So. This amazing incredible thing happened.
My youngest daughter is in the process of applying for Universities. It’s competitive. It was competitive when I did it, a wee 34 years ago. Now the competition is stupidly stupid. Like stand on your head and rub your belly in concentric circles with your right hand while you braid your sister’s hair with the left simultaneously spelling obscure Latin words and phrases backwards, with feeling. That kinda stupid.
I may have added to my general list of mom jobs (life coach, decision coach, cleaner upper, errand runner, money maker, love giver —yep that’s the important one —confidante, and magic maker) a new title: professional RANT audience. Being the audience for the level of RANTING induced by stupidly stupid levels of academic competition for the tender youth of today goes something like this:
Her. “Oh my GAWD!!! You, are not going to believe, what, just, happened (insert small pause for effect) !!!!! I just got my English mark back, and I got an 89 percent on my project, which is completely ridiculous because I put soooo much work into it and all I want is to get a freaking 90, like all of the other smart people in my class so that my average goes up to an 87, so I know that I can at least get into one of the schools that I want but for some reason Ms. English Teacher begrudges me one teeny tiny percent. I mean like would it be SUCH, (heavy on the ch, so that it sounds like ‘sucha’) a big sacrifice to just allow me the dignity of that one small percent, that is so small for them, so small, like a mouse eating a crumb from crumb sized small but would make such a COLOSSALLY HUGE difference for me. I am just so tired of being the girl who gets 80’s! Hello! Now I am not going to have the average, and I can’t even tell if my mark from the last quiz has been updated onto the D2L yet, which means I could be completely off base and I mean completely, and I could actually have something devastating like an 85, which just shoot me in the head then, because I will never get into any of the schools that mean anything to me and I’m not even sure I am taking the right thing and I am probably going to end up owing a million dollars for nothing and I should just work in a bookstore and have a small quiet peaceful life and just live somewhere I like because at least I will have some happiness then but then what if I can’t even afford rent and it doesn’t matter what I do because I am doomed, and now I am supposed to go and study, but I am so freaking tired and stressed I just need to lie in bed and watch Gilmore Girls and accept my sad fate, after all Rory could not even get a job with her degree, Mom.”
Me. Listening attentively. Making eye contact. Providing enthusiastic murmurs during the occasional pause for a sharp intake of breath. Laughing consolingly. Exuding a general sentiment of “There there sweetie” with a superhero like intensity. And then providing some encouraging feedback as material for her immediate offence and dismay, in particular at my lack of appreciation of the acute hopelessness of every strategic avenue that she has obviously (duh!) dissected and re-dissected a thousand times before I part my lips to chime in. Me. “Well what if you talked to the teacher…” Her. “You can’t just talk to the teacher Mom. They don’t just give you preferential treatment and I don’t want to be THAT girl!”
Every other day. Sometimes three or four times. We got very proficient at it, our rant dialogue. One time I was even able to sneak in a little pro-coaching. Me. “Wow! You’re poor little inner child. She just gets kicked around doesn’t she?” My daughter looked at me with a quizzical one eyebrow raise, which was enough of an invitation to continue that I did. Me. “You better get perfect grades. Nothing you do is good enough. If you aren’t perfect your life will be garbage. If I was her I wouldn’t feel like studying either. I would want to watch six hours of Gilmore Girls and wash it down with a litre of Ben and Jerry’s.”
Well that was a good week. She started to study more. She got some “easy 90’s”. She perked up. I mean the rants didn’t stop but it helped.
And then one day the thing happened. While I was performing my auto-listen, auto-respond routine, full of rehearsed and well executed support, I heard a PING. It was quiet at first, but then it got louder. It was a MOM PING. One of those moments we are called on as a Mom or a Dad, or a loving parent of any variety, to dig deeper. She, my beautiful smart daughter, whose greatest gifts are not actually her intelligence or beauty, but that she is all kindness and compassion, was talking about when she thought she might apply to NYU, because that was her dream school, in her dream place, of her dream life, but obviously she couldn’t do it because 1001 loving and well intentioned folk pointed out to her 1001 ways it was not at all practical, and she would wind up with no job and catastrophic debt and no reason to get up in the morning and no way out, IF, on the off chance, she were to actually get herself admitted to a school with a 15 percent admittance rate, a 95,000 applicant load, and less preference going to international students.
