away is when I’m fulfilled personally. That’s when I can be the best person to my husband and when he’s happiest with me.

    3. Author

      I’ve thought a lot about this. I think I would be happier if I KNEW that I was even capable of making him happy. It feels like whatever I do or try or sacrifice, never really brings him all that much joy. He has never been able to articulate to me what makes him deliciously happy. Of course, if I ever, EVEN ONCE, saw him completely light up, I’d of course want more of it. Making people happy makes us all swell with pride. We feel good about ourselves when we do good deeds, when we volunteer, when we help others. But we might be less apt to do it if we were always met with a “gee, thanks, I guess.”

  6. In my house, we call it ‘being still’. There’s a lot to be said for being aware enough, insightful enough, and indulgent enough to just…be still.

  7. Fantastic post! This is why I find you to be such an inspiration… you have much more insight into yourself than most, and that’s what will help you reach these personal goals

  8. “….and the woman I’ve fought all this time against becoming: my mother.”

    I’ve been reading your blog for years. And it’s sentences like the one above that intrigue me the most. I think it says a lot. Obviously, or else you wouldn’t have written it. Why the mother issues?

    I’m not a therapist nor a mental professional of any kind, no expertise or training, I am just making a comment.

    1. Author

      I write about this in Moose, only from my perspective when I was a young girl, not a mother myself. I grew up disrespecting my mother. I didn’t respect her. HATED the way she put others, put me, put my father, his family, above herself. I became very angry. She was, is, completely selfless, always puts the happiness of others before her own. And I wanted so much for her to be selfish. It’s why I’ve resisted for so long, seeing it as a sign of weakness, of not honoring yourself enough, not knowing your own worth. So I’ve worked against being her. I realize “everything in moderation,” but in the living of it, who’s to say what that balance is?

      1. It’s really weird, but I grew up not wanting to be anything
        like my mother. I actively chose to be so different from her
        because I hated what she stood for.

        I think it came down to the fact that she was so beautiful
        and I wasn’t, that I realized in order to reach my
        potential, I needed to be and act as different from her
        as I could so I could grow and become my own person without
        having people constantly compare me to her. Or to live
        under her shadow. Because of this, I was able to grow into
        my beauty in my own light, without hers leading or being
        in the way.

        As I continue to grow and mature, I notice that her traits
        have still defined the person I become and have made
        me even more successful. But boy, did I fight hard
        to be so different from what she represented, in every way.

      2. I felt the same way about my mother, Stephanie, and only in the last years of her life did I realize that what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. It gave her enormous pleasure to put my father first, to see him happy. She didn’t resent it and if I didn’t agree with it, it was my problem, not hers. Once I got past my own feelings and was able to see her behavior as something that gave her happiness, I had greater respect for her.

  9. If I could convey a slow clap over the computer I would. And I actually would recommend EG’s new book Committed to Stephanie as someone else above pointed out. It’s a great read and I’d actually like to hear her thoughts on it. For some reason reading the first 30 or 40 pages I imagined SK raging against the ideas presented, but only because she fits the description of a certain type described, early on.

    1. Yeah, mine was supposed to be in reply to L’s comment. Darn computers and this darn technology. Ack!

    1. Maybe he gets insight into what is going on in his wife’s mind? Perhaps it stirs up conversations and closeness?

      Don’t know.

      Do respect SK for putting it out there. As a mom to three who are needing me less and less as time goes by I too am wondering where my personal joy comes in. Have spent my adult life ensuring they have at least one parent who is there for them 24/7..

      I have wonderful kids, extremely proud and close to them. Like SK I wonder what is out there for ME? Selfish? After all these years I think not.

  10. I can only say this from a completely selfish place: please don’t leave for long. I am 24 years old, was a creative writing major, and you are the first blog I ever followed; anonymously, at that. You inspired me to take my own writing and do something with it…to write when I didn’t have to. To work 8-5 and then take the extra time to get my shit out and make bloggie friends and know how to feels to get a “comment” and know people are out there.

    I respect you, your time, and your journey so much.

    Thanks :)

    1. I agree. This was the first blog I followed, too. You have inspired others to pursue writing even though it is HARD and sometimes, PAINFUL.

      I look at you and think SUCCESS. I look at me and think NEEDS WORK. Nobody seems to have what they want. I like that you ask, WHY?

  11. Ah. This is understandable. You got married & had kids young, Stephanie, before you could develop that person independently. I know these feelings. I had them.

    But when my husband at the time left, I realized my feelings were a result of being too young to appreciate (in the fullest sense) what I had.

    Perhaps you can think of it another way. What if Phil were gone? (God forbid) How would that feel? For you to be left with your talent and two fatherless kids?

    the answer to that question might be revealing.

  12. Hi Stephanie,
    You dont know me. This is wierd beyond belief. I am a writer of Christian childrens stories. I was engaged to a Stephanie Klein in Spokane, Wa. My name is also Phil. I am still in love with her even after some biker guy wanted no permanent relationship with her after 3 years. I keep coming across your writing carreer. It is interesting. Helpful in my situation. I dont know if you even read these posts, but you are very beautiful like the Stephanie I got engaged to.

