Chloe is trying to figure out her next ten years.
I'm listening and offering guidance where it's appropriate and comfortable. I've pride myself on not being a helicopter mom or, when Chloe was dancing, one of those stage mothers who referred to their daughters in tandem. "We have rehearsals...." Had I been dancing and performing then 'we' would have been correct. Since my role was primarily to drive the car, pay the bills, pick up the tights at Center Stage and volunteer usher at performances, saying 'we' had rehearsals would have made me feel ridiculous. And the sound of Chloe's eyes rolling in teenage disdain would have left me deaf.
And let us not forget - I am the founder of the school commonly referred to around here as Parenting by Benign Neglect.
One thing my kids have always known is that I've got their back, but they have to let me know when they want me to step in. I don't need to know everything (speculating is more fun most of the time anyway) and if I make all their decisions, what will they gain? As painful and frustrating as it may be, making mistakes is a valuable part of the learning process.
So Chloe and I spent a few hours together in the car the other day and she discussed her future. Where she might go to grad school (!), summer school at Cambridge (!!!), career options, intern ideas, the general uncertainty of any job market and how to weigh your passions against your desired lifestyle in the context of the way the world works and the economy.
As we chatted, I had a tiny epiphany. I'm writing now. I wrote when I was a kid, a teen and a young adult. It never occurred to me to major in creative writing or English while in school. A career in writing never crossed my mind. Even though I loved to write, I would have felt ridiculous calling myself a writer.
I didn't seek out other writers or anyone who could have guided me in that regard. My parents thought I had two options - nurse or teacher. I rejected both to get a degree in French because I was good at languages and I liked pastry.
I had no idea what I'd do after I earned that degree. I had no plan or vision. I just knew I'd graduate from I.U. and get a job. My though process stopped right there.
I fell into association management because I liked the International College of Surgeons better than the insurance company that jerked me around during the interview process. Et voila! Career path chosen with no more consideration than I might have applied to choosing a pair of pants or which drink to go with my Happy Meal.
My career wasn't bad. My limited ambition allowed me to go from a secretarial job to being part of the leadership team of the AARP Illinois State Office. That was significant. I eventually ended up running small organizations. I had a fancy title: Executive Director, but was underpaid. I SUCK at negotiating my salary.
Twenty years later, I have nothing to show for it. No savings or retirement (I also SUCKED at negotiating benefits, opting to keep long-term staff instead of firing them so that I could make more money.) Now the skills I honed are more liability than asset. I'm told I'm overqualified for the jobs that are available.
So I was thinking, if it had occurred to me to write, would I have talked myself out of it by using the same unidealistic and unromantic arguments employed by my parents when they tried to convince me to just go study nursing and know that I'd have a secure job for the rest of my miserable life?
Because, I assure you, you would not want me as your nurse. The first time you moaned in pain, I'd click my tongue and sigh at you and tell you how I had three babies with not even the teenist tiniest amount of pain medication so stop your groaning already! You barf? I barf. Unless I'm related to you in which case I grab a bucket and insist in my most stringent and least patient hiss that you better not miss that bucket. Shots? Here's the hypodermic, do it yourself. I'd probably be just fine taking your blood pressure and weighing you, even commiserating with you when you've put on a pound or two, assisting by subtracting four pounds for your clothes because when it comes to weight issues, I feel your pain.
Just don't tell me you have a headache. I'll diagnose you with a brain tumor before you've had a chance to describe the other symptoms that clearly point to a sinus infection.
Oh, and whatever you do, don't tell me about the color of your snots. I once had an AARP volunteer blow her nose into a hanky and then proceed to show it to me. "Would you look at that?" she growled. She was a growly type. Jowly, too.
For some still unexplained reason, I did. I looked. I gagged. I still have nightmares about it. Not even the photos of WWI wounded soldiers that I looked at last night have banished that yellow green gelatinous vision from my mind.
Wait. I think I'm a writer?
But really - what if? What if? What if?
It's the question with which we can make ourselves slowly and yet profoundly mad.
I'd like to think that I wouldn't have talked myself out of writing. Oh sure, I might have said, "You'll always be broke." or "Money will always be a struggle." or "What if you never get published?" or "What if you don't have any talent?" or "What if you turn 45 and you've done all this work and you find that you have nothing to show for it?"
And so, I could have done what I might have been good at, what would have undoubtedly given me a different set of life experiences, what might have even proven to be a wise career choice because it turned out that I was successful in it.
It's something we'll never know, but after I thought all this, I thought I should share it with Chloe. "Just think things through, weigh your priorities, consider your passions. Think about how if you want to do something that isn't going to pay a lot, how you can set your life up now so you won't be saddled with debt, try to think like an entrepreneur because depending on others for a job is sketchy. But don't talk yourself out of anything or into anything based on fear. Fear is the worst possible reason to do or not do anything."
Movie script trite, I know. But it doesn't make the idea any less true or valuable.
I read this post and the referenced essay by Laura Maylene Walter and thought "So there's the other side of this issue." Because as she describes, Laura had success at a young age and has spent the following years building on that. The trouble is, early success is no guarantee for future success either.
So how do I advise my child in any meaningful way? I mean, if she's asking for advice because heaven forbid I offer any unsolicited words of wisdom.
Well, it just so happens that I turn into my mother-in-law. She died in 1992 before the internet became a household item, but I like to think of her having evolved her old habit of keeping stacks and stacks of newspapers from which she would tear relevant articles. Each of her children had their pile of articles that she'd selected especially for them. When we visited her, she'd get hand MathMan's pile to him and say something like,"Here, Douglas. I'm sure you'll find something useful in this."
Had she lived longer, I can imagine her forwarding emails of articles from education websites or Huffington Post, librarian news, The Rumpus or The Chicago Tribune.
Yesterday I sent Chloe links of two very different job types. I know she's not ready to look for a job. Graduation is two years away and she's threatening to not come back from Cambridge at the end of the summer (shades of her mother's 1987 call from Dijon to announce she was staying in France?) But I thought it was important for Chloe to see the broad spectrum of jobs for people with her interests and skills. To know that there are jobs available for writers with Think Progress. And producers for Democracy TV with Amy Goodman. Both seem like very cool jobs to me.
I hesitated before sending the links. Did this cross into helicopter mom territory? Would I one day say "Oh, Chloe is going to be reporting on the Republican nomination for Think Progress. We're going to be at the Republican Convention on Saturday...."
Instead, I wrote a quick note. "Just wanted you to see what kinds of things are out there. Look at this Democracy TV news producer job. You could be like Mary Tyler Moore! Love, Mom."
Same as it ever was.... same as it ever was.....
How did you decide what you'd be when you grew up? Did you decide? Did you grow up? Heh. me neither.