When I was asked recently what I consider to be my “greatest professional accomplishment to date,” my immediate response showed up throughout my body rather than just in my head. I felt quite jangly in my gut and heart – I felt embarrassed and nervous — and this surprised me. I did some on-the-spot reflecting to see if I could suss what was up with me, why I was having such a strong response to such a reasonable question and I realized that it was because I couldn’t answer the question in the way I suspected I might be expected to answer it – you know, an answer in which I talked about something I created or enacted or received related to my work as an educational gerontologist (and gero-punk) over the past 20 or so years.
Though it felt a bit risky to do so, I decided to answer the question honestly, from my gut and heart.
So, here’s how I answered the question:
I began by talking about how amazed and grateful I am that over the past twenty years I managed to hold things together as a more-than-fulltime educational gerontologist and a mostly-single-mother to my daughter Isobel – who just celebrated her 20th birthday on Valentine’s Day! Not that holding things together was easy. It never was, not even in the times when I felt like I had managed to conjure up through force of will (and a ton of support from family and friends) a sense of some sort of life-wide abundance and stability.
I tried to be as present to our daily family life as I could be, while also taking care of myself (some years were better than others on that front), and trying to do the best, most creative work I could do within an often very challenging work context. Despite some enormous ongoing professional pressures (many of which were of my own making), I was so fortunate that throughout Izzy’s childhood I was almost always able to flex my work schedule so that I could teach when she was with her father (or during the summers I would teach only online and squirrel away my vacation hours so I could be mostly home with her), attend meetings with colleagues and students during the day when she was at school, do my scholarly and creative work in the small spaces in between all my other responsibilities, and bring her with me to several conferences around the country (Washington, D.C. and San Francisco were particularly memorable).
There are many times over the past twenty years when I disappointed myself – and Isobel, I’m sure, as well as others in my life – because of a temporary blinding confusion or because of a misalignment between my deepest aspirations and how I went about their enactment. Or because of my (often mis-perceived) capacity – feeling I didn’t have enough time or energy or resources to do what I wanted or needed to do and, interestingly, either over- or under-promising as a result.
But mostly – here’s the punchline to my answer – as I consider the past two decades I feel a great deal of relief and gratitude and the purest of joys because, at the end of the day, no matter what happened, no matter how hard it might have been sometimes, I’ve had a hell of a great time learning about how to be me in all my various roles and responsibilities.
And now Izzy is twenty and a sophomore at Bard College in the Hudson River Valley of New York state. She has her own increasingly complex life through which to learn how to create her own ever-elusive and shifting balance. Just as I have, she’ll make her own luck and her own mistakes. The life we’ve created together will hopefully serve as a foundation from which she can embark upon new adventures, much as it continues to provide a foundation for me as I embark upon my own new adventures.