  13. When I read this post, I wonder why you can’t be you and still be married. I’ve been married for more than 16 years, and I’m still me. The me I WANT to be. Of course I’ve changed over the last 16 years, but anyone is bound to change with the ebb and flow of time. Being married and being a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up yourself, but it does mean you have to grow up and be responsible. I think you’re stuck as a selfish 14 year old, and it’s truly unbecoming.

  14. I imagined all of these things when I could not wait for my first husband to move out. He’d take those ugly chairs he insisted on, and I’d buy a velvet chaise. (I did, too.) I’d wear silk loungewear and read all day and have stacks of books up to the celing and ALL THE GODDAMNED SHOES I WANTED. I did all of that.

    And I was still lonely.

    Now I’m married again and I sometimes miss the quiet of those days, but I’m careful to remember the lonely feelings that came with them, because I’m grateful to live in this noisy house full of messy children and a cranky husband and love.

  15. wow! what a read…moving and honest and raw. thank you. it’s so nice to hear someone speak authentically and from the heart…non-censored. reading your words and story are interesting to me because i guess thus far my life has been lived a bit in reverse. i married very young not knowing myself at all and then immediately started having children. now i’m in my mid-thirties and still trying so hard to find who i am, to discover my dreams (not my husband’s or my children’s or what’s best for the good of the family.) i find it so hard to separate all the parts out and to really look at who i am and to be ok with being a little selfish sometimes. (which by the way i hear a lot these days!). i applaud you for knowing you and being able to speak about it. thank you for giving me courage and for helping me not feel quite so self-obsessed and selfish.

  16. Damn green grass. I saw step back and recount your blessings first, then take the responsibility for your own happiness. Sounds like you’re working on it.

  17. Darn, I mean I say step back and recount your blessings – cause sista, you have soooo many. Really. Please start. Really.

  18. I recently read something that really stuck with me and I think applies here:

    Tension is who you think you should be.
    Relaxation is who you really are.

    Life should not be a constant internal struggle. Sure, marriage is work but it shouldn’t be work all the time. We all go through dificult times but it shouldn’t feel like a death sentence.

  19. Off topic, please give me your thoughts on LOST. What a great episode!
    I always enjoy your recaps.

  20. “I wished she was able to put her own happiness first, because by securing your own happiness, you secure it for the people who truly love you. And those who would put your happiness below what they need from you… they don’t count, anyway.”

  21. Stephanie,
    I had those same feelings and thoughts just last night. Thank you for articulating them in a way I could not. I will say I felt differently this morning. I need to be responsible for how I teach people, including my husband, how to treat me. It’s not selfish, it’s mature. Boundries are important in every relationship! You can’t expect heavy lifting with out an opinion. But it would sure be nice! Sometimes we don’t even know we have a boundry until it’s been crossed, sometimes we need these experiences to find ourselves!You are one of my favorite writers, that comes from your experiences. Fold life into literature and find the story!

  22. Wow, this post really struck a cord with me. I’ve been married for only 5 months now, but I got married late in life. I raised a daughter to adulthood before I got married so I spent many, many years alone and trying very hard to learn about myself. Now, it seems, I’m not sure I know how to be “me” while being “us”. After just a few months I can feel myself pulling away and feeling very selfish about my wishes and dreams. I definitely need to learn how to do this, and quickly!

  23. It’s easy to lose yourself when your kids are young – they need you! But they get older and surprise! don’t need you as much in the same way. Husbands – well, that’s a compromise but communication helps and you seem to have that. And there’s no reason to stop being yourself. It all fits. The writing bit – I sympathize. I would love to be able to spend the day home alone, just churning away. I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but in the meantime, I’ll just write every minute I can. You have already enjoyed more success with yours than many ever do! And it’ll only get easier!

  24. Stephanie,

    I’ve never commented but I’ve loved your writing for quite some time. And I’m not the type to comment on random people’s websites who don’t give a sh&* about me (I do appreciate reciprocity, damn it) but I just have to say this:
    I am often so struck by how such intelligent women, like yourself, can manage to be so confused with the application of such stark, simplistic principles. GRATITUDE, my friend, is what you could use a healthy dose of. I realize this sounds extremely judgmental of me, so for that I apologize, but sometimes an outsider can cut through the crap of your own mind. Step out of it for a minute.
    You are BLESSED. Stop over-thinking everything. Stop over-analyzing everything. As much as I enjoy your writing, sometimes – for your mind, and your relationship’s sake – you need to shut the f*&K up and enjoy life a little more without broadcasting it to the world, where the story ends up spinning into a nicely read drama (whether consciously intended or not). Our loss, but your gain. Your readers don’t give a damn about you or your happiness, we want a story. So stop giving it to us, for your own sake.

    Phil, and those darling babies, are the only readers in your plot-line worth spinning a tale for. And you’ve got the talent to do so.

    Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.


