That Time You Didn’t Have it All--One word that covers it all
I first wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. No joking.
I was seven when the Challenger mission and the new space age were set to be launched. My routine then was such that after dinner I’d arrange my red telescope on the hood of Mom’s station wagon and scan the sky. I’d jot down my observations in a black composition notebook – my space journal. They were groundbreaking entries like “December, 1985 – Dear Diary, Tonight it was cloudy and I saw nothing but clouds.” At bedtime I’d fall asleep to my at-home planetarium, set to northern hemisphere, and I’d imagine how the stars would look outside my shuttle window.
Then January came and we sat in Ms. Fallo’s second grade classroom, waiting for the big moment. Mr. Fallo was our special guest. He worked for NASA on Michoud Boulevard, as did many parents in 1980’s New Orleans East. He drew pictures of rocket boosters on the blackboard. No one paid attention. The only thing of interest was the impending liftoff.
When the Challenger exploded, the television shut off immediately. Ms. Fallo cried and Mr. Fallo left abruptly. The rest of the school day was sort of pointless after that, at least for me. When I got home, Mom met me on the porch and wrapped me in her arms. I didn’t look at the sky that night. I didn’t turn on my planetarium. I added nothing to my space journal. I was, though, fascinated with why the space shuttle exploded and my parents would have me explain it to anyone who came over. I’d begrudgingly share how the weather was unseasonably cold and caused a tiny hole in the boosters and so on and so forth. Their friends called me “darling” and the act was complete.
Mom says that in the months after, I battled homesickness and would cry every time I left her—a seven year old’s PTSD. I just remember that that was when I stopped wanting to be an astronaut altogether. It was that simple. All my aspirations just went up in flames along with the real deal. Blowing up was reason for me. The telescope and planetarium collected dust in the attic and the pages of my trailblazing research were torn out of my composition book. I later used the notebook for poetry in my emo phase.
I decided I would be a tap dancer. And then it was a singer, and an actress, and then a musical comedienne. I even flirted with pastry chef before settling on political speechwriter only to circle back to acting and then teaching and marketing. Somewhere in the mix were a large home, a family, and seeing the world. None of this is to say that I am unique. I am simply among those who like too many things, who want a great many things. I guess I want it all, but, if you were to ask me, “Can you have it all?” my answer would be a definitive “No.”
At least not all at once.
People often talk of settling. “They settled for a larger house in the suburbs.” “She settled for something that allowed her to pick the kids up from school.” Settling is the polite form for “You gave up.” I say enough is enough.
No, really. Enough!
My first adult experience with this word came when I admitted that I hate auditioning the way some people seethe with anger over cilantro. I loathed the process of scouring ads, waking up at dawn, sitting in a dingy hall, singing eight bars, and then waiting tables for eight hours after. I hated it more than I loved performing. It was the industry that thrilled me. So I found an invigorating job in production. Just being part of the process was enough.
Then it wasn’t.
Another time I was pregnant and my focus shifted entirely. I don’t see how it couldn’t have. When my baby was born, all I wanted was to be with him. I would have sold with any and every at-home pyramid scheme if it meant I wouldn’t miss each and every coo and gurgle. I worked from home in something I never sought out to do, but it was enough.
Then it wasn’t.
I looked in the mirror one day and the woman staring back was not the same girl who studied the planets with adventure in her heart. For that girl, the sky was literally the limit. I hadn’t reached the sky yet. Where I was wasn’t enough.
Seasons are determined by where the sun shines brightest at the time. This I remember from my space phase. Everything will have its day in the sun when the pull is strong enough. Sometimes we do settle. We let go for the sake of others or because reaching for anything more is seemingly impossible. Sometimes we settle into enough. Is that giving up? Or are we still the children we once were, reaching for the stars?
I know enough to know that it’s taken me my entire adult life thus far to uncover the obvious: It’s never been about having it all. It’s been about having my all. And sometimes my all is all right for now.
Anyone who tells me differently has probably settled.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.