Eighteen years ago, I willingly carried a tiny boy in my womb. Today, I read an article that stated I may still be carrying his DNA in my brain. Suddenly, it is all starting to make sense. Now I know the real reason why I have been tearing open cereal boxes in the morning like a voracious grizzly bear hunting through trash; why I have been cranking up the car stereo and playing air drums at every stoplight; and why I have started staying up until all hours of the night, sleeping until noon, and arguing with anyone who will listen.
My son and I are like two peas in a pod. This year, he stands at an agonizing, scary, and very exciting crossroads in his life as he attempts to decide what college to attend and what kind of career he should pursue. It is a big decision and one that unwittingly sends me hurling back through time into my life at the same age.
It was August 1980. I had big hair, a big backpack, and a big dream as I sauntered on to my college campus for the first time. I wanted to be a television anchorwoman, despite the fact that I was terrified to talk in front of people. I had already envisioned myself perched on a chair in front of a big camera, confidently delivering news to an invisible, yet captive audience. It didn’t matter that every time I stood up in front of a group of people to talk, I had to immediately sit down because my knees were shaking, my chest was red, and I was sweating more than Muhammad Ali during a boxing match. I had a dream. Before I graduated, my high school counselor pulled me aside, knowing I needed a little push, and said, “If you can picture it, you can achieve it.” They were inspiring words for student of any age, but for me, they resonated enough that I was able to temporarily ignore my biggest fears.
But then, in my second semester, I signed up for a Creative Writing class held in a trailer on the far side of campus. On the first day of class, my cowboy boots clicked on the cement as I lugged my backpack across campus. As I opened the door to the trailer, a cloud of smoke greeted me. Bright yellow couches and shabby recliners lined the walls. An eclectic group of students stared at me. I was different than them. After all, I recently just perfected my anchorwoman hair.
The floor creaked as I stepped up into the trailer and waited for my eyes to adjust to the smoky darkness. A student motioned for me to sit on the yellow couch and offered me a cigarette. I accepted, nearly igniting my hot-rollered, hairsprayed anchorwoman hairdo in the process. As I puffed away, I scanned the room and secretly wondered if I should have taken Intro to the Human Body instead. It was clear to me at least that I did not fit in with this group of hippie writers. But as the professor cleared his throat and began talking, everything changed. Suddenly, I found a world where I did belong—a place where I could share the creativity that apparently was dying to escape. Every day I entered that smoky classroom and wrote from my heart, I slowly became the person I was meant to be.
Tomorrow, my son and I are heading out-of-town on another college visit. Although it was so many years ago, I still vividly remember the trepidation as I stood on the precipice of a major life decision and wondered whether I was headed in the right direction. I anticipate he will be standing in the same place tomorrow. When I look at his face and see the fear, I will know. We share the same DNA after all. But I won’t reach out for his hand like I did when he was little. Instead, I’ll quietly encourage him to ask questions, talk about his dreams, and most of all, find his own way—just like his anchorwoman wanna-be mother did so long ago.
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”