On Being Family-oriented

Yesterday was a waste. I spent the whole day trying to be family-oriented.

And I am NOT family-oriented? Ya heard? I am selfish and misanthropic! I love solace and a schedule that I dictate! I sit at home and stare at curling wicks of candles, making imprints of my thumb in the hot, fluid wax.

I slept in because my bunkmate wanted to and I went to two grocery stores because my living partner wanted to and, yes, the bunkmate and living partner is the same partner, but monogamy, while such a blessing, never kept a captive audience. So I am trying to spice up the identity. Because that is sooo family-oriented.

Grocery shopping took so long and by the end of the second shopping trip, I was breezing through the aisles, skipping the chips and pop one, not even price comparing. In between shopping trips, though, I ogled my old roommate's baby which I very much wanted to do, but I envied Becca's lovely and nurturing voice when she said her son Luke's name. Will I ever be that maternal? Will I ever stroll a stroller with pride and not with irony, as if, at any moment, I might disown my strollee. As if, at any moment, if someone asked me if this was my child, I might say, "Oh, no, just babysitting! I'm not old enough to have children!" Will I ever be family-oriented?

Do I want it bad enough?

I used to be sophisticated. And really really selfish. Even in high school, I was a young woman involved, civically engaged. I was frantically busy. I hated that my mother made dinner at six o'clock every night. It got in the way of my sophisticated projects. I scheduled time, actual blocks of time, to think about things, like theses for papers on Hamlet, whose mental state probably mirrored my own, I was so depressed. I never thought about my family and how I could help my brother, my sister. I only asked for them to leave me alone. In college, I was even more sophisticated. I relished each week with its wide open matrix of time uncommitted - all that time of my own! I became an RA so that I would have a single room that was paid for, on a low maintenance hallway, with bathrooms that smelled like Sephora in the springtime.

I remember my mother pulling into the driveway of my dorm sophomore year. The rain on our car matched the tears rolling down my eyes. "I feel like I raised both you and your sister to do well in school, to win lots of awards, but to never give a second thought to helping your family."

She was blaming me for my self-centredness, my self-impressedness. But she was also blaming herself. Her example of self-sacrifice for her family had not rubbed off on us. Instead, it had backfired, because we saw in her the pains, the thanklessness of being family-oriented. We turned on our heels and cleaned our plates after six o'clock dinner and made ourselves some Spanish flashcards.

Two summers ago, I sent two letters to two different law schools. I don't remember exactly what I wrote. If I really wrote from the deep recesses of my heart, though, they probably would have said:

Dear Law School Personnel Who Should Lower the Registration Fee,

I have spent the last year working two jobs, planning a wedding, and applying to your school. I thought, a year ago, that, by now, I would be in a better state financially. I thought I would be eager to be getting married. I thought I would be accepting your acceptance of me to law school. Instead, I am still drowning in credit card debt, I am very nervous about getting married, and I will not be attending law school.

I know that none of this merits your attention. However, had I put nearly as much soul-searching as I have into my reasons for not attending law school as I had into devising the perfect essay on why you should accept me, I imagine I would not be writing this letter at all. The truth is that I am, for the first time in my life, lighting a small taper candle for my family's happiness. The family I grew up in was not the most happy family. It was supportive and wonderful in some ways, but I would not say it was a happy family. Now, it is my prerogative to build a happy family with my soon-to-be husband. And I do not think that I can endure law school and overpriced textbooks and competition with other Type A's like myself and then, subsequently, try to build a law career and still have a happy family. I understand that many people have done this successfully. But I believe that there are other things that I can do to net happiness for myself, which, passed on like taper candles, can set a small family ablaze with happiness.

Thank you for your kind attention. I am wishing you all the best for a very successful 2005-2006 academic year.

Kendra Stanton Lee

I am not in law school, needless to say, and I will not take over my family's law practice. I will, however, remember that happily ever after for my family is now. It was not yesterday. Yesterday was a waste. Tomorrow, I...we will live happily ever after...