April 25, 2014

Dear Mom,

Thinking about you this morning. Remember when I lived with you for those three months and we just lazed around all day, drinking coffee in the morning, laying in bed together with our computers on our laps? You were still kind of managing the Edgar Road library from afar, but I was off completely from work, having dropped my last lesson plans off before I took the long drive with Maggie from Austin back to Webster Groves.

It’s kind of the same for me, now. You know I haven’t been working since January; so I guess it’s been about the same amount of time. I’m not even antsy yet. I can picture myself never going back to work. Actually, I was telling Peachy this yesterday, and she said it’s normal – that I just can’t see very far into the future right now. I can get about as far as Alex and I moving out of the apartment we’re sharing with Joe and Andrew (her roommates) and into our own place in July, but after that…

Is this how you felt when you were slowly deciding to go back to work, or go back to get your Master’s? How long were you a stay-at-home mom doing odd secretarial work before you started volunteering as the Parent Liaison at Dewey, or volunteering at the Kirkwood Library? Do you think it’s going to take me until I’m in my 40s to figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life?

Honestly, right now, I can’t see myself in the classroom again. I mean, I tell myself that that’s the plan, that if Mendez wants me as a Social Studies teacher I’ll take the job, that if they transfer me somewhere else I’ll look for Social Studies jobs elsewhere. Heck, I’m taking the Social Studies certification exam next week – understandably I’ve interrupted my studying – so I guess that’s what’s going to happen. I’m just having a really hard time finding motivation and passion and a calling again. (Don’t worry, Mom – it’s not necessarily because of you, so don’t worry – you know I’ve been unhappy since January. And if anything, you’ve actually helped me refocus on the whole “figuring out my life” thing because I don’t want to waste another second.) When I left Pittsburgh for Austin and took this teaching fellowship, I felt so… sure. Sure that I was doing what I was meant to be doing and sure that I would be changing the world and making an impact. I’ve really been beaten down. I don’t want to blame it on my school or my kids or politics or anything. I don’t know if I can blame it on anything.

This is really lame, but I’ve been wanting to tell you this because I know you’d appreciate it – when I was in the Valley with Alex and her family for Easter, we were watching Oprah’s new channel (did you guys ever get that on your stolen cable? did you know that they finally cut us off?!? how rude…) and she was interviewing Sue Monk Kidd – I guess she’s coming out with a new book! I’m going to put it in my book diary. I need to find yours too. – and she was talking about how she decided to be an author. She had never written anything before she wrote The Secret Life of Bees – it was her first piece of writing ever. She went on this vacation with some friends (to Greece, I think) and there is this local legend about a big, old, tree – that if you come up to it and whisper your heart’s deepest wish, it’ll come true. Well, she said that, out of nowhere, she heard herself saying that she wanted to be a novelist. The rest is history.

So, I’m watching this, and asking myself, “What is my heart’s deepest wish?” because I thought it was to be a teacher. (I’m still not ready to give up or walk away. I know that this past year has been, objectively, a personally very difficult one, and I’m sure that’s had a big influence on all of my negative thoughts about teaching, but…) I just found myself thinking about horses.

Remember when we went to go see Hidalgo in theaters? We cried so hard at the end – when all of the wild mustangs were just running and running and running. It was so beautiful. That image came into my head.

I tell everyone this story, but sometimes I think I just invented it, as sometimes happens when you remember something differently from how it really happened. I must have been around 15 or 16 – I think that was when Alyssa and I slowly stopped going to horseback riding lessons every Sunday – and Julie, my teacher, was telling us that if we really wanted to keep improving, we had to invest a lot more time and money and energy into it. There would be a certain point where group lessons wouldn’t be good enough; we’d need private lessons. Using Kraus Farms’ old saddles wouldn’t be good enough; we’d need all of our own tack. And, eventually, bouncing around from horse to horse wouldn’t be good enough either; we’d need our own mounts. You and Dad told me that, no matter what, you’d support me if I wanted to make competitive riding my dream – you’d support me financially, you’d even get me a horse if that’s really what I wanted. But I wasn’t ready to commit – I was doing voice lessons and flute lessons and writing class, and probably a million other things, too. And even though I ultimately chose to stop riding and keep dabbling in everything else, I never forgot how simple your decision was – if Robin wants to do it, we support her. Unequivocally.

Even now, when I wonder, “What would Mom say if…?” What would Mom say if I told her that Alex and I were moving in together after only six months? What would Mom say if I told her I wasn’t sure about teaching anymore? What would Mom say if I told her I wanted to ride horses again? What would Mom say if I told her I was suddenly thinking about having my own family? What would Mom say if I told her I was thinking about going back to grad school?

You would ask me why. You would ask me if I had enough money – and if I said, I’m not sure, you’d probably tell me that you and Dad couldn’t help me out too much, but you’d be there if I needed you. But, really, you’d just ask me if it would make me happy. And if I said, yes, Mom, it will make me happy – there wouldn’t be a question of whether or not it was okay with you. Because I know that’s all you really hope for me – not to be “successful,” but to be happy.

I know you’re probably worrying right now that I’m unhappy and missing you. And feeling bad, or like it’s your fault. (The reason I know this is because I’ve inherited your anxious and guilty genes…) I was trying to explain to Alex the other day that it’s like my happiness and my unhappiness are like weights on a scale right now, or maybe layers on a cake. Well, you can never be completely happy, so there was always a little layer of unhappiness beneath the happiness – but it rarely poked through, because you and Daddy made sure that the happy was always heavier. Well, now, the unhappy is just more visible, heavier – but the happiness didn’t get weaker or thinner or made invisible. It’s never going to be the same, but nothing can take away all of the happiness I have in my life – because of you – even though I’m crying as I write this letter to you – I’m looking at Alex’s little puppy snoring on the sofa, and it’s a beautiful sunny day, and it’s Friday night, and I get to go home and see Daddy and watch Miranda get married and visit Catherine and Cassy for their wedding shower soon… So, you see – I’m happy, Mom.

Should probably get up and get some stuff done today. Still more to unpack and organize – Alex and I are meshing stuff, I’ll tell you more about the big move later – and I’m going to start applying for some summer work to ease my way back into the world. Wish me luck and focus! I’ll drink an extra cup of coffee for you.




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