“I don’t know, Mom, I think the Mardi Gras magic’s got me,” the daughter said in a phone call between parades the other day. “I’m not sure I can leave.”
We’ve been through this before. A few weeks prior to leaving for the University of North Carolina, where the daughter was absolutely, positively sure she was going to go from the very first moment she stepped onto the cobblestoned campus, she had second thoughts.
“Maybe I should go to Villanova. It’s closer to home, plus Nana and all your sisters live in Pennsylvania…”
“Stop second guessing yourself,” I said. “Just follow your heart.”
And she did, never looking back until last year’s NCAA championship basketball game when Nova beat her beloved alma mater in a buzzer beater.
After graduating, she landed a job with Teach for America, where she was contracted to work in an underserved school district for two years. When asked to rank her choices of cities for placement, one of them was Washington, DC. After all, she had majored in Peace, War and Defense; was young and liberal; and had, as a young girl, arbitrarily decided that she would grow up, get married and raise her spirited children in the DC suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. She also put down New Orleans because, really, what 22 year-old wouldn’t want to live in a city with music on every corner and no open container laws?
And then, shortly before her Teach for America stint in New Orleans was to begin, she questioned herself yet again.
“I don’t know, Mom, maybe I should work in Durham. Louisiana is just so far away. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave North Carolina.”
But she did. And ended up extending her stay by a year, living and loving New Orleans like any food, fun and music-loving 22, 23 or 24 year-old would.
And now, at the tender age of 25, she’s at those old familiar crossroads once again. She hears the nation’s capital calling but isn’t sure if that politically-charged city can compete with the bohemian bravado of the Big Easy.
After finishing up at West Virginia University, I was determined to find my fame and fortune far away from home. I decided to move to Houston, Texas, having heard that there were all kinds of opportunities for recent college graduates. I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce, read the Fodor’s Travel Guide and sent my severely-suffering resume to every company listed in AdWeek’s directory of up-and-coming Houston ad agencies. I would start as a copywriter and work my way up to Creative Director, and beyond. Nothing would stop my dreams.
Except for a summer in Flagstaff, Arizona. My friend, Ann, and I explored the great wild west on my dear, deceased grandmother’s dime. When I returned home to Pennsylvania that fall, I decided that maybe I’d wait another year before moving to Houston.
Meanwhile, my sister, Emily, had moved to Richmond, living amongst fellow William & Mary graduates. She convinced me to try my luck in Virginia, a mere car ride away. And so I did.
I didn’t last long.
I moved back home, got a job at TV Guide magazine where I worked in a dead-end job for 9 years and lived with my parents until I was 26 years-old.
When I got married at 31, my spouse was working at The Record, a then respectable newspaper in North Jersey. I had a great four-day work schedule, good friends and three sisters, including Emily, who by then had also returned, all living within five miles of one another. And so, I suggested to my ever-loving spouse-to-be that I should continue living in Pennsylvania and just spend long weekends together in New Jersey.
Needless to say, that’s no way to start a marriage, and so I packed up and moved. But, it was only 100 miles away from home. I could drive down for dinner. For Christmas. For birthday parties.
Teaneck, New Jersey is now my home as much as Glenside, Pennsylvania ever was. I have built a life here with my family and friends and even if they were all swept away in a tornado, I’m sure I’d stay put.
But, that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about Houston.
I’ve never been to Houston. I no longer have any desire to go to Houston. But, it always comes to mind when I get a “Should I stay or should I go?” phone call.
I can’t promise my adult children a perfect life. I can’t turn my dreams into theirs. And I certainly can’t tell them what to do. Like most parents, all I really want is for my kids to be happy, to be able to support themselves, to feel fulfilled in what they do, to fall in love and to have children, if for no other reason than to witness their comeuppance.
As for me, I never rose through the ranks of the advertising world. I never got beyond that copywriter position. Instead, I raised children. And, while I have absolutely no regrets, I can’t help but think of Houston.
And so, when my kids come calling for advice, I always tell them the same thing in different words.
Go as far as you have to, for as long as you want to. Just don’t ever be afraid to go to the Houston of your heart.