Self-Actualization

Right before I went off to college I had a deep email conversation with the only editor-in-chief I’ve ever had. Bless her. Melodie is her name, and she is now doing great and amazing work in the journalism program at the University of Oklahoma, as well as working at other journalism-related places in Norman. She’s kind of a badass, in the sense that most smart, effective, ambitious people are badasses.

But anyway, we talked about parents, and I mentioned my fear that my parents were never going to take me seriously. I had a big theory at the time that my parents never have taken me seriously and that’s why I don’t take myself seriously – e.g., “You’re a kid, you may know a thing or two but you’ll never catch up to us, sorry,” and thus I will always see myself as nothing but a kid.

Melodie said she has often experienced the same thing, and has learned to take her parents’ dismissal of her opinion/experience/expertise with a grain of salt. She said, “I don’t think we’ll duck it until we’ve learned to boss our own kids around.”

That made me realize that I can place a slight overemphasis on winning things, and this is why I like the motto that “Life is not a game, and you do not win it. Life is a race, and you only have to beat yourself.” I don’t have to beat my parents in life experience. I just have to learn to listen to them – but not to accept their word as gospel all the time, because after all, while they do know a lot more than I do, I still have my own life.

I understand those words much better now than I did when I was fourteen.

Adulthood is weird, at least from the perspective of being barely a few months into it (and I wonder if college quite counts). I guess the best way to describe it is that for the first eighteen years, it all seemed like it was infused with my parents’ lives. And it was. But now that there’s more to it, even the first eighteen years seem to have more of a spin of me on them, like they will become part of the wider spread that is my life.

For a long time I have wondered about my parents’ respective childhoods – my mom in suburban Minneapolis, my dad in various spots in rural Idaho – and what it would be like to be them, as they were telling me the stories, remembering it as it happened. I suppose I was wondering what it was like to remember your childhood instead of live it. That, and wondering what it must be like to be one or the other of my parents. But I wonder what it must be like to be almost everyone I ever get close to. I’d make an excellent government spy – wanting to be in everyone’s head all the time.

Tonight I was Skype-messaging with my dad about all the various things going on, and even though this week has been kind of tame news-wise (and very exciting homework-wise!), he still expressed his amazement at everything I’ve been doing.

He said first, “You are such an interesting person!” and secondly, “You are evermore fascinating each time I talk with you!” and both of those just warmed my little heart.

What is cool about this is that it is like a flashing neon sign, saying not only “I am proud of you! I love you!” but also “You are definitely to be taken seriously, and you amaze me!”

It reminds me of a piece I read in some book or other, written by a very troubled teenage girl who went to live with her grandmother. Gradually her grandmother drew her out and she became a success in school. One day she hurried home and told her grandmother she’d been named editor of the school paper as a junior (something I can relate to). Her grandmother said simply, “I like you so much, and I am very proud of you!”

“Those words spoke more than a thousand ‘I love yous,'” she wrote.

Not that my dad, and by extension my mom, don’t love me. They do, and I know it well. But by this time it almost goes without saying, and I almost don’t need it affirmed, they are so constant with their love. Things like actual liking, pride, taking someone seriously are very different. I quote this all the time – the adapted version of Twelfth Night, in which Olivia said, “Love is love – we cannot choose who we love.” You do not choose your family, and you usually do not choose whether or not you love your family. You just do. (I hope.) But you choose whether or not to like your family, whether or not to take your family seriously.

My dad, with those two statements, told me that I am interesting because I am me, and not because I am his daughter, and that I would be interesting if he met me on the street. The other day my mom called me the best student she’s ever had. I think she’s definitely biased, but I’d love to think that I’d still be the best student she’d ever had if I had been as different from her as night from day (leaving out the debatable point that I already am).

Really, that is the best gift I have gotten from my parents, with the possible exception of life and love. They had the courage to tell me, “You are a fantastic person even without us,” and when you’ve poured 18-19 years of your life into shaping someone else I imagine that’s a rather difficult thing to say.

My parents are truly wonderful, and they love me with open hands. I don’t know how I ever missed that.

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