Photo: Me during the ambitious days. And also the bad hair days.
I hope that you had a wonderful weekend–a long one if you are here in the States, a regular one if you hail from other places in the world. I spent the weekend entertaining my idiot in-laws, going to Maine, and then continuing to pack my apartment for our August move.
When we decided that we were going to make this hop, I decided that we were going to make a major purge. We have a lot of junk, and a lot of it has been in boxes that we never really unpacked. It was time to go through and do an assessment. Two major elements of said purge would be old books that we’d read but didn’t necessarily want anymore (we both have Kindles now and have no use for paper books–but as learned individuals, we have appreciation for having books present in our home) and the purging of any and all old papers from undergraduate and graduate school. The Husband keeps most of his notes and things in his office at work, but a lot of my stuff was still in boxes/folders/binders that had been stored in closets. It was time to get rid of them.
What an ordeal. So many memories, so many great classes. Such a huge reminder that we just kill trees for no reason, especially in graduate school. I must have cleaned out 10 very large, very thick binders full of paper. Most of them highlighted and noted to the point of madness. What were we all thinking? I purged it all–even some of the cooler articles from the history classes that I took. The curriculum stuff. The stuff from that rockstar professor who had so much to teach about Brown v. Board and segregation/integration. All of the stuff from the psychology classes and poverty classes and urban schooling classes were full of too-old data at this point.
It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever done.
Best because there is just a ton of crap out of this apartment that I don’t have to pack, don’t have to move to yet another location, don’t have to find a home for.
Worst because it all came flooding back–the ambition, the memories, the passion. We found still-sealed recommendations from my old undergraduate professors. I cried when I read them. They had so much faith in me–put so much time and energy into me. Many of them wrote in excitement of welcoming me home after Harvard, to train to join them in the academy. “[Kay] is Ph.D. potential. We’re looking forward to watching her progress in her career.” “Her steady ambition and maturity suit her well for the rigors and challenges of a post-graduate degree. We look forward to mentoring her through that time, even if she chooses another institution.” I found my old GRE scores, the acceptance letters to all of the universities I’ve attended. I found old letters from former students during my student-teaching and subsequent teaching.
I found my old life. I found my faster life, my dreaming life, the life of a woman who worked hard, dreamed harder, and captivated people along the way.
I spent a long time Saturday wondering where I lost my way. My children were screaming at my ankles, asking for this and that. My apartment was becoming more disassembled as the Husband put things in boxes. My frustrations grew as I wondered “what the hell am I doing?” My frown deepened as I saw pictures on Facebook where old classmates took pictures in front of the White House on the Fourth of July, and others were at weddings on the other side of the world. I considered, for a moment, what I would do if I could go back to 2001, when I was starting my senior year of high school, a few months before I started dating my husband. Could I be a free woman right now, had I never met him? Could I be studying for the LSAT or preparing a dissertation for a Ph.D.? Could I be a congressional aid, or possibly launching a political campaign in Maryland? Could I be preparing to take up a class at my alma mater, or maybe preparing an AP history course at my high school? Or could I be on foreign soil, doing something all together different?
It was Ursa Minor who stopped me from falling apart as I was burning my potatoes and shedding a tear. He walked up to me and tugged on my sundress, asking for up.
“I can’t pick you up right now, baby, I’m cooking dinner. I love you very much.”
“Ai wub boo,” He repeated.
I love you. My little 15 month old told me he loved me.
It was at that moment that I remembered. That under all of that ambition, the long nights of studying, the many activities and extracurricular stuff, the triumphs of impressing the hell out of someone in an interview, the moment screaming in my dorm hallway (during quiet hours–and I was an RA and should have been enforcing them) “I GOT INTO HARVARD” and running to my boss’s office like a mad woman, the moment of accepting the job at my charter school, the times when I railed against the hyper-intense promotion ladder of that school (that I climbed), and all of the handshakes, presentations, conferences and other moments in between… they all were for this moment. The moment when my son could look at me, lovingly, and tell me he loves me.
My mother was and is a very ambitious woman. When I was growing up, my mother was a producer for a prominent television station in the Washington D.C. market, she was good at her job, she was passionate about her work, and she climbed the ladder of her workplace. Her stories are incredible, and her love of her job is clear. My father couldn’t really handle how successful my mother was, and that is part of the reason why their marriage failed. She did most of the raising of me and my little sister by herself. She worked because she had to, but I also know that she worked because she loved it. If Father made a million dollars a year, I know that my mother would still do what she does. Because she loves it and she’s good at it. Her passion made her miss moments, some of them important, others not so much…but I know that my mother came home late most nights. I know that when there was breaking news, her world turned to work. The phone was ringing, the TVs were on, or she was at work. Her hard work meant that we everything we needed and a lot of the things that we wanted. I can never complain about all that she did for us.
