Memories are such strange possessions.
Of the thousands of daily conversations and brief encounters we experience, we only manage to carry a limited number with us into the future.
Even the most meaningful events tend to hide in the background of the new experiences that consume us during the simple act of daily living.
Some memories are sewn tightly into the fabric of everyday life while others only emerge decades later to be taken out, reexamined, and recognized for their significance.
And so it was for me last week.
My daughter, who will be starting high school in only a few months, is on a mission to identify her future career.
And yet, like her mother, she isn’t drawn to a career that has much potential to be financially lucrative.
She wants to write for a living.
If she can’t do that, she wants a career that somehow embraces the arts. Money isn’t important to her. Expressing herself is.
I could tell her “Been there. Done that. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” but I know my words would have as much influence as, well, those of the mother of any 13-year-old girl.
But my daughter isn’t any 13-year-old girl. She’s my daughter, and I want her life to be easier and even more meaningful than mine has been.
Yet all I can do is provide expectations for her current life, emotional support for her life’s journey and a bit of advice based on my memories.
And sometimes those memories aren’t all that wonderful, because pursuing your passion instead of a paycheck often requires sacrifice.
At the same time, another memory has surfaced – one that has been hidden for decades.
I was about the same age that my daughter is now when my dad made a tough decision about his own career. He had just accepted a job that would require his family to move across the country.
I was sitting at our round, wooden table while my mom fixed dinner, and Dad stood in the middle of the kitchen contemplating the enormity of his decision.
“I’m not just making this decision for me,” he said. “I’m making it for everyone whose life I touch. The people whom our kids marry could be affected by my taking a job in West Virginia.”
I’ve been reminded of those words during my recent conversations with my daughter – not because I’m worried about her future marriage possibilities but because I’m reminded of the enormity of decisions my children are currently facing. Where they go to college and what they choose to study will set each of them on their own life path. That path will not be a straight line. There will be plenty of curves and detours and bumps. But that path currently has multiple potential starting points. The starting point they each select will influence the people they meet, the values they develop, and the passions they pursue.
When I close my eyes and remember the concern in my father’s voice as he talked about his decision to change jobs and move, I also remember the child I was who listened to those words. I couldn’t believe my dad was even thinking about his children getting married. To me, marriage was a vague concept that resided in the very distant future.
Now, as a parent, I realize how quickly the years can rush by, and I understand my father’s concerns. I also know that our move to West Virginia did affect whom I married. What I can never know is how different my life may have been if we had stayed in Oregon or moved to another state. Just like our memories, possibilities that never happened are a part of life and a part of whom we become.
As a mom, I’m responsible for helping my children understand that making tough decisions is all about choosing which possibilities they are willing to give up in order to embrace the possibilities on which they will build a life.
It’s my toughest job and the pay, like so many others I’ve held, is lousy.
But the memories I’m making along the way are very, very rich indeed.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.