I’m the single mother of a terrific daughter who will be starting her junior year of high school in September. As the summer takes off and I look back on the past year, I recall a demanding, frustrating and enlightening agenda of late night study sessions, accelerated classes, soul-searching, worry about the future and career planning…
But that was just my school year.
Over a year ago, I found myself out of a job, out of my home and worried. OK, I’ll level with you. I was scared stiff. Every empty job search led me to the same conclusion: I was in trouble. I had talent but my skills were outdated and, if we had any hope of survival, I needed to upgrade them – fast. I was in no condition, financially, to go back to school for another degree, but I also wasn’t going to find work if I didn’t take some kind of action. So when the unemployment office offered to work with me for a year if I went back to college for a certificate in digital design, I found myself facing a huge decision. Could I live on unemployment and what was left of my savings for a year? Should I do it? How could I ask my daughter to make significant sacrifices based on the hope that this might put us in a better position later? I can’t remember how long it took to make the decision, but I know what pushed me over the edge. My daughter, an incredible person, stated very simply, “Mom, you’ve spent years taking care of me. I’m old enough now. It’s your turn. Do this for yourself because, in the long run, it’s going to be what’s best for both of us.” I, the luckiest mother in the world, pictured the directions flight attendants give on any airplane… “In the unlikely event that the cabin loses pressure, place the oxygen mask over your own face first, so that you may then do the same for your child.” I took a deep breath and a leap of faith, with my daughter’s blessing.
Neither of us knew, of course, just how much we’d actually have to concede to during that year. Money was scarce, and so was our free time. Once hyper-affectionate, passionate and conversational, our interactions were reduced to exhausted pecks on the cheek and checklists of the next day’s schedule. My stress level reached mammoth proportions as the worry about my daughter and day-to-day survival threatened my concentration in every classroom – classrooms which were overrun by students half my age, by the way – who were clearly at an advantage, apparently having grown up with digital devices and computers strapped to their cribs and high chairs as babies. Because I had to eat, sleep and breathe school, I didn’t have much else to talk about, leaving my poor daughter to face a kind of unintentional “detachment” on my part. Fun-loving, spontaneous mom had been replaced with a cyborg whose mind was always occupied, processing, applying… worrying. I had ceased to be “mom.” I kept reassuring her that it was all temporary, but that didn’t seem to reassure me. Feeling terribly guilty, I began to question my decision at every turn.
Flash forward to the present, and I can tell you that I not only learned the material, I also graduated with straight A’s, received my department’s highest award of honor, and even landed a job – ok not a well paying job – but a job with tremendous learning opportunities. But that’s still not the best part. The best part is how a crazy, unexpected year and an uncertain future ended up strengthening my relationship with my daughter, after all.
Recently, on a trip to the beach, she mentioned how “cool” it is that we are both shaping our futures at the same time. The same remarkable kid who supported my re-invention and puts up with all of its associated inconveniences is still, somehow, managing to see the bright side of things. It seems that, through my recent experience, I’ve taught her the significance of being passionate about what you do, the power of persistence, the importance of working through insecurities and fears, and how rewarding it is to be true to who you really are. She’s proud of me, and I’m so much the better for it. Meanwhile, my daughter has taught me, through her patience and support, about faith in the face of adversity, to find joy in the simplest of things, that laughter (usually prompted by her quirky sense of humor) is one of life’s greatest gifts, and that love and acceptance can inspire real and significant change. We’re blazing new trails together, finding inspiration and learning from each other along the way.
I don’t know where my daughter and I will end up at the end point of each of our lives. What I do know is that life is said to be a journey. If that’s true, then the best we can all do is act as any experienced traveler would – plan a list of places you want to visit; bring along the supplies you’ll need to feel comfortable along the way; and be prepared to be flexible as you encounter both unpleasant bumps in the road and unexpected, pleasant discoveries that temporarily, or permanently, call you away from your original itinerary. And if, in your travels, you encounter a companion who makes your journey that much more meaningful, be sure to appreciate that person for the gift that s/he is. After all, good traveling companions are hard to come by.