It took a long time to learn, but what they say is true: Mom is usually right. This lesson is often earned only after going completely against her advice numerous times. On rare occasions though, a child triumphs and gets to say, “Ha! I was right!” It doesn’t happen that often, so when it does it’s a memorable occasion. My move to Boston was just that.
During my senior year in college, I bowed out of the senior formal in favor of a trip to Boston with two non-senior friends. I was an RA at the time, and my traveling partners were my Resident Director and another RA in my building. We drove out to the Irish Embassy Youth Hostel. At the front desk, an adorable guy with a melt-your-heart Irish accent explained that parking in Boston was a nightmare and directed me to his grandmother’s neighborhood across the river where I could park my car free of charge. To grandmother’s neighborhood we went, taking the T back to the hostel. Tim was woken up each morning by his Irish roommates getting up at 5Am for their construction jobs. Christina and I tried to fall asleep each night to the beat of the music from the bar below. During the day, we followed the Freedom Trail and eventually dubbed our walk “The Church and Bookstore Tour of Boston” because – you guessed it – we stopped in every church and bookstore we saw. Once inside, we went in three separate directions, never deciding on a time to meet back. Instead, when enough time had passed we’d eventually find each other and move on.
I loved that Boston was such a walkable city. Though we were doing a touristy activity (walking the Freedom Trail) I felt like it wasn’t just tourists that we were seeing. It felt like the people that worked in this city actually lived in it too. I had long ago decided I’d never live in a city because my only reference point was NYC, and that city was entirely too big and messy for my tastes. But here was a city that you could walk in a day, with plenty of green space, and friendly people. Hmm….
My next trip to Boston was when a friend invited me to join him for his company Christmas party – a very formal occasion in a ballroom in one of the big hotels downtown. By day I took us a National Historic Site I wanted to see (that of Frederick Law Olmsted). By night, we were schmoozing it up and swing dancing the night away, falling into bed in our hotel room overlooking the Charles River.
It was sometime after that trip that I started to think about moving to Boston (and no, it wasn’t because of aforementioned guy). My mother predicted that there was no way I could afford to live in a city like Boston unless I took a job as a physical therapist. “But I don’t want to be a physical therapist!” I protested. “Well, you’ll need someway to earn money. What are you going to do?” I didn’t have an answer.
But at the same time I was thinking back to an idea I had in college – that of doing a year of volunteer work. I wanted to go international, but found that most international programs required you to commit for two years. Having spent the last 3.5 years in a major I didn’t like made me think that a two year commitment to anything was more than I could handle.
But now I thought perhaps I’d look at doing a year of service in the US. And so I started to center my search for a year-long volunteer stint on Boston. I followed all sorts of links and one day ended up on the web site for Massachusetts Campus Compact. I read the job description and loved everything about it. I would be placed on a college campus and charged with coordinating community service projects involving students in the communities around their campuses.
The funny thing about this was that a few months before I was in a Barnes and Noble paging through one of those find-work-you-love books and came across an exercise that piqued my interest. It asked you to write down what your ideal day would look like. I took out the notebook I had with me (I was on a research mission, so had the necessary tools at hand) and wrote away. From the moment I woke up until the moment I sat down to dinner, I had every detail. What was I doing for work? I was working on a college campus meeting with students who wanted to do volunteer work. I was helping them find places to volunteer, holding meetings with them on upcoming group projects, planning Spring Break Service trips. In short, the job I described was the exact one I found on the Massachusetts Campus Compact web site.
By the way, I have done this exercise a couple times since then and it works spectacularly well….
So I applied and was accepted into the program as an Americorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America). Here’s the catch: they could place me on any one of thirty campuses in the state of Massachusetts, so I might not be in Boston but in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I could request where I wanted to be, but they made no promises. I requested Boston telling them my car was on the fritz and I’d prefer a placement where I didn’t need one. I also asked that I be placed at a religiously affiliated school. I graduated from a Jesuit institution and couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but knew I wanted to be on a campus with some sort of religious slant.
Turns out, they had a placement at a religiously-affiliated all women’s school in Boston. It could have been a tricky place to put someone as my boss was to be the Director of Campus Ministry and we, as volunteers with a federally funded program, had limits on what we could do that was religiously affiliated. But everyone’s prayers were answered. I got to work on a campus in Boston and Sr. Pat got a VISTA who had a background in doing service work at religious institutions.
The best part? Mom said there was no way I could afford to live in Boston unless I was a physical therapist. But in July of 2000 I found myself living happily in Boston without a paying job. How did I afford to do that? Well, I also happened to get placed on a campus that gave me an apartment and partial board. No rent, no utilities, no phone bill, and barely any money needed for food. I was given a stipend each month at the poverty level which was able to cover any other expenses I had.
Some might argue this was luck. Some might say coincidence. I say it was me figuring out what I wanted and asking for it. Sometimes what you want is what you get. Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but instead get what you didn’t know you needed. But that’s another story.
Mom now tells this story to mothers who also have children with grand ideas and seemingly no idea how they’ll accomplish them. She says that she learned never to tell me I couldn’t do something. Now she simply asks all sorts of questions to make sure I’ve thought of every angle. In fact, mom no longer really gives her opinion when I propose a new idea. And she surely never tells me it can’t be done. She asks questions, and then tells us that we’re adults now and can make our own decisions. Sometimes I just want her to take the pressure off and say, “Here’s what you should do.” But she’s smarter than that. She knows how important it is for a child to make her own decisions and live with the consequences. It’s much better than going through life blaming it all on someone else’s advice.