I entered an original essay for consideration as part of the local Listen To Your Mother show. While it made the initial cut, and I was asked to audition, the piece was not selected for the live show.
Poop. Sad face.
The good news: I can try again next year. And so I shall.
Here it is, for your reading enjoyment.
Although the route we take to school remains the same, the fifteen minute drive can look wildly different from one day to the next. There’s no telling whether the car will be filled with screaming, laughing, crying, singing, or dead silence. The equation for determining that outcome involves a complex mix of variables including, but not limited to, lack of clothing or hair accessory options, uncooperative hair altogether, an overnight skin eruption, 84 pairs of unmatched socks, a forgotten homework assignment, the fact that someone had the audacity to eat the last two granola bars leaving only the empty box for the next person.
Such is life with four kids. All girls.
Emily, my fourteen year-old, first born, overachiever, bears the full weight and responsibility of her permanent place in the pole position, with three impressionable pairs of eyes fixed upon her. To her credit, she does a good job of being a positive role model for them. Until she doesn’t.
I don’t blame her, though. It’s damned hard to be a teenager in this world. The lofty expectations. The rigorous school work and testing. The immense social pressure, and moral bombardment. It amazes me that they emerge from these years with direction and a healthy sense of self, much less alive at all.
After dropping off her younger sisters at the elementary school the other morning, Emily says to me, “Mrs. Ritter says you need to have a solid plan in high school if you want to get into college.”
“Hmmmmm.” I contemplated that for a bit, perhaps a bit too long for her liking.
She rubbernecked, her wide brown eyes boring into the side of my face. “What does that mean?”
“Just thinking about it,” I explained, sensing her frustration.
Truth is, at 43 I am, in a way, still picking a major. I started my life with what I thought was a good, solid plan, but I’m so far off that plan I don’t even know who that person was. After all I’ve experienced and with what I know now, I am not sure anymore what the right answer is. It’s the sum total of these thoughts and experiences I am desperately trying to summarize in a concise and cogent way for her.
She presses me for an answer. “Well, don’t you agree?”
“I don’t know, Emily,” I said, which of course only signaled to her that it was time to lay out the factual basis for that statement. It was time for her to prove its truth.
She took a deep breath, and then let out a thread of words that started with, “Mrs. Ritter said that her daughter took enough AP classes and college credit classes that she entered college as a sophomore. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I mean, I know I have to go seven years if I want to go to vet school but if I was able to get some of those classes out of the way…..”
Her words faded out as the wheels in my head turned, a solid opinion on the matter beginning to formulate with every revolution, under the pressure of what was only a fifteen minute drive between the two schools. I am positive there was more back and forth between us, more debating the merits of AP classes, college credit classes, keeping a high GPA, scholarships versus the cost of college. But I didn’t really hear anything else she said.
I wasn’t listening to her, and I am pretty sure she wasn’t listening to me.
Before the car door closed on this conversation, though, I was able to spit out these words of advice:
“Stay in your lane. Focus on yourself,” in response to what classes her friend so-and-so is taking Freshman year.
“Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Talk to a counselor,” as general advice about making life-sized decisions.
“The only thing you can control is how hard you work,” in response to whether or not the college of her choice would accept her.
Fast forward a couple hours and I am sitting in the warmth of a local coffee shop, chatting with Julie, my accountability partner, about our progress in reaching our writing goals. It very closely resembles a business meeting, sprinkled with bits of our private lives, war stories shared between good friends, words of wisdom and encouragement. We weave through the usual topics, the mention of word counts, queries, and freelance projects.
We rarely talk specifically about what we are writing, or share the details of our stories. It isn’t about plot, character development, genre. That isn’t the point of the meeting. Our focus is always on results, day after day, week after week. It is about accomplishing our goals and, of course, holding each other accountable. Where are we going? And are we moving in that direction?
Today our conversation stalls around an article that suggests a writer must query an average of 84 agents before they can expect to sign with one. And despite the fact that we’re both well-educated, professional, smart women, and we’ve heard this kind of crazy nonsense before, this very broad generalization sparks a number of emotions in the both of us – panic, discouragement, exasperation, to name a few.
We begin to admonish each other with all very true, very valuable things to remember about creative pursuits, but writing specifically. Things like how you have to have thick skin, how you have to get used to hearing “no,” that persistence is a key ingredient in a writer’s success, and how important it is to actually enjoy writing, to be passionate about it.
Then, right out of my mouth pops, “The only thing you can control is how hard you work.”
There it was, like one of those conversation bubbles escaping my lips.
I laugh out loud at myself, then brief Julie on my earlier conversation with Emily.
“Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we actually listened to ourselves, and took the great advice we were always giving out?” Julie said, sharing my amusement.
“Yes. Yes it would.”