Home > emolicious, life, life lessons, reflection > Taking the family in stride

Taking the family in stride

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
(Rambly, ranty, and reflective writing follows.  You’ve been warned.)

As many have already heard, two-thirds of my immediate family flew in to the city to visit me two weekends ago, from Saturday to Wednesday.

I found out the exact dates the day my laptop was stolen, when I had to call home to try and find the Macbook’s hardware serial number.  Weeks prior, my mom had talked extensively about her and my brother flying to the city to visit.  Lots of talk; but when I called her on Monday, February 8th, my mother had yet to actually purchase plane tickets.  She said she would that day, however, and so they were set to arrive on my new home’s turf, less than a week later.

Already, the mood of the visit was shadowed by both the laptop theft and the last-minute nature of my mother.  I spent the rest of that week alternating between preparing for the family and trying to track down the Macbook; all while not-too-enthusiastically continuing my work shifts at the café, which is proving to be a continual reminder of my missing computer.  I requested days off last-minute as well, but had to work over the weekend, for the first two days of the family visit.

And the entire time, at the forefront of my mind has been the potential that my mother would ask to see where I work.  I didn’t know how I would deal with that, though I spent a ridiculous amount of brainpower trying to figure out that situation.

It would not matter in the end because by Tuesday night we were not on speaking terms.  I am skipping over a couple days of pleasantries here, so it wasn’t all bad, but Tuesday was quite the showdown.  To start off, I woke up in the morning to my mom very loudly arguing with the bank over the phone about some overdraft fees.  Once that was finally sorted out, we headed out the door and got in my car to head to Stanford University.  My mom and brother wanted to see the campus, and I obliged.

Three miles from the highway exit to Stanford, my front passenger tire blew out completely while I was in the second leftmost lane.  After maneuvering to the right shoulder and calling AAA (I am so happy I renewed that membership), the next couple of hours were spent at the auto-repair shop to get my tires replaced – all four, in fact, at my mother’s request.

By this point, little comments from her were starting to raise familiar red flags.  After she paid for the car’s repairs, she warned that I could never manage to save up money given these kinds of costs; I was spending money as quickly as I was earning it.  I also found out that she had been researching real estate costs in the Bay area, apparently extensively, and concluded to me that I would never be able to buy a house working at my current minimum-wage job.

My automatic defenses for these non-conversations with her have always been the same: clam up, make noncommittal remarks, and do a lot of internal eye-rolling.  But perhaps it was just the stress of everything else, of the car repairs or the constant worrying over whether or not she would ask to see the café, but I spontaneously took it a step further.  As we stood on Stanford University’s campus, a couple blocks from where we parked by the Rodin Sculpture Garden, I listened to her try to goad me to apply to and attend medical school, I realized that I had no patience and no desire to deal with this.  Halfway through her insisting that I would never be satisfied doing web design, that I needed a challenge and couldn’t get that from my current employment, I turned and walked away.

I walked back to the sculpture garden and sat down on a low table in front of Rodin’s Gates of Hell.  I sat facing it and looked at the sculpture while turning over her words in my mind.  When I walked away, it had been after I’d told my mom to back off and let me decide where my life would lead me, and she’d countered that I was just having fun and “playing around” now, without taking on the responsibilities of life.  Her plea to me, to put it succinctly, was this: “Grow up.”

Except that I’m not really sure what that phrase means anymore, and our views on adulthood and maturity seem so drastically different.  I am financially independent, pay all my taxes and bills on time, have settled into a new city where I’ve been able to find work to support myself, and am building up a savings account.  I like to think of myself as fairly fiscally responsible.  I now have two jobs, with other prospects also on the horizon, I’ve managed to stay active and eat fairly healthily, and I’ve still found time to pursue various hobbies.  I don’t smoke, rarely drink alcohol, and don’t spend much money outside of my weekly $30 groceries.

I am tempted to make the claim, in fact, that I currently feel more productive, healthier, and more social than I ever was in college.

But, of course, this is not what my mother sees.  She sees her daughter graduating from a prestigious college, only to end up as a “waitress” working minimum wage.  The fact that I refuse to consider graduate school at this point in my life is a constant source of annoyance and aggravation for her.  In previous efforts to goad me, she has even remarked that I will likely be the person with the lowest educational degree in our family.