  25. "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own" Robert Heinlein

    1. That is a beautiful quote and it’s so true if you think of all the people in your life that you love…. If they are happy you are happy.

      Stephanie….I read your post with some feeling of sadness even though I don’t know you personally I love your site and your stories of your family. You and Phil have been so much – and his health problems are reality shaking … I love to “get my way” and I usually do but there have been times when I needed to back off and realize that I’m not te only one in the relationship…and yea, many times the husband has been right even though I feel I’m mostly right! I’ve been happily married for 27yrs have 3 kids – marriage is a compromise at times but you should look for the things you have and cherish them, take care of them – you will miss things if they are gone.

  26. I love this post. This is exactly what I have been struggling with in the last year. I have finally been realizing what I need to do. To find my self. To learn to the balance in giving love away, but saving enough for myself. I think you have just answered the question I have been asking, WWYD? THANK YOU! And wishing you the best in finding your self. Again.

  27. I have been married almost 34 years. I married at 17 and proceeded to have a bushel of children from that point onward. My first child was born exactly eleven months after we were married. I knew nothing…on how to be a mother or a wife. I was still a girl! But I managed. The mothering came naturally, I was lucky on that account but the wife part was hard. Looking back now I realise it was because he didn’t know how to be the husband…he was only 18 and still just a boy.

    I married young because of my religious and cultural background. It wasn’t really based on lust or even love for that matter…it was just expected so to speak.

    All of these years later what have I learned? That love is indeed an action rather than a feeling but more importantly love is a choice. There have been many times where my husband has been cranky, mean, selfish and demanding…and other times where he has been loving, kind, gentle and a true hero when it was needed. But I too have been all of the good things and all of the bad and somewhere in the midst of all these years we came together as one. Now the children are all grown, my husband has lost everything due to the recession and I am learning a new skill so that I can go out into the world and help us rebuild it all once again. And in the deep misty parts of the night I still feel like a girl, confused and worried and not at all certain of anything. But I know this…and I know this well…as long as we are two then we can climb the tough mountains and seek respite in the cool valley’s. I have learned to need him, he has learned to need me. We don’t even possess the concept of selfishness, or who does more, or less. We have simply learned to do it together. We hold each other up because we both know that we are better as two than as one. I think that is love.

    Sometimes the blessings are right in front of us but our pride and our strong ‘sense of self’ blinds us to what we already have.

    I am a nobody and you can take these remarks as meaningless but I just thought I would share my thoughts.

    Blessings to you always

    1. Martha, what a wonderful post…except for the last paragraph…you are definitely somebody. Your response touched me.

    2. Martha,

      That is exactly what I needed to read, especially today, my 7-year wedding anniversary!

      Hope you don’t mind if I borrow it?

  28. I agree with “L” and “Rae”. You won’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Ask your mom, how life changes through the years, once the kids are grown and out of the house. This comment from Rae bears repeating:

    Phil, and those darling babies, are the only readers in your plot-line worth spinning a tale for. And you’ve got the talent to do so.

    Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness

  29. I have been away from your blog for sometime…I get the impression your marriage is not going well??? It’s been awhile since I have kept up with your stories. I hope not :)

  30. All marriages have their ups and down and people shouldn’t lose themselves in their marriage as a result.

    BUT for women who have husbands that are a little controlling, difficult, needy or demanding, then, yes, a part of that woman does become lost in trying to keep those negative behaviors from their husbands at bay.

    I don’t think its fair to call SK ungrateful for what she has or selfish for writing this post. I thinks its completely normal for her to want an “us” and a “me” in her marriage. She just wants some of the “me” back without having to make so many concessions for the “us.”

    SK – I hope you find the balance you seek. I have been having the same thoughts, lately, as you have. I miss the old me and the freedom to do and be whatever I wanted. Some of that is gone due to being a mother and that is a loss of self I can accept. But the part that is gone due to a stubborn, difficult and recovering control-freak husband – well I can’t accept that anymore. Good luck!

  31. I love all of the topics that you love to discuss and analyze, but I am not sure that we can expect our partners to be the ones we analyze everything with. I have been reading the new Elizabeth Gilbert as well. My honest opinion is that Phil is not perfect but that he loves you and wants to work on things. Not many men would participate in the videos and couple counseling. Is is possible to get the intellectual stimulation you need from a discussion group of some kind? Also, you need a few days to yourself to re-charge. You may have trips away from the family but it can’t recharge you if it is work centered. I think that you never really are apart from your work as you do it from home. Please take care of yourself.

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  33. Wow. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking, too. I ignored myself for so long, with two girls under 3, a self employed husband, a full time job. Now, it’s about scraping ME off the floor and putting her back together. I like what you say about honoring our child. What would we want to be when we grow up? Why does it always change when we get it?

    Sometimes when I read your blog, it’s like when you read a horoscope and you think, “They wrote that just for me!” Thanks for your honesty.

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  35. I think you are too self absorbed for your marriage to a really good man and you have no idea how lucky you are. Count blessings not losses vs gains, otherwise Phil will find someone who will do the work with him, he is too great not to.

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