You know what is pretty awesome? Dressing up in bright orange and blue and a hat with ribbons, turning on Bolivian music, and dancing with preschoolers. Even better is when two of the preschoolers in the room are your own daughters. That’s a pretty awesome.
As I drove home from the preschool, I had an interesting realization. That awesome moment in my daughter’s classroom had been brought to me courtesy of a series of twists and turns in my life and choices that I had made along my own path. It was very much an If/Then or Sliding Doors kind of moment.
I thought back to an afternoon in July of 2004, as I sat in my mom’s living room preparing a baby gift for a friend who had just given birth to her second child. As I stuffed newspaper around the package so that it could be mailed, I happened upon a wedding announcement for another high school friend. The announcement taunted me with the news of Dr. S. and Dr. S. Not only has she found the man of her dreams (presumably), but Mr. Perfect was also a doctor. And so was she!
There I sat, recently returned from spending two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, possibly frittering my life away. People with whom I had graduated were having kids, getting married, and becoming DOCTORS for crying out loud. I was looking for a job, debating the merits of different grad school programs, and living between my mom’s basement and my little sister’s couch. I questioned every step of my life path up to that moment. What on earth was I doing with my life?
Fortunately, my mom showed up soon after that, and reminded me that my life choices to that point had their own merits. I was fluent in a second language and knew enough of a third language to get myself into trouble. I had gained the perspective that only comes from living in a different culture. I had gained valuable work skills. I knew better than to judge myself based on my relationship status. Oh, and I didn’t want to be a doctor, so what was I all worked up about, anyway? Thanks mom. I needed that.
Not long after that I had a job and an apartment and a boyfriend (whom I would later marry). Life went on. I found a career in informal education that brought joy and job satisfaction (if not copious amounts of money). I got married to my own Mr. Perfect who had his own set of skills, if not letters after his name. I had one kid. I had another kid. They are both pretty cute and funny. Mr. Perfect isn’t really perfect, but neither am I. My life has turned out just fine.
Not that I’m comparing. It isn’t like my 20th high school reunion is coming up around the corner. Oh, wait. It is. How did that happen???
Then today I had this magical moment of dancing Tinku with preschoolers.
It is multicultural week at K’s preschool, and I told the teacher that I could come in and share about Bolivia. I gathered up pictures and music and a dance costume, things and memories that I wouldn’t have if I had skipped the Peace Corps. I called upon my years of visiting classrooms with science museum programs, a job I never would have been qualified for or even considered without my Peace Corps experience. I walked into my daughter’s classroom and shared something that I never could have shared if I had had children earlier or gone to medical school instead of the Peace Corps. I had the flexibility in my schedule thanks to the confidence and skills that I have gained along the way to become my own boss and set my own schedule.
And then I had that moment. That moment that came to me courtesy of my own exact life path.
It is the kind of moment that I wish I could have packaged up and sent to my July 2004 self. It is the kind of moment that allows me to back up and see the natural beauty and purpose of my path. I have always been in the right place at the right time, all the way along the path, even when the path was bumpy and poorly lit. Today, looking backwards, I could see the whole map. “X” marked the spot on that preschool carpet.
Funny how I searched desperately for these moments and understanding in my 20’s, and then in my 30’s they just sneak up on me when I’m only half paying attention.
I suppose that any given moment is a sum of all of the moments that preceed it. So in some ways, that moment dancing wasn’t particularly notable. Except that it was notable. It was exactly where I wanted to be and exactly what I wanted to be doing. Any regrets or hesitations I may have had along the way were washed away in that moment. In that moment I was living out so many facets of myself that I felt whole and authentic in a way that was notable, special, and fulfilling. The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The mother. The not-a-doctor. The educator. The Tinku dancer. All one. All me.
I’m sure that on that day in 2004, as my mom calmed me down, she already knew that I would have a moment like this one (and many of them) along the way. She wasn’t worried. My hope for my own daughters is that they have the confidence and intuition to follow their own paths and find their own authentic self moments along the way, too.
May their souls, and yours, too, have celebratory moments of dancing to just the right music in just the right place with just the right people at just the right time.