I worry about the next few weeks. I’ve had a hard time keeping the kids stable and that’s never been something I’ve contended with. It’s not that it was easy…Hannah, my middle child of the four – two girls and twin boys – nearly failed several classes. Noah, one of the twin boys, has had a week where he’s gotten in trouble for being combative with his teachers. Not lashing out, but just refusing to do his work. Abbi, my oldest, is questioning her choices and her confidence. Sam . . . well, he’s become hyper and scatterbrained.
All of these kids are acting completely counter to their real personalities.
Abbi is starting to think she’s made the wrong choice for a college degree and career, even though it’s what she’s wanted forever. She hears her Mom’s voice telling her it’s not stable, she needs to make money, she should have a regular career. Noah is worried about his Grandpa eventually passing away. Sam’s there, too. Hannah . . . she’s missing assignments again and not doing her chores.
And I’m stressed and worried about them, myself, my family . . . all of it.
I told my oldest, and I’ve told the younger ones the same thing . . . their Mom wasn’t always right.
Early in our marriage, and early in our family, after Abbi was born, Andrea went to Pharmacy school. She did want to be a pharmacist, it’s not like it was a random choice. Still, part of her decision was the fact that we weren’t making a bunch of money really, really quickly. She also didn’t want to work . . . I faced that fact and realized she just loved being in school. If she could have been a professional student she’d have done it, but her brain was such that if she wasn’t perfect every time at something you stop and go do something that makes a big financial gain quickly.
I don’t work that way.
My father always wanted us to be successful. But our measure of success was never financial. I’m not digging ditches, but I wasn’t making six figures either. My wife kept trying to get me into a sales job, or law or real estate, something that would require more school and doing more background. With one in school already I couldn’t afford to do that. I had a degree in journalism and I was doing it. She thought there was no way I’d ever be successful.
So I recounted the story to my oldest daughter how her mother and I fought . . . almost constantly after she was born . . . about my career choices. I told her in no uncertain terms: I was always in television. I hadn’t planned on doing anything else, unless somehow Clapton came calling for a rhythm guitarist. Barring that, I’m a photographer and producer. She knew that when she married me, I never really intended on doing anything else, so why was this some major surprise?! She hated that because she wanted success and she wanted it without the long, grueling work to get there. While Andrea had 1,000,000 things amazing about her, she was a results driven person early in our marriage. Didn’t matter how, just get us there. I have the mindset that if you work hard, the best you can, doing what you love, you can’t help but be successful.
The year Andrea graduated pharmacy school I was offered a job in Dallas, Texas as a photographer and producer for a major investigative unit. It was a jump from market 72 to market 8. Andrea was flabbergasted. It took roughly 5-6 years of grueling work, three jobs, ad insertion on basketball games, playing reporter, playing anchor, learning how to be a better photographer, learning how to write from amazing reporters in a market that looked like it was market 25 not 72 but I did it.
Upon our move to Texas I was travelling around the world. My first month I was booked to go to Mexico City. I went to Washington DC in the wake of 9/11. I went to Israel. I met presidential candidates, found pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia and called over State Patrol officers to guard the charred mission patch of an astronaut sitting in a ditch after the spacecraft broke up over East Texas.
Not long into our time in Texas, Andrea meekly apologized to me for everything she’d said when we were in Omaha and fighting. “I didn’t think you were even thinking of moving ahead,” she told me. “I thought you didn’t know what you were doing. I’m so sorry.” Or words to that effect. Bear in mind, we argued, but we never split. We never thought of divorce or leaving. That same woman would support me when I was exhausted and thought I couldn’t go another step after being up for 32 straight hours working two jobs and playing in a club.
But it’s a lesson to teach my daughter, too. Andrea became a pharmacist partly because it was good money . . . and we moved from Texas to California for the money. We got here . . . and she was miserable. She changed jobs to appease her family so they wouldn’t have to watch the kids so much. Again, I ended up with a management job and travelling to Afghanistan. I thrived where she faltered and it hurt her, though it wasn’t something I could change.
The lesson to my kids, in the middle of their worry about their grandfather, is that you cannot measure success only in financial terms. Neil Gaiman, the author of such amazing books as American Gods and Coraline and Good Omens has said that no job he ever took simply for the money was ever successful. In fact, most times he never saw the money, either. Gain, I told my daughter, is measured in work, happiness, output, and effort. If you’re exhausted but proud of what you’ve done, you’ve succeeded. Yes, you have to be able to eat, but are you getting closer to your goal of doing what you want, or farther away. “Would you be happy being a pharmacist?” I asked Abbi on the couch. She shook her head. “no.” It was quiet, but also an admittance that she was doubting what she’d done.
“It’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to doubt yourself at home,” I told her. “But don’t lose your confidence in yourself. Make mistakes, try new ways of acting and doing things. You’ll fail miserably, sometimes, but own those failures and you’ll still be a success because you won’t make them again.”
I can see that they’re all doubting, hearing their Mom’s voice telling them different things than what I tell them in their heads. Hard as it is, I have to remind them . . . their Mom’s not here anymore. She may whisper into your brain from wherever she is, but she can’t make your decisions for you. She isn’t treading the same footsteps we did, her steps stopped a long way back. Our path changed, our lives are different, and we have to do what we think is best.
It’s a hard lesson . . . but a lesson nonetheless that their parents aren’t immortal, and sometimes, they disagreed and aren’t always right.