But when I left home for college and started my own career, I knew that I wanted something different for my children. I learned through my day-to-day that not having an adult home after school and not having the stability of two loving adults at home could be detrimental. I found my fair share of distractions and barely avoided statistical disaster. As I studied more about urban poverty, the achievement gap, the challenges of children of color (and children in rural communities), when I learned about generational education achievement and the many, many factors that contribute to the successes and failures of people, the answer to me became even more glaringly obvious. I wanted to make sure that my life trajectory included a loving and stable home and a career that allowed me to concentrate on my children during their critical developmental years. Through all of the studying (on different campuses) and hard work that I was doing to build myself up, I never lost sight of my love for my then boyfriend, now husband. Instead of discarding him during difficult moments, we sought shelter in our stability. We made decisions together, we dreamed together, and held fast to each other even as we grew into the adults that we’ve become. We decided to grow toward each other, rather than apart. (I totally and fully attribute the survival and strengthening of our relationship to our being on separate college campuses. Two sets of friends, two separate lives, yet close enough to see each other on the weekends. PERFECT.)
So when I watched people at my old charter school fall all over themselves to impress indifferent and foolish bosses, who were more interested in asskissing than they were leadership, I knew that school leadership in that capacity wasn’t right for me. I decided that I wasn’t going to compromise my character for my job, nor was I going to compromise the stability of my relationship and home for it. When I received my second rejection letter from the Ph.D. program that I wanted to get into, I knew that, at least for a time, more education wasn’t going to work either. I can’t afford it, anyway.
I did all of the right things for the true ambition of my life. My ambition was love and family all along. I understand that my true ambition meant that I had to let go of other dreams–like that Ph.D. I’ll probably never get it at this point. That is a hard, hard thing to let go of. Especially when good friends are being accepted into programs (Doctoral programs, law school, medical school, or second master’s programs), and while I get mail that is often addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. [Husband’s name here.” I hate that with a passion. My goal had always been for us to be “Dr. and Dr. [last name].” It’s totally a vanity thing, I know, but that doctorate would have been the ultimate realization of a dream.
It has been very frustrating to be on the fast-track for a long time, only to come to a screeching halt two years ago, of my own choices. Ursa Major came, with all of his wants and needs…and Ursa Minor came not too long after. They have a lot of wants and needs, and my whole entire world is wrapped around those things. As I’ve written before, my entire identity is not wrapped up in them…I still have ambitions, but I have to reinvent what “success” and “ambition” and my own career trajectory looks like. I have to rebuild after a decade of steady and rapid upward mobility. While this brings out my natural optimistic nature, it is also incredibly overwhelming. There is a fail rate that I’m not sure I’m prepared for. I also have to realize that I may never again be on the fast track. I may very well have given up any and all hope of realizing whatever was at the top of the mountain that I had been so quickly climbing. I may never meet my full career potential (or acquire my full earning potential). My husband and I may never get that crazy huge house or that Cadillac ATS that I so covet (he’d rather have a Corvette…..men…). I’ll probably never step foot in the White House nor speak from the Senate floor. I will not do a lot of the things that I dreamed of doing and was capable of doing. It’s fine to give up dreams, but it is hard to sit on this couch right now and have no idea what’s on the horizon. The plateau sucks. Stagnation flippin’ sucks.
I’m writing this blog, and I love it (inspired by a friend who probably didn’t want to hear me complain anymore). I’m trying to write fiction and I love it (but I suck. And I’m going to suck for a while. But I get better every day). I’m raising these children and I love it. I’m moving to my ideal community, though I have no house there (and no prospect of one either), yet. Somehow, I know that I’m right where I am supposed to be. I willfully made every single decision that has brought me to this moment. And I still feel good about every single one of those decisions.
Because my youngest son told me he loved me on Saturday.
and because my eldest son is going to preschool in September. And he’s “read ready” at two and a half.
and because I’m never lonely. There are three men who count on me every day, and they love me unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past, or what I may or may not do in the future.
and because I keep captivating people, and people still believe in me. I haven’t even turned 30. I still have so much more to contribute. The coolest part is that my potential contribution will pale in comparison to what my sons will do. They are my solutions to all of the world’s problems, and they have infinite potential.
Thanks to every decision I made, they enjoy this stable household, where they are loved and cared for all day every day.
I’m no Oprah, but if I had a moral to this story, it would be to never regret. The plateau is important. It’s not stagnation–it’s a reprieve. It’s not always as temporary as you want it to be, but it’s important nonetheless. It allows you a moment to stop, think, remember, regroup and then prepare to climb again. You can’t always choose when to start climbing again, but you can prepare yourself in the meantime. Get stronger, get bigger, get healthier, get smarter. Because when the steep climb starts again, you don’t want to have to stop until you absolutely have to. I wasn’t grateful for the reprieve yesterday, and there may be times in the future when I am frustrated again, but in this moment, I’m grateful.