Thursday, November 19, 2009

Time Is Not On My Side

I try to walk around Fresh Pond, the reservoir in West Cambridge, a couple of times a week for my weight, sanity, and heart. Sometimes I go with one of my dogs – the sane one, other times I go with my ipod. On Monday, I got there a half hour earlier than usual. My daughter needed a ride to school and my husband who usually takes her was laid up on the couch after moving it the day before to make our TV room more spacious and inviting, which it is.

When I arrived, the pond was different. A half hour changes things. The dog walkers weren’t out in full force yet. There weren’t many dogs for mine to play with, which was fine, because she was about to go into heat which I sort of forgot until one of the few dogs there, a German Shepherd, sniffed her so much, she put her tail between her legs and sat down. There was a different crowd – more runners and joggers, most of whom I’d never seen before. Maybe because I don’t run or jog.

As we, doggie and I, rounded the last bend to come home, I passed a small, gray-haired man probably in his late 60s - slowly jogging. He waved his hand in the air and said, “This is true wealth.”

I was the only other person near him, so I nodded politely and said, “yeah, it is.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I wondered if he said that to everyone he passed. Was this his mantra for the day? Was this his regular routine?

As I walked past him shaking my head at my dog, I realized he was telling me to take in the woods, the pond, the sky, the sun. And I thought, I can blog about this.

I slowed down for a few minutes. I looked at the pond and the leaves still on the trees. I didn’t get too meditative, but I did realize that my walk up until then was a walk with purpose. I had to get it done, fit it in my day somehow, then move on to the next thing – papers waiting to be corrected, the mortgage bill waiting to be paid, and the long overdue birthday present for my niece, not to mention the overdue library book I needed to return for my daughter. The whole time I was walking, I was thinking about my to-do list.

That odd little man made me stop and contemplate his idea of true wealth for a few minutes. It didn’t last long. I called my dog, strode up the hill to my car and went home where I sat on my lumpy sofa (a different sofa from the one my husband moved) and wished for real wealth that would replace this piece of crap my mother and I pulled from my uncle’s front yard before it went to the dump and re-covered thinking we were so clever.

Green wealth, not the environmental Green, but the green of cash, would come in handy when I balance the checkbook to pay the mortgage or the college application fees, or the bill for my new red cowboy boots. But I can’t shake the image of the little man from my head. Does he know something I don’t? Does he have a simpler, easier life than me? Are his tuition bills paid? Is he independently wealthy?

I’d like to be at one with nature, be at peace with having less, but what’s really missing from my life is time, time to appreciate the wealth he’s talking about. I wish I could walk around Fresh Pond without rushing, without scheduling it into my day, without feeling guilty when I don’t do it – which is more often than I care to admit. But I’m over-committed – I quilt, I volunteer at my daughters’ schools, I’m breeding my dog, I teach, I try to write, and I’m a wife and mother.

Time is my most precious currency. Just that extra half hour earlier in the day changed what I accomplished and what happened to me. I actually got my niece’s birthday present and paid my bills, and met the odd man, but there’s always more to do, like that library book still sitting on my kitchen counter, and never enough time to just be, to just sit, to watch my dogs leap, snarl and run in circles in the gold and brown leaves covering our yard.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My...I Mean...My daughter's College Search


My daughter is applying to college and I swore I would remain calm. I would be the sane parent. I teach creative nonfiction in college. I’ve been around college students for twenty years. I hear the nightmare stories they tell me of their parents and how they hovered, how they dictated, how they took control. I am their safe haven in a storm. I don’t want to be the crazy mom worrying incessantly about where my daughter is going to go.

I don’t really care where she goes. I just want her to be happy and find the right fit for her. I don’t care if she ends up at my alma mater (where I met her dad), I don’t care if she goes to any of the schools where her relatives went. But I do get frustrated when I want to plan a trip, when I think she should be working on her essay, when I know time is shrinking before she has no free time left and she looks at me with contempt and says, “I don’t like being told what to do”.

I know she doesn’t do it to spite me, but she doesn’t write her essay, she doesn’t plan the trip to California, which is now too expensive to go on, she doesn’t clean her room. And I suddenly become the crazy mom.

From an intellectual perspective, I think the college search is interesting – what fits one student, doesn’t fit another. I find it fascinating to see what schools students are drawn to. I’m intrigued watching my daughter decide she wants a campus school, then no, she wants an urban setting. She wants a small school, but no she wants a bigger school. We thought she would love McGill. Wrong.

I know my daughter is scared, excited, and anxious. She’s not one to share her feelings, so I am left to interpret her behavior. I also know she has so much to look forward to and I think that’s one reason why parents get too involved in the college search - we want our children to maximize the opportunities ahead, so it’s hard not to become overly invested in where they’re going to spend the next four years. At the same time, parents have to let go which we aren’t always good at doing. Our kids have exciting futures ahead while we are looking at…what? Our empty nests? So it’s vicarious excitement. But this isn’t about our lives. It’s the kids’ lives. We need, I need, to learn to guide, not push. Ask, not tell.

I need to learn to be in the backseat and keep my big mouth shut. Easier said than done. I like to talk. I like to hear myself spout my opinions. And I actually do know my daughter and what she might like. I’ve lived with her for almost 18 years. But I have to let her figure it out for herself, as frustrating as that is for me. It’s not about me. She needs to drive.