My daughter is competing in a science olympiad as I type this, from the linoleum floor outside the classroom she's occupying.
Her, a ball of anxiety.
Me, a jumble of emotions all at once.
Being back in a high school as a parent this time instead of the student is strange, to say the least. It's something I should be used to by now, having spent hours and hours and hours in hallways not unlike this one for over a year now.
My springtime Saturdays are occupied by drumline and science these days.
I'm so proud of this girl of mine, the one who was talking herself off the ledge as the time ticked down and the door opened. She worries so much, worries more than anything about letting other people down.
Just do your best, I say on an endless loop.
This is supposed to be fun.
You've got this.
I'm proud of you.
I love you.
She wants to be a meteorologist or an epidemiologist when she grows up someday. The only other possible career she's ever been interested in was veterinary medicine. She was born to be a scientist.
I was too, though I never actually became one.
I stopped listening to my heart when I wasn't much older than she is now. I started listening to reason instead, following the career path that made "more sense". Found creative ways to integrate the things that I loved with the things I decided I should do.
My senior thesis in public policy had to do with the intersection of environmental science, biology and international law as I studied the overfishing of sharks in international waters. Most people in my program wrote about things like zoning. I, clearly, was the outlier.
I minored in bioethics, finding my true passion in that subject, then went to law school, planning to someday make it all come together. Added a program in public health, heavy in epidemiology and maternal/child health. I had grand plans once, this vision of meshing the things I loved with the things I should do.
Life had a few things to say about those plans, laughed abundantly in my face.
I never did the things I should do.
I never did make good on those plans. And now I just write about it from here, wondering what happened to that girl back then. Is she still here? Did she disappear? Will she rise from the ashes again someday or has she surrendered entirely to the impracticality of who she thought she would become? Has she resigned herself to this other life? Is it a resignation? Is it acceptance? Why don't men ever wrestle with this issue? Why is this place that I'm in one that mothers seem to occupy almost entirely?
These are all interesting questions, the things I think about as I sit in this hallway, reminded of who I once wanted to be.
And perhaps someday I'll find the answers. Perhaps when my children are older and grown and need me less, perhaps then I'll look for that girl I once was. Check in on her, she how she's doing. Ask her if she'd like one more shot at it all.
For now though, I've got a kid sitting on the other side of this door and she needs me here.
All of me, not just whatever fraction of me isn't longing for some alternate universe. All of me.
Here is where I am supposed to be. Right now, my job, the one more important than all the other ones I thought I wanted, is to guide her. To make sure she doesn't let her head overrule her heart when it comes to the big stuff.
Here is a gift.
Besides, I'm actually pretty damned good at this job.
Maybe it's the one I was meant for all along.