Right after I graduated from college back in the early 80’s I was adrift. I had majored in a crazy degree called Speech Communication which was a potpourri of speech, English, theater classes, and education classes. Teaching jobs were difficult to obtain, and at this point I wasn’t even confident it was my calling. I had a friend who was moving down to Louisville, Kentucky, and without much pondering I followed her down there. After five months of failed attempts at sales and waitressing, I ended moving back home where I spent a semester substitute teaching before I was offered my first full-time teaching contract up in Northern Illinois.
For years my dad would often talk of the mistake I made when I moved down to Louisville. He felt this decision of mine was errant and foolish, and I should have stayed home and looked harder for a teaching job. But you see, I never thought of it that way. Louisville was my mistake, yet I had no regrets. This decision was one of the first things I did all on my own. I was able to live for a short time in a beautiful river town, and it also helped me realize teaching was what I wanted to do with my life. I never lamented that move, not for one moment. Yet my father’s words burned. They whispered, “I had failed.” Even now, almost 40 years later, his words still sting. He didn’t mean to hurt me, my kind and practical dad, but he did.
Now that my children are grown and making their ways in the world, I am reminded of this story. I want them to have their own “Louisvilles,” their own big mistakes that will give them insight to their desires, but I don’t want to be the whisper in their ears they hear for years. They may fall, but man, they may also soar.
This is not an easy endeavor. Allowing my adult children to travel their own roads has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever tackled, and I have stumbled…shit, have I stumbled. I am covered in bloody bandages from all my falls, yet I keep getting back up and reminding myself they are grown now. No longer are the days when I could nag them about school work and manners and cleaning up their rooms. I am learning that I can’t fix things for them. Their lives…and their decisions…are their stories now, not mine.
Yes, I still worry. That’s what mothers do. And yes, I have opinions, but I’m trying so fricking hard to keep them to myself. They will learn from each stumble. I know I did. Shit, I’m still stumbling and still learning. If they come to me, I’ll be there, but mostly I want them to find their paths, because these are their journeys, full of glorious messes and brilliant triumphs, wide open spaces and big mistakes.
“Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dreams no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes”
“Wide Open Spaces” lyrics by Susan Gibson, sung by Dixie Chicks