Friday, May 8, 2009

Q & A: Take . . . I dunno.

My friend Robin has been out of town and is just getting caught up on my blog. She saw my "Ask Me Anything" post and posed these questions to me:

When you were a kid, what did you think you would be when you grew up? I think, like a lot of kids, I changed my mind a lot about what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a younger kid, I remember truly wanting with all my heart to be Laura Ingalls when I grew up. I was enthralled with the frontier life and those long, pouffy dresses they got to wear ;) I soon realized, though, that one can’t make a living and pay the bills by living as a frontier woman. I went through a pretty long period when I wanted to be a veterinarian - I know, hard to believe in light of my current anti-pet state of mind. Growing up, though, we always had dogs and cats, plus I had the assorted hamsters, fish and tortoises. I also rescued several birds from the backyard that had fallen victim to our dogs. I would keep them out in the garage and try to nurse them back to health, and I was successful with at least one that I remember. I ditched the idea of being a vet when I realized that it wouldn’t just be about helping well animals, but also sick and dying animals. I later went through a period where I thought about being a doctor some day (which is also funny in light of my current anti-doctor state of mind!). But same thing, I realized I wouldn’t have the constitution to deal with so much sickness and death. So, by the time I was in high school, I still had not made up my mind as to what I wanted to be.

What was your big dream? Hmmm. I think really, as silly and cliche as this sounds, my big dream was to find happiness. I did not experience much happiness growing up, or even well into adulthood, and I think I spent a lot of my life with this notion that happiness was something that would happen to me if I wished for it enough. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, with some pretty traumatic events behind me, before I realized that you make your own happiness.

Did you ever even imagine your life would be like it is today? Noooo!! Gosh, no. I never dreamed I would be where I am today. Having spent 12 years very unhappily married, I never dreamed that I would one day be happily married. I never dreamed I would be a widow at the age of 32. I never imagined I would have 6 kids! And really, it’s not as though Michael and I set out to have 6 kids . . . we just kind of took it one at a time (or in the case of the twins, two at a time), and after each we just didn’t feel "done." I also never imagined I would be a stay-home mom. After Kevin was born, I dreamed of somehow being able to stay home with him, but I never thought it would actually be possible. I never dreamed I would have twins, I never imagined I would have a baby with Down syndrome, I never fathomed I would be having a baby at 40 years old, and I never imagined I would marry someone who would be my ultimate best friend, and that he would get cancer. Who imagines these things?

You have said that intelligence and good grades are very important, yet you mentioned (did I read it right?) that you dropped out of school and became a manicurist? Is that hypocritical or just the value of getting older and wiser? What would you say to one of your kids if they did something similar? (I ask this because many people assume that someone drops out of school because they don't get good grades or don't value education). Wow, this is heavy. Let’s see if I can articulate a coherent response.

I don’t think I’ve ever said that intelligence and good grades are important, per se. I am certainly drawn to intelligence in other people, and I think my husband is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, and I have always found that highly attractive about him. However, I hate to think that I ever thought that intelligent people are better or more important or more valuable than less intelligent people. What I value is living up to one’s potential, and doing one’s best at everything they set out to do. Two of my kids so far have shown themselves to be gifted, so yeah, I expect good grades from them because I know they can make good grades. It’s a matter of their doing their very best, putting their best foot forward, and making the best effort. I don’t expect all of my kids to be intellectually gifted, so no, I don’t think I will expect good grades from all of them. I will expect them to do their very best, however. And obviously, my views about intelligence and the value of intelligence have evolved since Finn was born. I think it will be an ongoing process, learning that everyone has gifts, and they may not always be in the area of intellectual intelligence. But even Finn, I will always expect him to do his best at everything he can do.

As for me, yes I dropped out of high school. Let me start by saying that I was a very good student. I was smart, I was in all the AP classes, I was on the honor roll, I got good grades, and I always planned to go to college and have some sort of career. However, my life took a detour. When I was 17 years old, about a month into my senior year of high school, I ran away from home. I grew up with a lot of abuse, physical and emotional, and there was just a lot of crazy shit going on at home. It's only been in recent years that I’ve realized that I spent a good chunk of my childhood - and certainly most of my teens - in a constant state of depression. I was never actually suicidal, but I often thought about death and what a sweet escape it might be. When I was 17, that wasn’t the first time I left home. The first time was when I was 15, and I went to live with a great aunt for a while. Eventually, I went back "home" (and I use that term loosely), and things were just as fucked up as ever, so there was a point when my boyfriend at the time (who would later become my first husband) and I planned my escape. I’ll spare the details, but in short, we packed up all my things in a little U-Haul trailer one day when my mother and step-father were at work and my brothers at school, and we left the state together (actually, I took a bus because he was 19 and we knew that it would be a federal offense for him to take me, a minor, across state lines). We went to Utah of all places and got an apartment and jobs and I lied about my age and we set up housekeeping and none of my friends nor my family knew where I was for over a year. So, consequently, I dropped out of high school. Eventually we moved back to California, and eventually we got married, when I was 19 and he was 21. I did home study and earned all my high school credits and got my diploma (not GED; it's important to me to make that distinction). By that time, I felt like I had passed up my chance to go to college. We had rent and bills to pay, and I just needed to work and bring home a paycheck. I worked as a receptionist for a while, and then yeah I went to beauty school and worked as a manicurist for about 3 years. I was kind of directionless, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I think at that time, being 20 years old, the lure of being my own boss was certainly appealing. I ended up hating it, though, and made what worked out to be less than minimum wage, and even now look back on it as a wasted chunk of time. At some point I knew I needed to do something more with myself, find a real job or career, and somehow, it’s hard to remember how I landed on the idea, but I decided to become a paralegal, which I could do without having to go to college. I went to a vocational school full time for a year and earned my paralegal certificate and got a job with a law firm and ended up doing that for 11 years, until Joey was born. It was good, intellectually stimulating work, I felt valued (most of the time), I was making good money, and hey, I met Michael there!
So, no, I don’t think it was hypocrytical. I think I made choices based on the circumstances of my life at that time. Do I regret running away from home and dropping out of high school? No, I really don’t. There was obviously a price to pay for all that, but under the same circumstances, I would do it all over again. Do I hope my kids never do the same? Of course. I struggle sometimes thinking about how much I will tell them about my own choices and experiences when they’re older. On the one hand, I certainly don’t want them to think that running away from one’s problems is the way to go, but their childhood, while far from perfect or ideal, is nothing close to what I grew up with, so gosh, I just can’t imagine them contemplating doing what I did. I would be heartbroken if my kids ever ended up feeling that their lives were so miserable at home that they wanted OUT (all I remember about my own mother’s reaction to my running away was my calling her from a payphone several times to let her know I was okay, and hearing her scream at me from the other end, and then threatening to take me to court to get all the child support money my dad stopped paying her for me after I left). Since I tend to be unfailingly honest with my kids, because I just think in the end that’s the best way to go, I’m sure one day they will know that mom ran away and dropped out of school.

Favorite meal? Such a wimpy question after the others! I would have to say filet mignon, medium rare, with mashed potatoes and maybe some sauteed spinach on the side. With a martini. Followed up, of course, by something of the ice cream variety.

Thanks, Robin ;)

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