My daughter gets nervous about going to soccer practice. She gets nervous about PTA performances. She gets nervous about asking a restaurant server to put the pasta sauce on the side instead of on top. No, it’s nothing neurotic; she’s just an overachiever, a pleaser and doesn’t like drawing attention to herself. So of course, she was going to be nervous about her first day of middle school. For six years, my child had spent her days protected in the cocoon of our neighborhood elementary school. She’d been the teacher’s pet, she’d been the principal’s “Falcon,” and she’d been the kid who just did it all right. And while she didn’t realize it until after the fact, she was ready—really ready—for middle school.
Oddly, this move for her to middle school was much harder for me than sending her to kindergarten, if you want to know the truth. Then I was like, “Go already!” Now I’m like, “Whoa, slow down, wouldya!” Wasn’t it just yesterday that she needed me to brush her teeth, do her hair, and lay with her until she fell asleep? She’s growing up.
As I see her growing up, I realize that she has so much ahead of her—stuff neither of us can really even imagine. As her mom, it’s like being in the middle of a good book—you love the heroine, the drama, the relationships, and you just can’t wait to find out what happens next. In this case, however, staying up until 3:30 a.m. to get to the last chapter is neither possible nor desirable. Never rush a good thing.
But if she’s growing up, I must be growing up, too. Personal introspection sets in as I see more lines around my eyes and forehead, indicating my own slow loss of youth. I can’t figure out how I can be forty-two years old. It’s baffling, to be honest. Other people are forty-two (or older)—I’m not. But then I look at my hands, which have become my mother’s hands. I remember how she used to compare her thinning-skinned, slowly spotting hands to my hydrated, smooth, “plump” ones. I wish I could figure out the day when we developed the same hands. It’s just so darn baffling.
At this point, I have to confess something: I’m a fan of musicals—both Broadway shows and movies. Some people are inspired by poetry; others by rap music, and others by opera. For me, it’s musicals. Don’t judge, just hear me out.
When I was in college, I used to walk around the track in the evenings for exercise, listening to the sound track of “Yentl.” I connected with the whole “Young Jewish girl seeks opportunity despite being young, Jewish, and a girl” theme mainly because I was all of those things. One song in particular hit home, making me truly feel that my whole life was out there for the taking:
Tell me where, where is it written what is it I’m meant to be?
That I can’t dare...
It all began the day I found that from my window I could only see a piece of sky.
I stepped outside and looked around. I never dreamed it was so wide or even half as high.
The time had come to try my wings.
And even though it seemed at any moment I could fall, I felt the most amazing things, the things you can’t imagine if you’ve never flown at all.
Though it’s safer to stay on the ground, sometimes where danger lies, there the sweetest of pleasures are found.
The more I live – the more I learn.
The more I learn – the more I realize the less I know.
Each step I take (Papa, I’ve a voice now!)…
Each page I turn (Papa, I’ve a choice now!)…
Each mile I travel only means the more I have to go.
What’s wrong with wanting more?
If you can fly – then soar!
With all there is – why settle for just a piece of sky?
Papa, watch me fly!
And fly I did. I landed my first job at an international consulting firm. After the first year of panic, I figured out I was actually pretty good at what I did. Several years later, I was hired by a client who would be my employer for the next nine years of my life. From there, I flew up the corporate ladder, ultimately becoming the youngest Vice President in the history of the company. Yes, I had amazing mentors and was presented with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but it was my wings that took me to the sky.
Somewhere in mid-flight, I got married and had kids. And as well they should, my three offspring took both my brain cells in utero and ultimately my wings. It was harder to agree to business trips that kept me from attending school functions. It was harder to read charts, files, and emails when I could have been reading Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks.” Don’t get me wrong: I still worked very hard and loved the thrill of the corporate flight, but I loved my family more. For those of you musical haters, you can’t tell me that this line from “Les Miserables” that sums up what I’ve been trying to say doesn’t give you chills: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Even flying can’t compete with that.
Six years ago, I vacated my corporate life and have struggled mightily to figure out what’s next for me. Don’t misread me: I’m not down in the dumps or depressed or think that I’m dead-ended. No, a little ego, a healthy sense of reality and an understanding of life’s choices have allowed me to see past the black hole of despair. But at some point you pick a path and that becomes your life. While I would not pick a different path, I no longer feel like Yentl’s song applies to me.
I thoroughly recognize that I have options. But the truth is most of them have so many strings attached to them now that they’re not truly viable options. For example, I’ve always wanted to get my MBA. But I’ve wanted to get it from a highly respected, if not prestigious university, none of which happen to be in or near my hometown. Assuming I could get in, I would sacrifice living with my family, tucking my children in at night, schlepping them to soccer practice or to Chuck E. Cheese (yes, we still have a little one), or rubbing my husband’s back after a long day. I would spend our family’s money—and potentially my kids’ college educations—without replenishing the pot anytime soon, if ever. I would miss the 3v3 soccer tournaments and the impromptu dinners with our friends. And I would lean so heavily on my husband that it just doesn’t seem fair, even if the commitment were limited. Would I do it for him? Of course. And he would do it for me, if I asked. I just can’t ask because the sacrifice of opening those doors and getting what I think I want is just too great. Elphaba from “Wicked” got it right when she sings about giving up her dream of partnering with the Wizard: “I don’t want it. No. I can’t want it anymore.” At some point, you just pick a path.
Right now, my daughter—all three of my kids, actually—are so fortunate to have all their options still available to them. And maybe, just maybe, my daughter, being the oldest, is starting to figure out the enormous potential that is her life. She’s glommed onto a song from “Wicked” that may serve as her anthem, much like “Piece of Sky” did for me—“Defying Gravity:”
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same.
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game.
Too late for second-guessing,
Too late to go back to sleep.
It’s time to trust my instincts,
Close my eyes and leap.
It’s time to try
I think I’ll try
And you can’t pull me down ...
I’m through accepting limits
‘Cuz someone says they’re so.
Some things I cannot change,
But ‘till I try, I’ll never know.
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love – I guess I have lost.
Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost.
So if you care to find me,
Look to the western sky.
As someone told me lately,
Ev’ryone deserves the chance to fly.
And if I’m flying solo,
At least I’m flying free.
To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me.
Tell them how I
Am defying gravity!
I’m flying high
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz,
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!
When my baby is eighteen and off to college, my older two will be twenty-five and seventy-seven. I’ll be fifty-seven. I’d like to think that I could re-enter the workforce and climb the ladder once again. Unfortunately, I know it wouldn’t be just my genetically bad knees that would prevent that. No, I think I’ve picked my path. But I’ve created a couple of meandering detours on that path, even planting some flowers along the way that I’ve learned to occasionally stop and smell. It’s definitely not the path I dreamed of during my “Yentl” fascination, but if I’m patient and lucky, it may lead me to a better place than even wings can take me.
As my daughter enters seventh grade this fall, I’ll look at her beautiful, soft, plump hands and be grateful for the front row seat—on the ground—to her life. Everyone deserves the chance to fly.