I used to be a sort of harsher version of myself. Maybe we all did? I was a lot younger and had seen a lot less and knew virtually nothing and I had these ideas. About what you should do, what we could do, definitely what you shouldn’t do. Always what you shouldn’t do. The right way, the wrong way. How to be happy, how not to be happy.
Even when it wasn’t cool anymore to think your parents were the coolest, I still thought mine were. My mom was really good at intimidating people with minute facial expressions and my dad was always smarter than the Jeopardy contestants. Because I also sort of wanted to be cool in my own right, I tried to conceal how fun I thought they were while in the terrifying halls of high school or middle school or whichever windowless nightmare it was. But at home I was always trying to get their approval. And, I should add, always getting it.
They were never stingy with love. Or attention. Or time. Or anything. They listened to our terrible songs and watched our impromptu plays and listened to my lectures about fossils given wearing a t-shirt of people hugging the earth.
But when I asked them what should I be, where should I go to school, what is the best job? They always said ‘whatever makes you happy.’ This was the vague and cryptic kind of answer a neurotic person like me hates. It’s like when I would say ‘do we have enough?’ and I meant STUFF or MONEY or things that keep us safe and they’d say ‘we have enough love which is enough of everything.’ Say what?
Whatever makes you happy was the worst thing you could say to 1998 me. I want answers. I want to make YOU happy mom and dad. There has to be an answer. There is always an answer. When in doubt, choose C? Wasn’t that the rule?
Eventually I made the choices without them telling me what to do. I chose a school. A dorm. My friends. My major. My man. My plans. I made them all and they listened while I moaned over the wrong ones and patted myself on the back for the right ones. They listened and then probably hung up the phone and laughed and laughed.
Oh our sweet girl, they probably said because they love me so much, there are no right and wrong ones. Just this one then the next one then the next one.
Now that I have kids I thought maybe this ‘whatever makes you happy’ thing would be one of those instant mantras I’d adopt. But I didn’t. I mean, for the most part but…let’s not go wild. Whatever makes you happy, but maybe let’s not be a goth ok? And also I don’t really want you to drive a Hummer? But other than those and a few other small very specific stipulations, go nuts.
Maybe all parents have those stipulations deep down, but the line just isn’t the same if you say ‘whatever makes you happy, save for this short list.’ Takes away that ‘cool parent’ feeling you gave yourself by being so permissive, I guess.
Tonight we went to a local play. The point was to bring attention and funds to the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder. Any kids in the audience dressed as ‘pollinators’ were going to be asked on stage. My girl puts on wings just to go to the mailbox so she was PUMPED about this. And she loves the idea of a stage, and being on it. She hasn’t had much experience performing in a formal sense, but if you count our living room, kitchen, bathroom, her bed, the library, the airport, the sidewalk, and every other place she’s ever been, she’s an old pro.
She sat somewhat patiently through the first act but mostly just couldn’t stop asking. ‘When do I go on the stage?!’ only to be tempered by her realization of the matter at hand. ‘Wait…are all these bees DEAD?’
She was dying for her chance to be up there. She was so excited. I could see it. Truly, really, a sparkle in her eye.
She followed the directions and went on stage, slowly but confidently. She pollinated some things, and then went and had a seat on the edge of the platform. It was nothing, really. But she was on fire. She was elated. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her feel a feeling like that, and I know I’ve never felt the way that made me feel.
She was BEAMING. I cried. People thought I was crazy.
I have no idea if she will maintain an interest in theater. Or performing at all. Maybe she will use it as a creative outlet just for fun or maybe she will get a scholarship to an arts school or maybe she will become famous around the world. Or maybe she will never set foot on a stage again.
I don’t care.
I just want her to be happy.