Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Most likely to succeed

I was looking through an old high school yearbook a few months ago and I had a little laugh at myself. My senior year I, on purpose, was in almost every club… I can remember staying after school for softball, then after that as editor on the yearbook, then after that for aerobics. I took Latin because I wanted to, sang in the choir even though I couldn’t sing, was in FFA because cowboys were cute but I had no desire to farm. I had a constant desire to do more, to be better, to be the busiest… To be the best.
To win.
Winning. That was what it was all about. I needed straight As… The highest ACT score… I needed to be admired. I needed lots of letters behind my name. I wanted awards. My desire to achieve did not go unnoticed. I was voted “Best All Around” and “Miss WHS” and homecoming court by my peers. I was voted to the Hall of Fame and “Most Likely to Succeed” by my teachers.
And that mattered to me. It mattered a lot.
Looking back, it’s the “Most Likely to Succeed” label that makes me smile the most. My teachers saw something in me that made them feel I would be successful. At that point in my life I thought that meant money, respect, a big diamond ring, the fancy car, the big, fancy office, the PhD, the MD, the 2.5 kids with the fancy house. I don’t know if that’s how the teachers defined “success” or not. All I can say definitively is 17-year-old high school senior Mollie would have not classified the life I’m currently living as a “success.” This was so not in my fifteen-year plan.
That’s sad because, you know what? The things I would have looked down on at that time are the things I now feel are my biggest accomplishments. If there had been a way to tell me back then I would have a dead child, a medically complicated/developmentally delayed child, and a child with autism, I would have had a hysterectomy on the spot. I wouldn’t want those smudges on my resume. Kids who are less than perfect, straight-A, scholar-athletes? I hardly think so. Not on my watch. Not from my uterus. No way, no how.
How I laugh now, knowing my babies are how I have redefined my success.
I’m thinking about all this today based on some recent comments I saw posted on an article about a mother who has been requested to remove her child from school property each day at lunch time to tube feed her. Not only will the school no longer do it, they do not want the mother to do it on the premises. The blatant disregard for FAPE and IDEA from the school aside, the comments left on the article from people who don’t feel children with tubes, trachs, or any disability, really, should be educated in public schools… They hold back the other children… They use up funds and time that would be better spent on educating their own children… Students who are “normal.” They’re just drains on society, is all. Obviously, anyone with a feeding tube is a waste of educational funding.
Maybe 17-year-old, super successful Mollie would have felt the same way. Survival of the fittest, right? I mean, if you don’t have the potential to change the world and make millions, what good are you after all? Why would I have wanted to, or even needed to, waste one minute of my time? Oh, maybe for a public service project. That would look good on my resume. HR loves volunteer work on your resume. That would help land that dream job.
Seventeen-year-old Mollie grew up some in college. I learned to direct my life to an area which made me happy. I took a job working as a tech in an acute psychiatric hospital (because it would look good on my resume, of course.) But, you know what? I learned that I liked working with people who were a little different. I found I could learn a whole lot more from a Vietnam vet with PTSD than a pre-med frat boy who grew up on daddy’s money. I learned someone in the midst of a severe paranoid delusional schizophrenic break would be nice to me if I treated him nicely and with respect. I learned everyone had potential to bring goodness into the world. Not everyone chooses to, but everyone has the potential.
That’s true for everyone, regardless of race, sexual preference, gender, religion, height, weight, hair style, number of tattoos, diagnosis, socio-economic status, and even IQ. It’s a choice we all make, every day.
Fast forward through all the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years, the ones I’ve had to really, really internalize. The crow I’ve had to eat. The asses I’ve had to kick and the ones I’ve had to kiss. The toes I’ve had to step on. The three children I’ve birthed who I would lay down my life for this very instant if I needed to.
Perfect? Yes. Maybe not to everyone. Maybe not to 17-year-old Mollie. Maybe not to the average 35-year-old  soccer mom. Maybe not to the 55-year-old congressman. Definitely not to the CEO of my insurance company ;) Maybe not even to you. But here’s what I do know: everyone has potential to bring good into this world… Even my baby with a feeding tube and my baby with autism; even my baby who lived just one day. We don’t all shine the same lights; we don’t all shine them in the same direction or at the same brightness or in the same color… But just because your gift is being a cunning salesperson or a charismatic leader or a professional athlete or a well-known minister… Don’t for one second think your light is more important than anyone else’s.
You may do well in life, but do you do good?
I no longer long for a straight-A child with a baseball scholarship to a strong SEC school. I want a kid who works his ass off for a C in math. I want a kid who respects others and loves life. I want a kid who doesn’t feel life owes him not one thing, but would give the shirt off his back to a stranger. I want a kid who smiles, and means it. I want a kid who opens doors for others and knows “no” means “no” and says “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” I want a kid who loves people regardless of their differences, and treats them accordingly. I don’t know what the future holds for my babies; the world remains their oyster. But this I know, one of my kids may be bagging your groceries at Kroger one day, and he’d better be the nicest damn grocery bagger you’ve ever had. Or you know what? One of my kids may be your neurologist one day, and he'd better have the best damn bedside manner and the best listening capabilities you’ve ever come across in a physician. I don’t care which; I don’t care if they do well, but they better do good. That’s all I hope for.
That’s all I hope for any of us anymore.
So, yes, I have succeeded. I have succeeded in learning the secret to success is not making money. It’s not being in charge. What makes me successful is not the letters behind my name (and I have a few ;) or the amount in my bank account (it’s not very much.) My biggest successes are my children, and the goodness I have helped bring into the world through them. They have made this world a better place.
I don’t expect everyone to see that. I don’t expect everyone to understand that. All I can hope is for others to tolerate it; maybe even embrace it. Allow my children, my imperfect, amazing children, to live in the same world as their imperfect, amazing children. To accept their differences and their weaknesses do not diminish their strengths, their will to live, their hearts full of compassion. To treat them with respect and love even if my children can do them no benefit. I will teach my children to do the same.
Isn’t that really the secret to success after all? I’m pretty sure it is. That’s winning at life, and I want the gold star.