Monday, January 20, 2014

The thing with wings

My son came home tired and frustrated last night. He hates his work situation, hates how limited he feels, hates feeling that he has taken several steps back since the job he did running the aquatics center in college, hates that he enjoys coaching but is paid so little for it, hates that he feels as if he has to find a job and just work work work for the rest of his life. He wants to go away, to live in another country for a while, to travel and see the world, but has not figured out how to afford that. He is torn, too, because he wants to join the FDNY and has to do that before he turns 27; he worries about waiting too late to make that happen even though he's only 22. He's basically impatient about everything in his life right now, though he is hoping that once he is certified as an EMT he will be able to get a job in that field that he will at least feel fulfilled by. He is so cranky right now, and if I offer a suggestion he just about growls that I don't get it, and so I just listen and wish it were easier for him, that his path would just sort of lay itself out before him, the way mine did when I was his age, it really did, but the world has changed, and look at where I am now: I'm in a very similar place to the one he describes and I understand him more than he would ever imagine.

It's cold and bleak outside, and I still have not paid Aunt Winnie's bills so I better get cracking on that before she racks up late fees or goes into default on her reverse mortgage. What am I doing with the rest of my life? My son asks himself this question too. I wonder if he should investigate the foreign service or the peace corps. I found brochures about enlisting in the army on his desk yesterday, and I seriously pray he does not do that. He's doing so well in his EMT course, top of his class. If he went back to school and became a Physician's Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner, he could be stationed anywhere in the world. But I don't think he wants to go back to school. He just wants to pick up and go. I know that pull. When I was his age I wanted to move to another place too. I wanted to write a whole new slate, and by going to school in another country I did. But I enjoyed school way more than he does. He prefers work. He wants responsibility. He likes to be paid.

It occurs to me now that my mother would have dealt with my son's dejection differently if she had been here with us last night. She would have taken his hand in her own and told him gently that his impatience is a lack of faith in the future and maybe also in himself. She would ask him to trust himself to know what steps to take and when to take them. She tells me the same thing when I get anxious. I remember when my son, who at the time was struggling with learning to read, was accepted to an excellent private school in second grade and I didn't quite see how we were going to make the money work, it didn't seem to add up on paper. My mother said with perfect faith, "Send him to the school. Trust your hopes and not your fears. It will work out." And somehow it did. And somehow now, it will.

As Emily Dickenson famously wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words 
And never stops at all

And if hope has feathers, then it also has wings. 


  1. Angella - you have no idea how much I needed to read this right now, this morning. Thank you. And I hope your son reads your blog post today too. You've written good, wise words for all of us to ponder on. I wish less fear and more faith for us all. Sweet Jo

  2. I was his age, ten years ago and I flew like hell out of Kentucky. Now I'm taking a step back and reflecting how on to fly the hell back to Kentucky. Roots and wings. The oldest metaphor in the book.

    My suggestion on the foreign service or the peace corps, as someone who looked into both have friends in each, is that both are much harder than it first appears. Foreign service means a second language is a must (which prohibited me) and if he has that, then fantastic. If not, I'd look toward the peace corps. The corps has changed considerably though and they mostly need folks who are certified in something. His EMT training could fit well there. He could also join a form of doctors without borders, perhaps.

    I NEVER wanted to go back to school either. I went back at 25, after a few years in the working world. It was very hard. I am not good at school but I am excellent at working -it's a funny thing. A different reward system I guess -money over grades and grades were never emphasized in my home so they were never emphasized in my mind as being important.

    He's jumping out of his skin with youth -I can relate and miss it.

  3. and may i just add this...


    Hold fast to dreams
    For if dreams die
    Life is a broken-winged bird
    That cannot fly.
    Hold fast to dreams
    For when dreams go
    Life is a barren field
    Frozen with snow.

    --Langston Hughes


  4. Not that you would want your son so far away but Canada is desperate for Nurse Practitioners. We have a massive shortage of doctors and we can't get NP educated fast enough.

    But...I would not want my boy leaving for the US anymore than you want yours leaving for Canada.

  5. It's amazing the twists, turns, and the doors opened that brought me to this post today to read your mother's two lines about Trust! Her guidance is the slap on the forehead I have needed! They have been written down on a card and put in my wallet for those times I need the reminding. Thank you and thank her, and take care -

  6. When we are that young, every experience is just so large. Not yet diluted by all the other experiences. And the YEARNING! Oh my Lord, the yearning. all.
    You are doing the right thing by just listening, allowing him to express his frustration. And someday, he will look back and realize how very similar your experiences at that age were to his. Some day.
    He'll figure it out, just as his mama did, just as his daddy did. And he will be lovingly supported in what he decides.
    Now- as to that advice of your mother's- that's about as sage a few words as I have ever heard in my life. I think you may have given them to us before but I sure did need reminding. Thank you, thank your wise mother. Thank the universe for bringing all of us together in this community.

  7. You know -- your mother's words and your own here about and to your son are helping me in big ways, Angella. I thank you.

  8. I have a friend who is now in his late 70s who, after raising dairy goats in Mississippi and then doing social work in Newark and Maine for many years, has spent the last 20 years working in Czech Rep. and now Ecuador. He spoke English and German when he started and has added Czech and Spanish and, I think, Quecua (sp). He thinks that living/studying/working abroad is a great idea and opportunity for the young people. He travels and lives outside of the tourist mode. He loves to write and eamil and I know would be happy to share his ideas with your son if he's interested. He thinks that Brazil is one exciting place to be right now. Let me know.

  9. Oh Angella. Your mother's advice applies to my life so immediately and I'm sitting here with tears--of comfort and hope--streaming down my face. Thank you so much for posting those words. We all must trust the process.

    As for your son, I remember the early and mid twenties being some of the hardest times in my life. So much imagined pressure to have it all figured out, but truly we lack the resources and experience at that age. We all muddle through until one day, things begin to settle themselves into something good. At 22, nothing has had time to work itself out yet. It's a hard time, but like your mother knows, he will find his way.

    I send my love to you all.

  10. Oh Angella, this post should be on my daily required reading list. My son too is bristling, impatient and deeply cynical right now. I don't know how to help him because I can't let go of the past, our past, that was so different and care free in so many ways. This is a different world and a crueler economy for our children and I don't have any answers, but an excess of worries. I need more hope and trust, and to listen to the wisdom of your mother.
    Love and good thoughts to you and your beautiful family.

  11. I have this quote on a necklace my mom gave me. Haven't we all been here, oh man! Aren't we all still here?! oh man… There are so many things we can do in life, so many things we can love and be good at. It's so hard that society makes up "pick" one. I'd like to believe there is time to do all the things we love to do. Some of us get that lucky. xoxo

  12. I was going to suggest the Peace Corps! When I went through a similar period of frustration in my early 20s, the Peace Corps was a terrific solution for me. I cannot describe how enriching an experience it was, introducing me to a whole new level of independence and many, many new (and since then, lifelong) friends. The downside -- PC volunteers aren't really paid very much. But the government foots the bill for relocation, training and living expenses during a volunteer's term of service (usually two years). Tell him to check it out!