I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.
For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.
While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.
Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.
But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.
To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.
Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.
This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.
My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?
To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.