This summer, I attended a Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony. At the reception, there was a large, white, foam board with the Bar Mitzvah’s picture on it. Guests began writing in the space surrounding the picture with Sharpie colored markers that were neatly placed next to the board. As I stood there for a moment contemplating what I should write and reflecting on the religious cultural services I had attended in his honor, I thought to myself, “This kid is special.” He has a smile that lights up a room and a genuine personality that immediately endeared me to him. I grabbed a black marker (I had to represent) and I wrote, “Greatness lives in you.” I stepped back, surveyed my writing and began reflecting on my life at the age of 13. There were quite a few memorable moments to recall. First is kissing John what’s-his-face while standing in the driveway next to his house. His last name has slipped into selective omission. Second, accompanying my older sister to the hospital for the birth of my niece. Not really sure why she took me for the ride, other than the fact that I was the only one home when her water broke. It’s not like I could have driven the car or delivered the baby had an emergency arose. Maybe she wanted someone to recant the story in the event something tragic happened on the way. Even back then I was a great storyteller! All I remember is it was raining and I was scared shitless. And third, my Catholic confirmation during which I chose a unique spelling of my Saint’s name, arguing it was traditionally Hebrew and had been changed through English translation. *cough cough* Bullsh!t *cough cough* I can only wonder if the priest thought, “She’s either one heckuva salesman or her boundless creativity surpasses her limited knowledge.” Maybe he simply shook his head while thinking, “Kids.”
Those memorable moments notwithstanding, I suspect many people other than my parents recognized my potential whilst I was busy being a foolish teenager using words like “whilst.” Thank God, the gift of wisdom brings clarity. I think. I hope! Standing with my sharpie in hand and the shoe on the proverbial other foot, I sensed a common ground of creativity between me and the spirit of the young Bar Mitzvah which prompted my written comment and a subsequent sotto smile of understanding. Some would say, “What could you possibly have in common with a 13-year old, Jewish boy?” Plenty. Substance for one. I am of the opinion that we are more alike than we are different. Our commonalities are what make us civilized, human, able to function collectively in society without broad scale chaos or mayhem. There are plenty of thinkers and doers. But, in the equation of life we dreamers are a necessary component. Don’t worry. I know we make you nervous with our think-outside-the-box-ness and our anything-is-possible-positive-attitude-go-getter-ness. I assure you, we mean no harm. We simply want to be allowed to create freely. My high school principal once told my mother, “She’s a free-spirit. She’ll never be happy in a nine-to-five.” (Ironically, 9-to-5 with Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda was one of my first introductions to female-driven comedy!) My principal was right. I’ve held many, many, don’t make me recant the shoe selling or fudge making jobs on the path to attaining my dreams. The cookie-cutter ones marked by intrusive structure with little or no creativity were stifling. If there are hidden video cameras beside any of those desks, I’m sure they’ve caught me dancing, watching movies or sleeping on many occasions. Not ever on company time, of course… Lucky for me, my mom recognized early on that I was a non-conformist. She supported every endeavor I embarked upon, even the dumb ones. Her one caveat was that I always do my best. You wanna be a pig farmer? Be the best damn pig farmer there is. Accept no substitute. Study pigs until you breathe bacon and sleep in slop. I’m just saying.
Somewhere in my late twenties I became slightly bitter with my mom’s ideology. I thought there may have been a lack of direction on her part. I soon realized that any attempt to impose direction would have immediately been taken by my younger, foolish self as a sign of creative asphyxiation. My mother parented a free-spirit the best way she could – to let me be as free as I could be, as long as I was respectful and obeyed the rules of the house. In her infinite wisdom she did it by creating a huge circle around me that allowed me to explore without feeling constricted vs. creating a maze with a set path allowing only one exit. I believe she knew me better than I knew myself. And, if I know me half as well as she did, I will have attained a great feat. As a parent, I like to think I’ve learned “how to” by observing. The truth is sometimes you have to “do and fail” in order to succeed. I think back to all the times my mother must have watched me fall flat on my face. I think about how scared she must have been when I left the nest barely able to fly and acquire food on my own. I wonder if it ever occurred to her to say, “Don’t. Stop. Wait.” I’m sure it did. But, maybe, just maybe she knew that I was more of a Robert Frost poem than I could ever have known. That the only leading which would have any effect was to say, “Watch the sticks, potholes and bumps along the way.” If she were alive today, I think she would be proud. A few bumps and bruises, but I’ve survived. A few hills and valleys, but I’ve learned how to climb. I found my way through the forest and the trees, because in my heart, I had already determined to take the road less traveled by. My success today is not only predicated by what I do, but by who I am allowed to be creatively. If I had had more traditional parents, I’m not sure I would have learned that. If no one had written on the foam board of my life, I’m not sure I would have found my way. I owe them a great deal for making me the woman I am today. They saw the seed of what I could one day possibly be, they allowed me to be me, and that has made all the difference.
Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Greatness is determined as much by what you do as what you don’t do.