I am nearing the end of my first sabbatical from my academic job. I’ve done absolutely nothing of substance in terms of scholarship, but I have done a lot of personal reflection (I am not sure yet that it is personal growth, but I suppose it will be in time). This may come to bite me when (if?) I apply for full, but frankly, I don’t care right now.
I had the opportunity to spend a month in California – my second home. Before moving back to the North East, I lived in California for ten years. It was where I got my three graduate degrees, met my husband, and I left to start a career in academia. San Diego is also where I met Dana. I haven’t been back in 3 years due to having a baby and COVID.
It was a really wild trip. Both of my brothers had their long-awaited, COVID-delayed weddings. I spent two weeks alone with my three-year-old. We spent some days in San Diego at the beach, eating ice cream, chasing “sea chickens” (sea gulls), and singing Moana songs to the sea. We spent a few days in the Bay area, spending time with old friends for me, and new friends for her. It was the trip of a lifetime with my baby girl. I spent time with family, old friends, new friends, and took approximately 1,000 pictures of sunsets every day.
I don’t think I’m a particularly spiritual person, but I am an emotional person. Spending that much time in my old home brought forth a rush of intense memories and feelings. I think I cried more in that month than I have in years. I cried happy tears for my brothers, and there were sad tears shed for past dreams and goals that haven’t materialized. I cried tears of frustration as I tried to single parent for two weeks (ya’ll the real MVPs, that is HARD). I cried tears of gratitude to the family and friends who opened their homes for me as I essentially couch surfed with my preschooler. My heart and mind were open in ways that they haven’t been in a very long time, if ever. I even got to see my therapist in person for the first time in 6 years. I saw old friends and as is true of friendships that endure, it was as if no time at all had passed.
I will never have an opportunity like this again, and let me tell you, even the idea of traveling like this with my kid scared the shit out of me. It was hard, and I didn’t expect it to be so emotional to be back in California. I almost flew home early twice, but I ultimately stayed. I had to know I could do this.
When E (my girl) and I were shopping one day on Coronado, she grabbed a bracelet and said, “Mommy, can I have this?” The bracelet said “fearless.” I am a big sucker and she’s spoiled, and I love the messaging for my girl that she be fearless, so I said yes. She got tired of wearing it after 5 minutes so I wore it. Since, I’ve been pondering my own fearlessness, or to be honest, lack there of.
I am realizing, in retrospect, that I have taken the safest route possible in my life in so many ways. To the outsider, it may not seem that way. But the reality is, I’m scared a lot, and worry too much about what others might think of me. I’m afraid of failure, so there are many times I haven’t tried. I am now being challenged to face some deep seeded unhappiness and discontent in my life, and that too is very scary. I don’t know what the next year is going to look like for me and I have some very difficult questions to answer.
COVID helped me recognize my mortality. Spending a month in California opened my eyes again to the possibility of new experiences – even if they are challenging. Most of all, spending that much time navigating the state with my daughter reminded me that she is watching everything that I do, and I don’t want her to feel like she is in any way limited to safe choices in life. I hope to change the narrative with her about what a woman can do, because despite my very best intentions, I feel caught in the gendered narrative. I am desperately trying to figure out how to break free of that.
Why would I write about this? I don’t think I’m alone in my fear of taking risks, and I think as we get older, we get stuck. We have more responsibilities, more bills to pay. However, we always have the opportunity to grow. We just need to be willing to take those chances.
Here is to being fearless.