Perhaps you can understand how this kind of commentary wears on a person after awhile.  Combine that with comments about how her best friend – the one going through chemotherapy – keeps saying how she very much hopes I’ll go into medicine, specifically homeopathic medicine for cancer patients, or how college has made me unambitious and lowered my self-esteem (which is hilariously ironic and completely false.  I hated high school and was a social outcast.  Oh, and I have never, in my entire life, ever even once expressed a desire to go into medicine), or how I’m wasting my youth with all this indecisiveness…

What it all comes down to, is that I can clearly see the path she had envisioned for me post-graduation, because I see many of my peers going straight down similar paths.  Whether in grad school pursuing Masters and Ph.Ds or working in high-profile companies like Google, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs, many of my fellow postgrads are rising fast towards personal goals and expectations.  And I am rather happy for them, because they surely deserve that success.  And there are also those of my peers with more obscure pursuits, teaching English abroad, working with Teach for America or Peace corps, traveling abroad, or even, like me, working in food service.

As for myself?  I can’t say for sure what is going on here.  It’s true that I was much more aggressive in high school in applying for programs, scholarships, and, ultimately, colleges.  Yet the last, most recent, thing I applied to was my post-grad internship with the Studio Art Department in the spring of 2008, and that felt like more or less a shoo-in.  There are certainly programs I still want to get into; Anderson Ranch ranks high among those.  Describing such a desire to my mother once, however, I could physically feel the waves of disapproval and dissatisfaction rolling off her voice over the phone.

My personal feeling has always been that if I am to attend graduate school, I better have a really good idea of what I’m there to study, and I better love the subject.

But at this point?  With my interests ranging from fine art to graphic design to web development to entomology, and a fairly equal possibility that I would enjoy pursuing any one of those at the graduate level, I’m at a loss as to where to even start.  And amongst all this clamoring about higher education, I have to wonder why there is so much urgency and necessity around getting another degree.

I feel I am at an impasse with my mother now, more so than I have ever been.  The courses of our lives have never run in similar vein, and my deviance from her known, tried and true course, is creating more of a ruckus than I can stand.  How can I make someone whose life was plotted and planned with complete intention understand that it’s actually okay for me to not know where my future lies?  That it is perhaps in that uncertainty – walking that line between the stress of the unknown and the excitement of the unknown – that I may in fact better discover my strengths and weaknesses, better define my goals and ambitions, and better live my life?

Am I wrong?  Am I completely fucking up my life?  I suppose the consequence of choosing a life of uncertainty is the acknowledgement that I could be doing it all wrong.  To my mother, I have by all appearances lost my drive to achieve, instead letting the tides of circumstance and least resistance carry me along.  But, the way I look at it, it was my decision to drive across the country to move to a completely different city, without any preparation to have a job waiting for me at my destination.  It was risky, potentially dangerous, and very circumstantial.  I relied heavily on my partners in crime, the grace of the friends who put us up along the way, and the kindness of strangers when we needed help.

So even if the decisions I’ve made these last 9 months have not helped set me on a career path or helped me get into grad school, I find it hardly fair, and even offensive, to have those experiences disregarded as “wasting my youth.”

But that is because I can’t fathom that setting the groundwork for education and career to be the only thing worth spending my youth on.

  1. February 24, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Is she single? We could set her up with my dad and they could spend all their time bitching about how their daughters are ruining their lives and wasting their educations.

    My dad’s been at it for 15 years now. No matter what I do, it’s not enough, because I’m not doing what he wishes he’d done with his life (become President, I guess). You’re saying all the right things to yourself. Glad you know that following your own course is the right thing to do.

  2. February 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    That sounds like a really horrible idea, sera. The last thing either of our ‘rents need is more validation for their beliefs. (And no, my mom’s not single! Haha)

    Though in talking with others about this, I’ve discovered it’s a much more common phenomenon than I’d realized. Many of my friends have empathized and shared similar experiences.

    15 years is such a long time to be spouting the same song. You’d think they’d just get tired of it after awhile, or something…

  3. Dov
    February 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Parents just are, they teach us to stand on our own and be people and to make our way in the world and the moment we do they undermine it as often as they can

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