I Am Not A Success

If I wrote down my life on paper what would it look like?

I am a thirty-three year old divorced mother of a child with chronic illness. I work as a personal assistant, where it is my job to pick up dry cleaning and make dinner reservations, so someone else can live a successful life. I basically do what no one wants to, what we would all pay someone else to do if we could afford it. That’s me. On paper.

I’m five pounds fatter than I was pre-kid (okay seven), and 15 pounds fatter than I was pre-husband. I sweat the small stuff, drive a 98′ Saturn, clean my own toilet and scoop kitty poop twice a day. Everything I own is from a thrift store or donated. Our eclectic apartment is basically a permanent garage sale where nothing is actually for sale. Crayon hieroglyphics decorate the walls and Martha Stewart would drop dead if she saw how frightfully mismatched our color schemes are. My living room looks like a disorganized preschool, Trader Joe’s cooks most of our meals and dog hair rolls down my hallway like tumbleweed.

I’m a writer but I’ve never been paid for writing. Not a cent. I’ve been published, but never paid. I have two degrees, and have only used them for crossword puzzles or “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”

On paper I am not a success. ‘I am only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea.’

Faced with such a prophecy ten years ago would have killed me. If my 23 year old self met my 33 year old self, she would have politely suggested beauty school.

I remember working on my resume in my early twenties, anticipating a writing career. It was full of silly awards and plays produced, accomplishments I thought would one day lead to a dreamy life. I was so full of myself, so sure I could conquer the world, positive that by twenty-five I would be writing my own show for HBO – a smart, witty dramedy about nerdy Midwestern girls finding themselves and their sexual prowess in the cornfields of Iowa- a Sex in the City meets Places in the Heart, minus the STD’s and tornadoes.

I couldn’t wait for my ten year high school reunion where I would brag to all the cheerleaders, “So one day I’m sitting at this darling little café in Brentwood, and a producer walks by my open laptop, reads a few lines of my new screenplay, and screams, ‘Brilliant, darling, simply brilliant!’ The next thing I know I’m the head of NBC. I didn’t even have to sleep with anyone like you loosie goosies did. By the way, did that human pyramid thing ever pay off?”

I had high hopes, a vision of success that would somehow manifest itself into a British accent. Don’t ask. Money, husband, child, house, a passionate career doing what I love.
And yet, and yet.

I have a job that allows me to spend every day with my child. When Addie was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, I decided not to work full-time. I saw her first steps, heard her first words, first everything. When I think about all those hours we’ve spent doing her respiratory treatments, reading stories, snuggling cheek-to-cheek I think, “How lucky am I?”

I get to hold my daughter every day for at least one hour without interruption, to tell her how much I love her, how incredible she is. We read Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and her bizarre favorites, The Encyclopedia of the Human Body and All My Friends are Dead.

Every day I hear the early signs of wicked genius. Pontifications like:

“I wonder what really is on the dark side of the moon.”

“Why do they call cats felions?”

“I can’t have a playdate with Oliver tomorrow. I’ll be too busy making evil plans.”

And as creepy as it is to live vicariously through your child, I can’t help but take a little witty credit when she puts a seashell up to the dog’s ear and says, “He’s talking on his shellphone.”

Or on a nature hike, while waving two sticks in the air, says, “Look mom, I’m conducting nature.”

Yes, I spend a lot of my day on the phone with pharmacies, Blue Cross, making dinner reservations. Most of the time I am taking care of someone else’s day, someone else’s plans, someone else’s life. I make theatre reservations for plays I would love to see, trips to India and Budapest, trips I would love to take. And sometimes I wish I was on the plane, at the dinner, or in the writer’s room. Sometimes I wish someone else would scrub my toilet. But what would I give up?

This is a rich life, even though I am not rich. My resume is not impressive. But I don’t live there. I live here, in my Addie’s heart. And it is a beautiful place.

At bedtime, I submit to sublime demands of “snuggle me.” Her hands find my face and I watch the most beautiful girl in the world fall asleep.

And I think – This is it. This is what it’s all about. I couldn’t imagine better. If success is measured in hours, in moments of pure awe, of watching life happen and being a part of the grand scheme, well I am the guru, the president, the queen bee of success.

Maybe this is where I needed to go. Before I was allowed to taste the fruit, I needed to climb the tree. I have lived a hundred years in the last five. And now, now I am ready. To write. To live. To find success, whatever that means.

“Say it’s only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea. But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believe in me. It is only a canvas sky, hanging over a muslin tree, but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me. ” – from the song ‘Paper Moon’ by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Billy Rose.

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