Why is it that I always get the best ideas while I’m doing the dishes?
And why is it that I always call you “Mama” when I am not feeling well?
I hate doing the dishes. But you’re well aware of that fact because you spent nearly every moment of my teenage years practically pulling teeth to get me to do the dishes. I don’t know why I hate that chore so much, but I would do practically anything to avoid the dishes. But now that I live on my own, I’m forced to do the dishes. Maybe my mind drifts to you as I do the dishes because I’m trying to distract myself from how much I hate doing the dishes. Or maybe it is because I’m trying to ignore the fact that it has been almost two years since you’ve left this world. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter much anyway.
While I was doing the dishes this morning, I started to think of you. My life seems to be rapidly changing and moving these days, so much so that I wonder if you would even recognize it. My future teaching career feels closer than ever, no longer feeling like some distant dream, but much more like a reality. It is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I can’t place my finger on exactly when I crossed the platform from childhood to adulthood, but it is abundantly clear somewhere along the way, I’ve done it. You’d be so proud of me and I only wish you were here to see it in person.
You’re probably the only one that would understand my need to teach. It isn’t a choice for me and never has been. Teaching is a part of who I am, so ingrained in my DNA and very being that it would be impossible for me not to teach. Since the age of five, I’ve known that I had two possible paths in life to follow: Either I could be a princess or a teacher. Since I don’t have any princes knocking on my door, I’ve settled on just wearing a tiara once in a while and focusing on being a teacher.
Even when I tried to avoid a career in teaching, you stayed patient and let me discover it on my own. I made every excuse for why I didn’t want to be a teacher: the pay is horrible, too much gossip between colleagues, parents never seem to appreciate you, those kids that don’t listen, the fact that I’ll be spending my own money on supplies for my classroom, the fact that the system is so broken and far too many children fall between the cracks… The list seemed endless
“I could be a journalist. Travel the world. Interview important and interesting people. Write articles. That would be cool.” We were eating breakfast at a local diner, both of us reading the newspaper.
“Journalist? Yeah, I suppose.”
“What kind of salary do you think they make?” I took a long sip of my iced tea.
“No idea. But I don’t think the average journalist makes much more than a teacher would.”
“Who said anything about being an average journalist? Average journalists don’t get to travel or interview super important people or-”
“If you think being a journalist would make you happy, then go for it.” Your voice was dripping with frustration.
“What does that mean?” I asked, raising an eye brow and using a tone that I knew you wouldn’t like. I was pushing your buttons, feeling offended and hormonal.
“All I’m saying is that at some point in your life, Elyse, you’re going to have to decide what is more important to you: being happy or being rich. Since you’ve suggested just about half a dozen career choices in the last week, I’m assuming that you are trying really hard to convince yourself, and everyone else in the process, that you would be perfectly happy as long as you had lots of money. I’m not contradicting that. I’m just saying that the choice is up to you and you have to figure out what matters more to you. Teaching may not be a glamorous job that pays great, but you know you love it and you’d be an amazing teacher. You might not have a giant bank account balance, but you know that you would change lives. And at some point, you have to decide what will make you happy.”
I sat across the table, trying to hide the shock on my face from your bluntness. We ate the rest of our breakfast in silence – and if I remember correctly, I gave you the silent treatment for the rest of the day.
I also remember 4th of July of 2006. I had a horrible fight with my then-boyfriend and spent the day moping around the house. After a few hours of this, you had had enough.
“Excuse me?” I asked, sitting in front of my computer.
“I don’t get it…”
“Get up and get out of this house. You have moped long enough and it is time for you to go do something. It is 4th of July and you’re telling me that suddenly you have no plans? Don’t let some boy ruin you’re night.”
“He isn’t just some boy. He is my boyfriend.”
“Yes… I remember,” you said with a grumble. You never did like him, always insisting that he was a jerk – but of course, I didn’t see that until much later.
“I don’t want to go out.” I said flatly. Turning back to my computer screen.
“Go call someone.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Get up. Go call someone. Get out of the house. Go cause some trouble and don’t come back until you have a smile on your face.”
I vaguely remember rolling my eyes at this and flashing an ever so fake smile in your direction.
“Don’t make me be the one to call your friends. You know I’ll only embarrass you to no end.”
“You wouldn’t.” I said confidently, turning my back to her in an obvious sign of avoidance.
“Is that a dare? Oh Elyse, you know how I just can’t resist a dare.”
I sent my strongest teenage stare in your direction. You returned the stare and didn’t break it – not even for a second.
“Fine.” I said angrily, admitting defeat.
“Oh good. I knew you’d see it my way.”
“Life is too short and you are too damn young to be this hung up on a boy.”
“He isn’t just any boy!” I said again angrily. But rather than engage me into what surely would have escalated into one of our shouting matches, you walked away. I got out of the house that night, choosing to go with a friend to the beach and watch the fireworks. At the time, I refused to admit that you had been right: life is far too short and I am far too young to be hung up on a boy. So once that boyfriend and I had broken up for good, I took your advice to heart and refused to sit at home moping. I left the house. I hung out with friends. I tried new things. Because life is too short and I’m far too young not to.
When I do the dishes and your memory creeps into my mind again, I avoid the sadness of your absence and choose to let your adventurous spirit fill my thoughts. I think about all the possibilities the future could hold: the places I’ll visit, the people I’ll meet, the new things I’ll try. As I place the last dish on the drying rack, I think of the lessons you taught me.
Life is too short and I’m far too young to be anything but happy.
In Loving Memory ~ Sharon Doeflinger
June 20, 1959 – February 28, 2010