This morning, I encountered gracious receivers.
"Oh...I haven't gotten one of these in years!" one woman said, grinning as she placed her gold star prominently on her sweater.
"My boyfriend used to tell me, when I said I was trying, 'Yes, you are. Very,'" her friend said in an Irish brogue I always think sounds jaunty even if the words are jaded.
One is in nursing school after a decade in advertising. She fears microbiology, but she is forging forward, facing science and math in the hopes it can help her help others and herself. I shudder just thinking about it and give her great props. I dropped out of Physics and failed seven Trigonometry tests in a row in high school, no thanks to my tutor who only came over for my Mom's apple pie. The nurse-to-be well deserves her gold star for getting past such a daunting fear. The other was, she was sad to report, going back to working a full week after years of being off on Fridays, in need of an extra day's pay. She deserved her star too. Their daughters, schoolmates, making a rainbow together in their bright, happy tights and skirts, played happily under the counter, letting their mothers alone to chat before drop-off.
We got on to the topic of later-in-life schooling, how choosing to really learn something, because you want to, because you've decided it might make you happy, not just for the "A," is a good thing. The cost of college-just-cuz is too high, the pressure of recouping your investment too great if you aren't really going to appreciate the experience, really care. Hard to justify hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a piece of paper that has the potential for a payoff...someday, by someone and often (I dare say because of that investment)financially remunerative enough to at least begin to pay back your debts and still pay the rent. It is limiting, especially to people who might want to play music or draw or write or cook, to do things that do not promise a weekly paycheck or, if they do, a very weak one.
I have begun recently, unconventionally, to hope my children choose something more passionate than a four-year college or at least consider other options, that they are not limited by the restraints of how society has set up formal higher education as a must. It is a relief, selfishly, to imagine my whole life doesn't have to be overshadowed by the looming expense of their overpriced degrees, documents that will almost necessitate them entering fields they may not love. The way society is heading, where we seem nearly ready to face the fact that the capitalist system is, by design, greedy, maybe things will look different when my youngest, who is 5, finishes high school. I can only hope.
Are we surprised that bonuses are crucial for AIG employees, for Wall Street? Did we think these people weren't motivated by money and that, if the money disappeared, they would still sit happily in front of their spreadsheets? Nothing against spreadsheets, there is something satisfying about them to some people, like my husband, but there is a reality, and most of us have chosen not to see it. It's time, as my friend Sally likes to say, to walk into the room of mirrors.
When I speak, loud and fast and angry, about the fallacy of believing that College in and of itself is a savior, that Obama can offer easy "Change," that a marriage license means happily ever after, I am accused of lacking idealism. And my accusers are correct. I think blind hope is a problem. For things that are worth it, to make them worth it, it takes hard work.
"You fall pretty hard when you haven't faced reality," I said to my newest gold-star recipients. I think of myself as a positive realist, which sometimes reads to people like negativity. It's just that I don't want to be surprised. I want to take on the responsibility of consciousness, not to control the outcome or even know it 'cause I don't think that's possible, but to be ready for any eventuality. All of what comes comes from what came before. We can see it if we choose to look back. Idealism is just imagining all the shoulds. It is a waste of time.
I have tried, of late, to take "should" out of my vocabulary. I hear it too often, along with tears, from little, begging mouths. It seems so easy to see the fallacy in small childrens' thinking, in their pouty blind hope for a lollipop at breakfast or for cable TV from a mom who will never have it in her house. (Hear that, Eli?) But our own blind hope seems as it should be. It only gets worse with time. And we are bound to be disappointed when our expectations exceed possibility. I know. It happens to me all the time. Like thinking giving out gold stars and writing a blog about it could go somewhere and help me justify hanging out in cafes and talking to people, like it is a valid excuse for learning in 3-D at the low,low price of a double Americano.