What Do You Want?

by beccaborrelli

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What do you want at school, kiddo?

“Who are YOU?” asks the kiddo.

I am your voice.

“I’m talking to myself?”

Yes. All people can talk to themselves.

“How come more people don’t talk about it? I mean, that’s pretty neat. I like the idea of having a voice. Well I want a pizza party.”

A pizza party?

“Yes! Pizza is soo good. Pizza means my class earned 30 gold stars in a row. Pizza means my teacher is proud of us for being good boys and girls.”

Pizza sounds like what your teacher has chosen for the reward. What do you want from school? What is your personal reward?

“Well, I also want stickers.”

Stickers?

“Yeah… like scratch and sniff! Stickers mean I got a good grade. Stickers make mom and dad happy. Stickers show all of my teachers I am a smart person. I also really want to be student of the month! My picture will go outside of the office. Student of the month gets to have lunch with important people like the principal. My friends will see I have outstanding character!”

Everything you’re telling me is about what other people will think. What do you think?

“Well… I think making other people happy makes me feel happy!”

How do you make yourself feel happy? What do you love so much– if you never won a pizza party, sticker or award, you would still do it?

“Hm.”

“I guess I see what you’re saying. But what does that have to do with school?

Knowing what you want is important. It is the key to your happiness. It is the thing you were put here to do.

“Welp, no offense voice, but I’m too young to know that stuff. Grown ups know the key to happiness. When I do what I want it causes problems. Do you remember the other day when I listened to you? I didn’t do my homework because playing in the creek hunting for treasures was what I wanted to do. I got a zero for my homework grade that next day! My mom was so sad. I’m going to grow up and get a job, I can’t just do what I want. I have to learn life’s not about what I want. When I listen to you I get in trouble. I’m really sorry but I don’t think I can listen to you anymore.”

***

“What do you want Rebecca???!”

Tears were welling up.

His voice was loud and exasperated.

“Stop thinking about what I want. Forget about your family or students, and all the other teachers you work with. What do YOU want??”

The question hit me. It felt like a stinging slap. It was not a loaded question– it was honest and raw. There was nowhere to hide.

I didn’t know.

I was 28 years old at the time. I opened my mouth to answer and no words felt right.

Everything I wanted was a gold star. A pizza party.

{What do you want Rebecca?}

I had a coveted job doing work I loved. I had money. I had taught kids in Haiti. Biked northern Italy. Driven cross country and spent a whole summer in the mountains with a best friend and my sister. I had a beautiful blue road bike. I went to Spinning class every morning. I journaled. I blogged. I had a great life.

Why didn’t I want this?

What was wrong with me?

The question echoed in my mind every day. It banged around between my ears in the quiet still before I fell asleep each night. How would I find an answer? I hadn’t learned this in school… in college… at work…

um, Rebecca….? 

I stopped.

Excuse me, may I say something?

Who are you? I asked nervously.

I’m your voice. it said softly.

I’m here to help…

…of course only if you want me to.

***

Spent one week in Ohio before flying back to Austin and start my research.

I’m sitting next to my mentor in education on her patio– the woman I did my student teaching with– who helped me land my first teaching job. We talked for 3 hours as if a whole year had never passed.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

She more than most knew how scary it had been for me to stop working for the gold stars.

I feel like I’m on my path.” I told her.

She smiled.

“You aren’t a live in the box kind of person.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, that’s for sure.”

After our visit I met a former student, for a quick hello with her mother and sister at a nearby school. She gave me an artwork with my name on it. The first I’ve received in two years. I teared up a little.

I stopped at my old school before heading to dinner with friends. Peeked in windows to see if I could catch the custodian. The halls were dark and piled with supplies. My heart ached a little.

Had I made the right choice?

“Kids still ask about you” my mentor had said between sips of her homemade iced tea. You connected with them in a deep way.”

{What do you want Rebecca?}

I can’t teach in public school. It feels wrong. It’s not my path.

(So why do I miss it so much?)

Who says you have to teach in someone else’s school? says the voice.

I’m less surprised to hear it these days. The voice and I have a much more regular relationship now.

Listen, don’t even start in on that whole “do your own thing bit!” You are a broke college grad student with five years of art teaching experience. ART!!! Not business. Not administration. Not even as a freaking department head.”

Don’t get all huffy with me, says the voice gently.

I’m not going to force you to do anything. You know that’s not my style. I’ll be over here if you need me.

***

I wake up to a gentle breeze wafting in the giant glass windows of my little sister and brother-in-law’s spare bedroom. One of their spare bedrooms. I sit up in bed– a queen with a pottery barn duvet. I look into the bathroom door at the end of the room. I’ve never had such a big bathroom in any of my own apartments. I’ve never been able to have a queen bed.

I begin craving gold stars and pizza parties.

I call my mother.

“I think when you come home you start listening to your old voice. Remember you could have had that big house. That’s not you. You would have been miserable.”

I instantly feel better.

Whoa. Voice, is that you?

Yeah… it’s me.

“Were you just talking through my mom?”

Hehe… didja like that? I do that a lot. One of my favorite tricks.

“But I thought you were my voice?”

I am.

“Well then how did you get in my mom’s body?”

All voices are connected you know. Humans believe all this crap about being separate.

“I’m confused” I say.

It will get less confusing as you get older, says my voice. Remember, you didn’t really talk to me much after third grade. The more we talk, the more you will understand.

“You know, my life has become a lot less scary when we talk.”

Yeah. I know.

“I wish I had listened to you more when I was a kid.”

What do you want Rebecca?

I think I just want to talk to you without feeling weird or getting in trouble.

The latter might not always be possible.

I know. I guess I want courage even if others think I’m being silly.

There’s a name for that you know. 

Yeah? What’s that?

When you do something in spite of others– the dictionary calls it being brazen. 

Well then I guess I want to be brazen.

I like that idea…

Me too 🙂

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