She’s already so much more than I’ll ever be

By May 27, 2011

It feels like your heart will just swell right up and burst, and no, it’s not a cardiac arrest. It’s pride — surging, bubbly, sparkling pride that feels like you’ll just explode into a glittering shower of wowie!

It’s amazement!

It’s awe!

It’s joy!

Of the three, “joy” comes closest. But it’s not an exact hit either. Joy is a bit too giddy. No, the emotion welling up in me as I waited in a sea of people at Cox Stadium at San Francisco State to see my daughter graduate last weekend was brand new to me, like discovering a hidden room in my own house that I never knew was there.

Sure, I’ve been proud of my children for all sorts of reasons and accomplishments over the years, but nothing was like seeing my daughter graduate with not one major, but two – a BA in Fine Arts and a BS in Visual Communication Design.

“Oh — art,” some of you are scoffing. But here’s the deal: She followed her heart. She stayed true to herself. She took her inborn talent and amplified it. She made a decision not to trade affluence for personal integrity. She didn’t sell out.

Others of you are scoffing, “San Francisco State.” It’s not one of those “impressive” schools. But here’s what is impressive: Aside from a humble little savings account her dad started for her as a baby, she earned almost all the rest, including her rent. In San Francisco. Ever notice what rents are there? Check it out and choke. But she managed to pay for it by working two jobs, all while carrying a full load at school. When she graduated, she’d racked up about $5,000 in student loans. Most students, unless they’re from privileged families, end up with another zero on that figure after college.

Actually, she would have graduated without any debt at all, but budget cuts at SFSU triggered widespread class cancellations and waiting lists, and she couldn’t get into her required classes several times. It took summer school sessions and an extra year to finish. (And, of course, you still have to pay full tuition even if you can’t get your classes. In some circles, that’s called extortion. But that was another column.)

And what about those unfortunate semesters when she couldn’t get her classes. Did she just piss them away? No. She used them to pick up that second degree. There’s one for the “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” file.

My daughter got some invaluable life lessons at SFSU. She learned to triage her problems and find positive solutions, and when faced with a financial obstacle course, she didn’t give up. She conquered it. She learned how to buckle down even when she didn’t feel like it or when things seemed impossible, and just do it. She learned the value of a dollar by discovering how hard it is to make one.

It wasn’t easy, mind you. She was a total stress monkey the last few years. But maybe it’s a trade-off. She’ll have less stress in the years ahead because she knows how to take care of herself. Now, if she can just learn to do so happily, as The Chant of Metta says, she’ll have a doctorate in living successfully. I was 40 years old before I figured these things out, and she’s only 23.

I guess that’s what impresses me most: At less than half my age, my daughter has already accomplished more than I have. She’s infinitely braver than me. She flew across the country alone at 18. I didn’t pluck up that much courage (if you can call it that, given the amount of Xanax and weeping it took) until I was 46.

She navigates the buses and BART in San Francisco with ease. I’ve yet to even attempt them. My urban navigational skills consist of yelling “Taxi!” She walks around San Francisco alone at night, and in some really thready areas (I won’t even walk through the Tenderloin in the daytime), and tromps down the sidewalk with a fierce “Look sideways at me and I will stab you in the eye” glare.

That’s quite a metamorphosis for a little girl who grew up in a town with only one stoplight. She didn’t get that from me. If someone said “Boo!” to me while I was alone at a bus stop in The Haight at night. I’d wet myself. Hell, I’d probably wet myself just being alone at a bus stop in The Haight at night.

So, how did a scaredy-cat Mom raise such a tigress? No, seriously — how did I do it? Because I don’t have a clue.

It’d be presumptive of me, if not egomaniacally delusional, to take any credit for it. I hate to burst any bubbles here, but I’ll never win the June Cleaver Mother of the Year Award. True, I did the best I could with the skills I had (which is the only thing that gives me solace when I’m indulging in self-flagellation over all the things I “could” have done for my kids), but I’m a B+ mom at best, and that’s being generous. Clearly, my daughter’s success and mastery of life skills is by no means because of me. She’s not a chip off the old block. In fact, it is me who is the chip … looking up at the block in awe, and amazement, and joy.

In pride.

My daughter is 23 years old, and she’s already more than I will ever be. I can’t wait to see what she’ll become.

— Follow Debra DeAngelo on Twitter. Links are posted at http://www.edebra.com and http://www.wintersexpress.com. Find Debra’s columns online at http://www.wintersexpress.com, http://www.edebra.com and http://www.ipinion.us

Debra DeAngelo

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