Every spring I experience two cravings. One is to paint my fingernails. Apparently (I discovered while hanging out around on campus) people don't paint their own fingernails anymore. I can't fathom the time and money required to get manicures that often, but whatever. I slosh polish on my own fingernails, every spring, and feel very pretty about the whole thing. Right now I'm very fond of a lavender shade.
Unfortunately, the other thing I crave in the spring is gardening. I'm not a tidy sort of gardener, either. I don't wear gloves, because how do you feel the proper tension in the root of a weed with gloves on? If you pull too hard, you'll snap that thing right off, and then you just lost. How are you supposed to feel the texture of the soil, how compact or damp or crumbly it is through gloves? Look, I know lots of accomplished gardeners manage it just fine. I'm just stuck at some earlier stage of gardening development, apparently, where I have to feel it in my fingers. At the end of the day, I come inside wearing smudges of dirt, and fingers that are rough with drying soil.
Unfortunately, that doesn't do a manicure any good. It seems like every year I spend a few weeks fighting these two springtime urges until enough nails have given way to the abuse, cracking away in shards. I remove the polish and clip them as short as I can, and get back to the weeding.
It's a relief, really, because looking nice is not really something I'm all that adept at. I don't always grow things successfully either, but I feel better about that effort. As the garden takes shape, I sometimes run my thumb over my nails, feeling the rough tips that are traced with fissures, and scraps of hangnails that sting as they peel away. When tender nubs of green shoulder the soil aside to unfurl in the sunlight, it seems a fair trade.
I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.
So, I graduated. That was wonderful. I don't think I realized just how much I carried the fact that I'd never finished my degree until I was there, within spitting distance of finishing. The last week of classes, people kept saying to me "You're graduating! You're out of here!" and I would shake my head and reply "Well, I have to get through finals first."
This was a silly thing to say, because I calculated my grades and I knew that I could not get a low enough grade on my finals to fail my classes. And yet, I muttered fretting things about those finals. It wasn't until I finished the very last one (Microbiology. You guys. Microbiology is SO COOL), that I realized I'd actually done it. I got into my car and drove home and sobbed the whole way. I did it. I finally, really did it. It felt so good, and I'm so glad I did it.
Of course, now I'm job hunting. Here's a news flash that will be shocking to all of you, I'm sure: Job hunting is TERRIBLE. Don't do it, if you can avoid it. It's a horrible thing to do. It's been 22 years since I've had a job, and it turns out that the professional world was not waiting breathlessly for my return. Weird, right? Also, the entire process of looking for a job has turned into the very worst massively multiplayer online role-playing game EVER. I am not good at it.
At the same time, home life has changed. Tre has moved out - well, I know that happened a while ago. But now he has his own apartment, which feels different yet again. He doesn't come home for the summer. Actually, when he leaves here, he IS going home. That's just weird.
Max also moved out. Hmm. How do I say this? The details aren't mine to share, but suffice to say it's not what I'd hoped. Ultimately, I believe in the heart of Max, and I believe in his future. Right now? There have been a lot of tears.
We are down to a family of four, huddled at one end of the table at dinner time. I am no good at cooking for this number of people. I end up making hot dogs AGAIN or preparing an enormous lasagne that we will never, ever finish before it goes bad. I feel out of step in this new configuration.
It's not hard for me to turn these hard things into self-doubt. I turned my back on the working world 22 years ago, assuming it would be fine. Now it's like a massive, smooth wall to me. There are no doors or window, no fissures that I can get a fingerhold on. I don't seem to have been very wise about this, and I'm embarrassed by how bewildering it all is. It feels like something a grown-up should know.
But I put my grown-up self to the task of parenting. Maybe more than I should have, I invested in my kids. Maybe I should have kept more space for myself in my life. I look at the struggles my kids face, despite my every effort, and wonder what I thought I was achieving there. It turns out that in the best of situations, children are supposed to grow up and leave. It turns out that no amount of love guarantees the best of situations. It turns out that I was unprepared.
I don't know. All I really got from those years is...those years. I got to spend that time with them. It's all I get right now with Raphael and Sophia, these days that slip through my fingers. I picked that over having a career. So maybe I look silly, a 46-year-old, trying to figure out how to win a job in a strange new world.
But I suppose I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.