A virtual conversation with someone I consider a strong and independent woman – and friend – spurred a thought today. As it often does (and just as often DOES NOT), that thought spurred more, and I was reminded of the other day in class when my kids read a story about a young woman who realizes that being grown up can be dangerous and sad and heartbreaking all at the same time. She wanted freedom and some fun and what she found was responsibility and pressure from everyone around her. I asked them to free write after this and to tell me what it meant to be grown up.
Many of them said things such as “having your own house,” or “supporting yourself.” While I agreed, there was one thing I would have added: Growing up means sometimes forgetting how exciting life can be.
When we are young, we think of nothing but possibilities; we look to the future with wide eyes and think about being the next Michael Jordan or Beyonce. We view our license as the key to adulthood and summertime as endless days of freedom. Spending money goes toward gas or cheap shoes, a fancy dress to impress the boy next door or a dinner date for that special girl. If we are lucky, our childhood was one of dreams and possibilities, of declarations of love and broken hearts. It’s when we become the grown up that these possibilities seem to slip from our minds, overrun by the day-to-day responsibilities that we stack up.
Rather than an endless day of freedom, we view summer as an expensive three months that require a babysitter, an air-conditioning bill, spending money we don’t have to spare, and a family vacation that will most likely end badly because all of our family under one roof is never something that should happen. We can’t see the possibilities of the everyday because we are so buried underneath the ordinary, the necessary, the required.
A few months ago, I was surviving parent-teacher conferences when one mom came in still wearing her scrubs. She kind of wandered around at first I wondered if she even knew her kid’s schedule. When she sat down at my table, it became clear that she didn’t because she had to ask me to help point her to her son’s teachers. Lucky her, when she said his name, I could help because I did have him. I’ll admit it, I smiled at her but I was less than impressed with a mama who couldn’t tell me who her son’s teachers were… until we started talking and I realized that she was a nurse who worked the night shift – which meant she slept most of the day, went to work as her son was getting home from school and arrived home MAYBE in time to send him off to school again. Why, one might ask? Because it’s her job, and because she’s a single mama making sure her son has not only food and clothes, but someone to look up to and understand that paying your bills isn’t exciting, but it can be rewarding.
We got to talking about her son’s progress in class, and I was all too happy to be able to tell her that he’s truly intelligent. Not just a good student, but a person who looks beyond what’s in front of him and sees the possibilities being presented. When I thanked her for creating such a lovely young man, she teared up and said she was just happy that he was happy. I’ll admit it, my eyes began to water after that as well.
I don’t know if it was that, or the moment where I spoke with another woman today who was working toward something amazing and difficult while still being a light for her children, but I think I’ve finally realized what being a grown up really means: enjoying the simple things. Damn you, Julie Andrews, you’re always right. Raindrops on roses and all that jazz.
Anyway… My point. It’s here, I promise.
We can’t help by be buried under the everyday, we can’t help but struggle through our responsibilities and make sure that we work enough to pay our bills and make our mortgage payment for the month, and we can’t help that sometimes our dreams go to the wayside because our children and our family need us. But we can take an hour when we should be asleep and go to a conference and check on our children; we can cry as we hear from someone else that they really are as wonderful as we think, and then we can realize that they’re growing up into a good person, and we had a hand in it. Who they are, who they’re going to be—it’s up to them, but what we’ve given them, what we’ve said and tried to show them also plays a part.
Olivia’s new word is “unacceptable.” It’s hilarious and frightening how well she uses it and how often.
“I need help.”
“Try it by yourself first.”
It makes me want to tear my hair out at the same time that it makes me want to laugh. She’s a mini-me, spicy and sassy and then sweet and timid and though there’s a point everyday where I wonder if I can actually make it to bedtime without cracking, there are twice as many moments where I look at her and stare, awed and amazed and WOWED that she’s mine. It’s these moments which inspire me to hope I can do for her what my own parents did for me, and what I saw this mother do that day all those months ago: believe in her and love her and show her that although life isn’t always easy or fair, it’s worth it because she’s here.
Yes, I want to pay her tuition, yes, I want her to pass math and learn a second language, but more importantly, I want her to be happy, deep down in her bones happy, so that when her dreams seem unattainable, she remembers that she has a family who dreams for her, too, and she takes courage and strength from that.