I went back to school when my son was 20 months old. The night before I was scheduled to start, I went over to my mom and step dad’s house. I was in a blind panic about going back to school. I felt like Quinn was too young to go to daycare, and I was sure that I was going to be ruining his life if I did this. Plus, I was going back to get an education licensure, and I knew I didn’t want to teach. But as a young single mom, I felt like my options were limited.
My step dad’s opinion always mattered to me because, while we often reached the same conclusion, the ways we got to the answer were completely different, and I needed to hear his thought on all of this.
I had worked up a great argument. I simply said, “I’m going to defer for a year. Quinn is too little, and I’m not ready for this. I can’t do it.”
My step dad paused for a minute and then calmly said, “D, you’ve got to get in a boat. Right now, you’re standing on the shoreline watching all the boats go by. Just get in one. Once you’re on the water, you can move from boat to boat to boat, but as long as you’re on the shore, you can’t get anywhere. Just get in a boat.”
I tearfully went home and spent a restless night. The next morning, I took Quinn to the home daycare where he was going to be spending time with a fabulous woman we knew from church and a passel of happy preschoolers. I reluctantly went into the foyer and was going to have a kind of Hollywood “moment” with him. In my mind, his little 20-month old brain was going to somehow grasp that this was the end of the first phase of our lives together. I imagined that he was going to throw his arms around me, as much for my sake as his.
Instead, I didn’t even get his little sweatshirt totally unzipped before he was off to the playroom, ready to spend time with new friends. There was no hug, no looking back. So I got in my car and drove to the campus.
I carefully put one foot into the boat of another degree, and then I put the other one in, too.
As usual, my step dad was absolutely correct. I didn’t stay in that particular boat for very long, but having been in that one, I was able to jump to the graduate school boat and then the adjunct professor boat. Then I jumped to the copy editing for a magazine boat, the freelance writer and actor boat and finally The Arts Partnership boat. I’ve been in that boat a long time now, and I’m looking around to see if there are other boats on my horizon or different waters to sail in this current boat.
And at the same time I was doing professional boat hopping, I was also personally hopping. I met an Irishman and paddled my boat up next to his. The three of us linked our two boats together; first kind of in tandem and then together in one when we finally got married six and a half years later.
Dr. Marry and I helped launch Quinn out into many boats of his own, and now he’s enjoying his time in the Boeing boat in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, and they are making their way together in a boat that Dr. Marry and I sometimes get to visit but no longer share. But that’s ok because we are in a spectacular boat of our own filled with travel and pollinator gardens and challenging careers and a renovated kitchen and spin class and joy in each day together.
So my question to you is, where are you? Are you in a boat or on the shoreline? Because believe me, your location matters. Are you moving down the river or standing still? Are you struggling in your current boat? Then jump to the next one. And if that one doesn’t work, then jump again. And again and again and again.
It doesn’t feel like it was 22 years ago that my step dad and I first had this conversation. My 24-year old self wouldn’t believe all the amazing and mundane and joyful and sad boats I have been in because that young woman was more comfortable standing on the shoreline than dipping her toes in to see that not only would the boat support her, but the water was just fine and she would be, too.
And so will you. Get in a boat.