I meant to do something great. Really great. Everything pointed to that—the good high school transcript, the good college, the good kid. (Good x good x good = great.) But so far, greatness has eluded me. And I am running out of time.
When I was little, there was plenty of time. Time to win the mile at the Olympics, to dance with Alvin Ailey, to play the piano at Carnegie Hall, to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Back then, everything was possible. And then I arrived in a bigger pond, with larger, stronger, more ambitious fish. Perhaps I tried swimming faster but then slowed down my fin flap, and let the school rush past me. Or I realized there was no lighted path, no map. Which way do I go? And which way is up, anyway?
After college I had a grand plan of moving to a different big city every year—first San Francisco, then Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. I wanted to sample each place and then, like someone trying on shoes, choose my favorite to call home. But almost 30 years later, I still live in the first place I landed.
I taught high school and hawked books before finding that I loved asking people questions and writing stories. But it was almost too late. My noisy biological clock nudged me out of the newsroom and home to have two children. I traded reporters' notebooks for board books. I drove to playgrounds, pushed swings, lifted small people up to monkey bars, doled out cheese and Cheerios, and scuffed all my shoes in the sandbox.
Perhaps there was some greatness in the ordinariness of a mother and her children, the small moments when I found them each sitting in a cardboard box in the den, reading, like roosting hens. Or my daughter's drawings of crooked tilting structures she called "tip-up houses." Or my son's elaborate Lego cityscapes. I have watched my teenagers bloom out of the babies they used to be, like chiseled sculptures emerging from pliant clay.
They are almost fully formed now, long lanky people, taller than me, finding their way through the sandbox of life without me and my scuffed shoes nearby. They teach me things and explain the new young world, the one I no longer inhabit as an ever-aging person.
And I am still married, to the guy I met when I was 19, the guitar-playing psych major with the dry wit who was my then-boyfriend's pal. He still plays the guitar, the sound of his key in the door still makes me glad, and I still laugh at his jokes. ("Kids, always marry someone who thinks you're funny," we say.) And there is greatness in this. In loving someone for 30 years, still chuckling over New Yorker cartoons in bed and trading daily musings ("Hey, did you see that story in the paper today?”).
The basic stuff, the essentials—the kids, the husband, the house—all shine clear and healthy and I am oh-so-grateful for this happy routine. But I wonder what the young me would think. Did I follow the right path in the end? I have not invented anything life-saving, made millions, or landed a high post in the federal government or some sexy start-up. I am not the head of or the co-founder of or the brains behind anything big (except for my to-do lists). My obituary will be short.
Or maybe writing this is how I uncover the greatness. Maybe it lies in the newspapers on the driveway, watching "The Wire" on Friday nights, the snarky jokes at weekday dinners, hiking in the redwoods, the lemongrass chicken at Le Cheval, the quiet sound of everyone asleep but me. Sometimes, awake in bed, I picture them all sleeping, eyes closed, breath coming slowly in and out, in and out. The quiet settles on me like a blanket and then I can sleep. They are my greatness—and being able to put these words down here, to tell you this, to draw my own tip-up houses on the page.
Weld, an editor and writer, works at Saint Mary's on the College Communications team.