Nice dinner out last night to celebrate 3 (3!!) friends’ birthday’s, two of which really were yesterday. They were even born in the same hospital, and are not related.

Conversation turned to children — all our children are growing up and either are, or are about to, start making their way in the world. I remember that as a horrifying time of life. Some of it was good — our first Christmas here K and took a bus out to Pt. Reyes (you could take a bike to the entrance to a national park) and then hiked in and spent the night on the coast. It was amazing. There were irises growing wild, and I was wearing a new ragg wool sweater from my mother. I lost it later when I left it in a cafe. But aside from those moments of delirious independence, it was also a time of great worry — that I would never figure out what to do with my life; that everyone else had figured this out and only I, stupid me, was working for minimum wage in a textbook store. But then it all works out, and becomes what you have done with your life and it’s okay.

Painful, though, to watch one’s children go through it. There’s nothing you can do to help, I think. The son of one of these friends got accepted to a prestigious program in a faraway city only to decide, before he really started, actually, that he could not imagine living there for three years and that he missed his girlfriend, so he gave it all up and was home two weeks later. Hmmm.

Which gave rise to the question, is there anything that you can do that will really ruin your life? Can you make a mistake so grave as to ruin everything? (And was that one, I think, was the subtext.) I think not, actually. I mean, okay, you could become a drug addict or murder someone, and both of those would definitely be mistakes that would ruin your life, but absent those, you do what you do and it becomes your life. Maybe NN (not my N) gives up his chance to do this program — but maybe, you know, what he wants is to be close to home and to do this other thing that he has the chance to do here. I guess I think nothing’s wasted — maybe you don’t grab chances you could have, but maybe you really weren’t ready for them or maybe they were not what you really wanted, although that may not have been obvious at the time.

I guess what I think is that if you do make mistakes, you can learn from them, and then you sort of grow around them —


What do you think?


11 thoughts on “November

  1. I agree: what you do becomes your life. But I do think attitude has a lot to do with whether or not you ruin it. If you spend your life dwelling on your regrets and beating yourself up over your mistakes instead of dealing with what is, you will be miserable. It’s not always easy to see a mistake as you walk into it, especially when you’re young. It’s important to cut yourself some slack, just as it’s important to learn from your experience and move on. He may have given something up, but we don’t know what opportunities he will find because of his decision. He’s the only one who can make that happen. Just the same, if my own kid did something like that, I’d be devastated and probably not at all passive about it.

    • I think the fact that he pretty much gave up as soon as he got there is the most troubling — couldn’t he have stayed for a year? How can you know in a day that something isn’t right?
      I think you’re right – cutting yourself some slack is important although also, I think, hard. And learning from experience and moving on also important. Maybe growing up is partly learning how to do these things —

  2. I think cutting your adult kids some slack is important, too. They’re not always able to articulate why something isn’t right.

    Right before I set about ruining some of my local prospects, which did not ruin my whole life, I interviewed for a job that it turned out I didn’t really want in McAllen, Texas. I stayed in the guest house of a faculty member who was near retirement, and I will never forget his pep talk as I left for the interview that morning. It was something about how if I was meant to get that job, I would, and if it wasn’t right for me, something else would come along.

    Something else did, even if it wasn’t a life I could have imagined back then, when I had bigger ambitions.

  3. Hmm. I can absolutely remember those feelings of “Why am I the only one who doesn’t know what I want to do with my life?”, and the panic that all of my friends were more adult and focused than me. (Something I still feel more often than I should.) BUT…from the perspective of middle age, I can look back and see that I was always writing, that I always sought out jobs/careers that were interesting to me and provided me an outlet for that writing…etc. etc. You are what you are, but you don’t always discover that until later on. At least, that’s been my experience.

  4. There are certainly roads, looking back, I should have taken over others, career fields I should have explored but all I remember about those pre-grown up days was feeling confused and anxious and lost. There was no parental guidance except that which did not help. I was not headed to anything prestigious and had to grope around in the dark by myself. But, it all becomes your past and if A hadn’t happened, there wouldn’t have been B which would have meant you’d never have had C. It is what it is.

  5. It wasn’t a letter, it was a phone call. My life isn’t in ruins, but I will be cleaning up for someone else’s failings for the rest of my life. Had it been my failing, I could accept it with some semblance of grace. As it is…

  6. Here’s my take on the son’s decision. What if even before he were accepted, he had doubts about whether that was the right decision or career path for himself? Does the parents’ disappointment come because he walked away from a prestigious program? If it had been an OK program he left, would that change how they felt?

    I have two grown sons so I’ve definitely walked this walk. And all I can hang my hat on is that my way isn’t what works for them because they are not me. Thank God for that.

    As my sons have gotten older, I’ve realized that parenting (a) never stops and (b) is more difficult in some ways than it was when they were younger. Now any mistakes do tend to have long-term consequences, even if they don’t actually cause ruin.

  7. I have a refrigerator magnet that says, “Always make new mistakes.” I think that pretty much sums up my aspirations in life, in writing, in relationships, in jobs, in sports, in singing, and especially in cooking. (;

    It’s so hard to watch my kids when they find themselves in that dead hamster wheel of making the same mistakes over and over. I always tell them that I’d love for my life’s mistakes to somehow inoculate them from whole classes of mistakes (of the heart, of the mind, etc.), but that’s mostly not how life works, because who we are is the combination of hard-wired stuff, plus what we’ve learned, plus whatever we’ve built or destroyed based on the successes we’ve had and mistakes we’ve made. Usually, my mistakes have been more valuable than my successes. And I know this for myself, but it’s really hard to remember it for my daughters.

    In short, I’m with you. Nothing’s wasted.

  8. I believe the ancient Greeks had an answer for your question “Can you make a mistake so grave as to ruin everything?” That seemed to be the central premise of their dramatic tragedies — everyone not facing that their flaws squarely and directly… and everyone’s lives getting ruined because of it.

    In my own life, I can look at a family member and see that decisions she made over the last 15 years have set her life on a path that is like a slow motion car accident… that keeps going on and on and on.

    On the other hand, I think people need to kill their own snakes. I think joyhowie is right… always make new mistakes. Nothing is wasted.

    • Oh, of course, you are right! It’s Oedipus Rex at the very least. Except the mistakes are all made trying to avoid your fate, which I would argue is a special category of mistake — the mistake in NN’s case might be that, or might be just being to young and stupid to know what your fate is — well, actually, it’s a hard thing for anyone to know, really.

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