But the waver in her voice. The subtle way it rose up an octave and then strangled itself. Friends, it reached right into my chest cavity and squeezed my mommy heart. It said this to me. Hey you know when I was a small girl and I was a force to be reckoned with and you never had to worry about me? Remember when I was this walking star, all confidence and stage presence and I was in every performance and no one could take their eyes off of me, and you wondered at the miracle that had mixed every creative genius of dad’s and yours into an explosive chemical reaction of talent, and then suddenly I turned 14, and some shit went down, and it all just went away? Well it’s in here still mom. I found it when I looked up NYU. I found it and I kind of want it back. Kind of really. In fact, my happiness may just depend on it.
What happens when you are seventeen, and your fork in the road as it has been presented to you looks like ruin and despair or the PRACTICAL crushing of your soul? Damn. What do you do with the voice that says “I am a fool to want what I want”?
Well, turns out folks that I have a bit of experience with that voice. I prostrated for a solid decade to the god of practicality. And it turned out that for me, it wasn’t at all practical. It made me ill. It made me despairing. Economically, I did not thrive. It did not create the security I sought after, in the hopes that one day, with security under my belt, I might go after something that had once lit me up, and meant something to me.
NOW DON’T GET ME WRONG. I am not advocating for the follow your bliss and the Universe will open all the doors, tra la la mode de operandi. Following your bliss also requires dealing with the shit that blocks your bliss. It’s not the winning lotto ticket.
And there are some risks that are a little too high. They put us into fear. They are harder on us than they are helpful. I’ve taken some of those in rebellion over the oppressive rule of practicality.
So how do you know?!!! And how do you know for your child, because we all know that it’s one thing to accidentally throw ourselves under the bus to pursue our dream of opening up an ethically farmed vegan hamster treat factory, but we don’t want to have a hand in doing it to our kids. Kids should be kept far away from buses, and possibly even hamsters.
So here is the answer that I arrived at. Here is what that PING had to say to me.
There is a CATASTROPHIC cost, to shutting down the part of you that hopes, wants, needs, believes and strives for joy.
To come out of the gate, not daring to look, consider, try, want, acknowledge your want, hope, or CARE about what matters to you, has a lifetime emotional and economic cost. Fear and sadness are not efficient or productive states. They don’t make for thriving employees. And we are our own employees, as much as we are our own children.
The stories that inspires us don’t come from throwing in the towel before you even get in the ring.
So, I said this to her. “Hey. What if we apply. What if we just see, sweetie? How do we know you won’t get a scholarship that will make it less stupidly expensive. Isn’t it worth it to see? I mean at the end of the day, we can still decide it’s too much to take on. Or, if we try and you don’t get it, then won’t we feel better having tried?” And …she lit up like a Christmas tree.
And I just knew, in that moment, that whether or not she attended NYU, whether we got in, found money, and jumped through the 3000 hoops that required jumping through to get there, we had forged a path in her 17 year old heart and mind back to that girl who knew how to be joyful.
We had taken off some heavy, hurtful limits. We had not judged her for wanting. We had allowed her to see something that maybe no one else could see.
And you know what? Sometimes that spark within us is a spark of divinity. And it does lead us to those “I can’t believe I did it” kind of moments. Cue Spike Lee’s acceptance speech at the Oscar’s last night and grandma who saved 45 years of social security cheques to pay for him to attend NYU!!!
Who will advocate for you, if you don’t!??
My secret self-momming recipe is this. Don’t make the “dream” the be all to end all. Don’t give it the power to decide your joy and your health and your economic success. But all the saying yes, and opening the door, and moving in the direction of joyful? Do that. Allow for that, however much you can manage to.
My daughter was offered a place at NYU last week, with a fifty percent tuition scholarship. And now I am madly scrambling around trying to find out how to top that up, and work it so that she can accept the offer, because NYU is essentially the price of small bungalow without a scholarship, and a condo with one. I truly hope we can do it. I mean who needs two kidneys these days, right!!??
But the good part of this whole thing? The first, innermost, good good part? Well, that’s already happened.
— Love, Erin.
P.S. Thank you so much for reading! I will do my best to reply to all of your replies personally, just be patient with me as it may take some time. You can find out more of what I have going on at my website.
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