My youngest recently turned 21, which got me to reminiscing about what I was up to when I was that age:
- I lived in Des Moines.
- My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary a couple months earlier.
- I worked as a typist in an insurance company claims department — you know, Des Moines.
- We were in the Hand-Me-Down-Mix-n-Match Era. (Translation: the furnishings of our little duplex on 62nd Street were s-p-a-r-s-e.)
- I had fully recovered from the bloody nose and busted lip I got shortly before that Big Birthday. [Don’t ask.*]
But these factoids do not reveal those things I aspired to, things I dreamed of, things I wanted to be. Let’s time travel to that day long ago and visit the yearnings of my barely (but official) adult heart:
1. I wanted to live on a few acres and raise chickens, maybe a goat, grow a big garden, and tend an orchard and bee hives.
Yes, I actually told people I wanted to do this. I blame this short-lived earth-woman-greener-than-Kermit-the-Frog-country-lifestyle fantasy on those wonderful visits to the farm as a teen, as well as the mystique associated with beekeeping (my uncle tended quite a few hives and my dad dabbled). But the reality is: I am a city kid, born and bred. I’m betting that if I were actually in charge of said mini farm, the plants would likely die or yield precious little, having been molested by pests, overcome by frost, or some other calamity, and the animals would probably only stick around for a couple of days before wandering off in search of a for-real farmer. The bees would probably buzz off, too.
But lately I hear more and more about slow food and heirloom seeds and ethical eating and all, and I think I really should have a hand in producing at least a tiny portion of what ends up on our dinner table. So last year I planted some perennial herbs in a little bed out back. I added a few tomato plants and then transplanted some lambs quarters (a volunteer green that is quite yummy sauteed or steamed and added to dishes — you know, weeds just might be my forté). It’s not much, but all the fussing over bugs and watering and keeping it weeded helps me tip my hat to and cosmically connect with the folks who labor to produce all the delicious local organic foods I enjoy.
May they carry on in perpetuity.
2. I wanted to see Europe. More specifically, France.
I bandied this about as well. At 21, my French was still somewhat fluent and I longed to see the places that my years of education in things Français had brought to life: I’d tour champagne country, drink in the beauty of magnificent jardins, get lost in the chateaux, nibble on some bistro chèvre and crèpes and chocolat, and, of course, hit the biggies: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee and Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, Versailles.
Unfortunately, during those early years, setting aside funds for travel abroad was beyond our reach. We were in the mode of parceling out our modest wages on practical things, like chairs to sit on and lamps to read by, and spanking down those college bills. In the meantime, something else began to gradually overtake my European yearning.
As we rewarded and entertained our frugal little selves with a weekend road trip here, or a little educational excursion there, before we knew it, we got hooked on seeing the good old U.S. of A. We’ve now seen 48 of the 50 states, dozens of national parks, and what seems like countless historic points of interest and natural wonders (plus several forays into both Canada and Mexico), I like to think we are destined to hit the Final Two before we croak. They are — drumroll — Montana (I know, why didn’t we bop on over when we were in either Idaho or Wyoming?!) and Alaska. It’d be simple enough to accomplish this in one colossal expedition — the Quintessential Dyer Road Trip.
3. I wanted to be a women’s counselor. I didn’t tell a soul about this one, though. At 21, I didn’t imagine I had enough life experience or training to be giving no kind of advice or guidance to others. After all, I had a big enough challenge just navigating my own obstacle course. Yet, deep down in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to help people along their way. Women, in particular.
I had seen this book laying on my husband’s desk; while he was travelling overnight for work, I read it: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Laiken. The author touted many of the classic principles of time management and life coaching. The part that stuck with me, though, was what he said about writing down your goals. He didn’t let you off with writing just one set of goals, no — he said a person needed six-month goals, three-to-five-year goals, and lifetime goals. So I wrote. And then I stuck the little piece of chartreuse paper in a private journal.
I would pull the list out periodically and it would jump off the page: Become a women’s counselor. Mr. Laiken had said that if you didn’t devote at least ten minutes a day doing something that helped you progress toward your lifetime goal, then you weren’t “owning” it. I was working in an administrative support capacity and later became a full-time mom — no counselor training in the offing. Long stretches of time would pass between reviews of the short list on the chartreuse paper. Every time I got it out, I felt less and less justified in even yearning to do this. What was I thinking? Unless I am willing to make sacrifices and get the necessary education, I should just give it up.
I hung onto the piece of paper for twenty years before I finally admitted, Who are you kidding, Linda. You haven’t been on track to accomplish this and you’re not going to get on track. I tossed it in the waste basket. I felt less burdened, but a little sad at the same time.
I continued raising kids and being a wife and doing the kinds things middle age women typically do. And all the while, I rarely thought about my original hankering. I was busy learning new skills, venturing into new territory professionally, cultivating a network of friends in a new community, and finding satisfaction in it all. Then one day, one of these new friends made a pointed statement about how the things I had said really helped her see beyond an impasse. In reply I said something about always having wanted to help people.
And that’s when it hit me.
I had found my way to the fulfilling of my heart’s desire after all, without even realizing it. I looked around in my life and saw all the ways I was actually doing it — I just hadn’t hung out a shingle. In fact, it’s not really my style to help others in a for-pay context. I learned early on that I didn’t enjoy sewing when I was paid to do it — those jobs always seemed like such a chore — I much preferred to do it “for love”. Likewise, I would much prefer to “help” for the sake of friendship and love, not profit. I had become more confident now that I had more ample life experience, had accumulated a significant body of knowledge, and variety of skill sets. I realized that in the course of just living my life, I had found frequent opportunities to use my gifts to provide a leg up” for others.
My dream came true: I became a helper of women.
* Okay, since you went ahead and asked anyway: I was in an auto accident. And I’m here to tell you it’s very difficult to claim it’s the other guy’s fault when you hit a parked vehicle. And I wasn’t even texting!
But forever after, I religiously placed my purse on the back seat so as not to tempt me to take my eyes off the road to rummage through it looking for, lets say, some stupid nail clippers. And yes, it was acutely embarrassing.