Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revelation in the food court

I'm a messy person. In my family, I was always the one everyone shook their heads about; that Elizabeth, so much emotion, so many interests, and going in so many different directions.... Tsk, tsk. Did you know that she dropped out of college? Did you meet that horrible poet she's living with? When i visited her, she took me to a party full of gay men and one of them hit on me!

My oldest brother knew, from the age of two, that he wanted to be a scientist. And he is. My middle brother was the kind of sunny fellow who could be successful and happy where ever he landed. And he is, as a highly paid, much sought-after wine maker. And then there's me. I once asked a fortune teller what I would be when I grew up and she searched and searched and found.... no answer. Even though I don't believe in such things, it was a little unsettling because if she'd been a charlatan, she would have just made something up. Instead, she looked very abashed and said, "I don't see anything clearly." It always stuck with me, somehow.

Anyway, this afternoon I took three of my daughters out for a mother/daughter end-of-the-summer shopping date at the mall. The husband (very sensibly) hates the mall, which gives these trips a giddy feeling of just-us-girls closeness and naughtiness. We wandered the cavernous fluorescent halls, window shopped, actually shopped, and finally, in that greatest indulgence of all, ate dinner at the food court. (Oh great bounty of unhealthy food! Oh thrilling lack of responsible parent urging good nutrition!) In short, we had a relaxed and unusually pleasant and cohesive time. Which led to an unusual amount of conversation. So at one point during the meal, my youngest turned to me and asked, "Mommy, if you could be anything in the world, what would you be?" Without thinking, I said, "An artist and novelist." Her eyes widened. Thunderstruck, she whispered, "Mommy, that's what you ARE!" I pondered that for a moment, surprised. It seemed she was right. I hadn't said "published novelist," (though I think that's what I meant). I'd just said "novelist." And I've written a novel. And I make art, and I even sell it.

I was quite taken aback.

Then, to compound the strange feeling that if I looked behind me I might see - instead of the branches and brambles I'm used to - a path that I, myself, had bushwhacked, my youngest said, "That's what I want to be! An artist and a writer!" Now, not only was I a person who was doing what I wanted to do, I was also a role model. Let's just say that I'm much more used to being a cautionary kind of example. Stunned, I turned to my older girls and asked, "What would you want to be, if you could be anything?" "An artist," said one. "Me too," said the other, matter-of-factly.

The conversation wandered away in a different direction. I ate bemusedly. After all these years of stumbling through the seemingly pathless wood of who I am and what I want to be, it seemed I might have to reevaluate who I think I am and how I got here. Very odd.

The only way to process all of this, of course, was to shop some more. So we did. The youngest got a really cute pair of Vans with stars all over them, and the twins each got two of the current de-rigeur tee-shirts (which look, to me, exactly like the old de-rigeur tee-shirts, but what do I know?). And on sale of course. Because, in the midst of change, there are certain immutable truths we can cling to. One of which is that I am, as I always have been, a truly gifted shopper. I still don't know what I think about the bigger question of who and what I am. But I do know that my daughters are going to look absolutely adorable when they go back to school.


sageweb said...

Your daughters recognize your brilliance, thats all. How cool that they want to be what you are. THey must think you are great at what you do and that it makes you happy.

What a nice time to have with the girls...bad food and all is necessary from time to time.

yellowdog granny said...

what a great time that must have been...but you forgot to tell us what unhealthy food you ate..

Doralong said...

Sometimes we're too busy forging ahead to realize we really did make a path through the forest..

And I'm right there with you- I may not have a lot of talents, but I am an absolute freaking genius when it comes to shopping ;)

a thousand shades of twilight said...

Ah, Eliz, that makes me so happy to hear that your daughters said that to you! How great for them to have you as a role model. One of the tough thing about being an artist is constantly having to justify one's own existence, (to oneself as much as to anyone else! I know that I never coped well with that, and, ultimately, copped out!). I admire anyone who perseveres as an artist or writer, because, in so many ways, it is far tougher than many people realise. But if your daughters see being an artist as the most natural thing in the world, that's half the battle won -it's a superb gift you are giving them!

It also sounds like such a nice day you had together - perhaps one of those times that they'll carry with them into adulthood, as we've discussed elsewhere!

mrpeenee said...

You know how John Waters said he couldn't trust someone who had never been arrested? I think I feel that way about people who get to their goals by way of a straight line.

jason said...


Elizabeth said...

Sage - (Cool new icon!) Well, I don't know about brilliance.... I mean, I'm not an aeronautics engineer or anything REALLY brilliant like that!!! But it is really touching to me that they see what I do as a viable, happy choice. My mother spent her whole life complaining about what other people made her do. So it's important to me to own up to my own choices and lie willingly in this messy bed I've made.

Granny - I had a relatively boring, healthful choice - chicken teriyaki. Sigh. How boring to be middle aged and realize that what I eat in the food court today might follow me around for the next decade.

Doralong - Hey, as one genius shopper to another, I think we share pretty great freakin' talent! My kids look great with very little money spent, and I have the great joy of stalking my consumer prey with zen-like focus then POUNCING when the moment's right, and bagging it. What a high.

Elizabeth said...

1000 shades - Now, I will not have you be hard on my dear friend Mr. Twilight! He's very tender hearted and you might hurt his feelings. He didn't cop out, he made choices based on his needs at the time, and pretty worthy choices at that. And they're not the only choices he will ever make.

But you're certainly right in saying justifying being an artist to others is one of the more unhappy parts of trying to be one.

And every parent is destined to mess up. Goes with the job. Philip Larkin had it right:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They do not mean to, but they do.
But I hope we have given them a sense that they have choices available to them, and the tools they need to accomplish whatever they want to accomplish.

Mr. Peenee - Oh, I want a bumper sticker that says that. How I love him. I made my teens watch the real "Hairspray" last week, and then we went the the Andy Warhol museum and one of my girls chose a tee-shirt with Divine on it. I was so proud! Only 15 and already in hag training! So precocious.

Jason - Back at ya! (And may I say, you have a lovely smile.)