As a teenager I took on certain life-long goals, assuming I would succeed:
- I vowed to create a close and meaningful relationship with my mother and older sisters
- I committed to having a loving, intimate partnership with the man I loved, for the rest of my life
- I aspired to become a well-known artist.
I failed at all three. It never occurred to me that teen-aged ambitions might not be realistic. Ablaze with determination, I felt I could fly to the moon. After all, when I was a teen, three Americans had done just that. When I finally admitted defeat after many years of effort, I felt empty, disjointed and cold. These three accomplishments were to be the fabric of my life that kept me warm.
With my family and my partner, I discovered that closeness couldn’t be a one-way proposition. The other party must reciprocate to create deep comradeship. It proved to be beyond my power to establish long term fond relationships with those individuals although I tried in every way possible for many years. Repeated rejections and betrayals felt like wounds to the chest. When I felt strong enough to try again, another round of ridicule would shock me. Both my family and my partner used slander to decimate others.
It took me fifty years to comprehend these realities, to gracefully let go of my efforts and accept superficial politeness as the best possible connection with family and my “forever” man. Now an oldster, I’m proud that I’ve learned how to take good care of myself with difficult personalities, a major accomplishment. I should give myself an award for this triumph.
When I began art school, I learned that only one percent of us might eventually gain name-recognition as an artist. At the time, I thought, I can do this. I’ll be the one percent. But fifty years later, I’m not. Luckily, with age comes insight. I’m pleased I could be an art professor for thirty years. I truly loved expounding upon my love of art with students, watching them experiment and eventually find an aesthetic path. I’m proud of my many exhibits, sharing my work with a world-wide audience. However, I sell few of my art pieces, not for lack of effort by the faithful New York art gallery that represents me. Although I failed at large-scale name recognition, I found my on-going creative process profoundly fulfilling on an inner level. I succeeded at a deeper level than I realized was possible as a teen. Career-wise, I count myself as fortunate.
As a teen-ager I knew of one task I’d never attempt: motherhood. Feeling I’d be a lousy parent, I didn’t plan to try. Mom hadn’t liked kids, emphatically repeating thousands of times that they caused nothing but problems and she couldn’t wait until I, the youngest, left home. When I babysat the neighbors’ children, I did my job, but felt no attraction to the little ones. When I saw other women make faces with wide eyes and say “Goo-goo, ga-ga,” to babies, I thought they were nuts.
But life had other plans. By age forty, with nature sounding her closing bells on my aging eggs, I gave birth to my son, Jon. I hadn’t expected the delightful thrills of child raising: the astounding acuity of a two-year old, the trusting four year-old who sang songs with me to the summer fairies who “lived” in our tall trees, the joys and pangs of his first love as a teen-ager. Did my mother miss all these enchantments? I don’t remember her taking any joy in her children. Of course, each year with Jon had its challenges: the sleepless nights with an infant, the two-year old testing limits, the occasionally sullen teen. But, at each age, I discovered the joys far outweighed the challenges.
Luckily, Jon and I, as adults, are still able to share our vulnerabilities, travails and celebrations: a difficult co-worker or partner, a promotion, an insight. We weep and laugh together in heartfelt reciprocity. Our closeness remains my greatest accomplishment in life. The task I felt sure I would fail at ended up being a complete success.