• She’s Already So Much More Than I’ll Ever Be

    by Debra DeAngelo

    It feels like your heart will just swell right up and burst, and no, it’s not a cardiac arrest. It’s pride — surging, bubbly, sparkling pride that feels like you’ll just explode into a glittering shower of wowie!

    It’s amazement!

    It’s awe!

    It’s joy!

    Of the three, “joy” comes closest. But it’s not an exact hit either. Joy is a bit too giddy. No, the emotion welling up in me as I waited in a sea of people at Cox Stadium at San Francisco State to see my daughter graduate last weekend was brand new to me, like discovering a hidden room in my own house that I never knew was there.

    Sure, I’ve been proud of my children for all sorts of reasons and accomplishments over the years, but nothing was like seeing my daughter graduate with not one major, but two – a BA in Fine Arts and a BS in Visual Communication Design.

    “Oh – ART,” some of you are scoffing. But here’s the deal: She followed her heart. She stayed true to herself. She took her inborn talent and amplified it. She made a decision not to trade affluence for personal integrity. She didn’t sell out.

    Others of you are scoffing, “San Francisco State.” It’s not one of those “impressive” schools. But here’s what is impressive: Aside from a humble little savings account her dad started for her as a baby, she earned almost all the rest, including her rent. In San Francisco. Ever notice what rents are there? Check it out and choke. But she managed to pay for it by working two jobs, all while carrying a full load at school. When she graduated, she’d racked up about $5,000 in student loans. Most students, unless they’re from privileged families, end up with another zero on that figure after college.

    Actually, she would have graduated without any debt at all, but budget cuts at SFSU triggered widespread class cancellations and waiting lists, and she couldn’t get into her required classes several times. It took summer school sessions and an extra year to finish. (And, of course, you still have to pay full tuition even if you can’t get your classes. In some circles, that’s called extortion. But that was another column.)

    And what about those unfortunate semesters when she couldn’t get her classes. Did she just piss them away? No. She used them to pick up that second degree. There’s one for the “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” file.

    My daughter got some invaluable life lessons at SFSU. She learned to triage her problems and find positive solutions, and when faced with a financial obstacle course, she didn’t give up. She conquered it. She learned how to buckle down even when she didn’t feel like it or when things seemed impossible, and just DO IT. She learned the value of a dollar by discovering how hard it is to make one.

    It wasn’t easy, mind you. She was a total stress monkey the last few years. But maybe it’s a trade-off. She’ll have less stress in the years ahead because she knows how to take care of herself. Now, if she can just learn to do so happily, as The Chant of Metta says, she’ll have a doctorate in living successfully. I was 40 years old before I figured these things out, and she’s only 23.

    I guess that’s what impresses me most: At less than half my age, my daughter has already accomplished more than I have. She’s infinitely braver than me. She flew across the country alone at 18. I didn’t pluck up that much courage (if you can call it that, given the amount of Xanax and weeping it took) until I was 46.

    She navigates the buses and BART in San Francisco with ease. I’ve yet to even attempt them. My urban navigational skills consist of yelling “Taxi!” She walks around San Francisco alone at night, and in some really thready areas (I won’t even walk through the Tenderloin in the daytime), and tromps down the sidewalk with a fierce “Look sideways at me and I will stab you in the eye” glare. That’s quite a metamorphosis for a little girl who grew up in a town with only one stoplight. She didn’t get that from me. If someone said “Boo!” to me while I was alone at a bus stop in The Haight at night, I’d wet myself. Hell, I’d probably wet myself just being alone at a bus stop in The Haight at night.

    So, how did a scaredy-cat Mom raise such a tigress? No, seriously – how did I do it? Because I don’t have a clue. It’d be presumptive of me, if not egomaniacally delusional, to take any credit for it. I hate to burst any bubbles here, but I’ll never win the June Cleaver Mother of the Year Award. True, I did the best I could with the skills I had (which is the only thing that gives me solace when I’m indulging in self-flagellation over all the things I “could” have done for my kids), but I’m a B+ mom at best, and that’s being generous. Clearly, my daughter’s success and mastery of life skills is by no means because of me. She’s not a chip off the old block.
    In fact, it is me who is the chip… looking up at the block in awe, and amazement, and joy.

    In pride.

    My daughter is 23 years old, and she’s already more than I will ever be. I can’t wait to see what she’ll become.


      • Judy

      • May 29, 2011 at 8:58 am
      • Reply

      Lovely column. I felt your joy and pride and love. Made me think of my 25 year old who’s somewhere in a rural town in Ethiopia doing health research. It’s a place I wouldn’t dare visit. Thank God for our children whose lives expand our own.



    • She has taught her parent well. 🙂


      • Michael Ann Riley

      • May 29, 2011 at 9:30 am
      • Reply

      This put a lump in my throat! I LOVE that your daughter followed her passion and her dreams to be an artist. She is already a HUGE step ahead in the game of life by doing this. She gets her moxie from YOU whether you realize it or not. You may have gathered your courage later in life, to follow your dreams, but she saw it and learned. You demonstrated in so many ways, that this is how to be happy. Don’t settle!!!



    • This is so beautiful Debra. And what a love letter to your daughter. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have my mom write something like this about me. You’ve really given her a gift.
      And I’m sure she gets much more from you than you realize.


      • Elisa

      • May 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm
      • Reply

      I love the way you Mother.


      • Norbie

      • May 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm
      • Reply

      Hello Debra: When I stumbled across your column the other day, your closing line took my breath away… I am reminded of my own daughter. In my case, Shannon’s 24 (at least I think she is but my math is kinda fuzzy these days). (((HUGS)))



    • Debra, loved this and I can see why your daughter is a success and follows her dreams. she has you for a mother. Being your creative self made a difference. I always marvel at my grown sons who ventured and traveled and didn’t marry until 31 while their mother married at 19 and lasted 20 years and only then flew the coup and developed a self. So glad your daughter is way ahead. Great about the lack of loans too. I have a niece in SF we should introduce them. Beautiful story about family.



    • Debra, my dear! I’m sure that if you held up a mirror, you should be very proud of the person you see in it too.


      • Jesse

      • May 30, 2011 at 9:06 pm
      • Reply

      Debra, Same as Donald. I am very proud of Janine too. She’s amazing!



    • Thanks, everyone, for the feedback. She is an amazing girl. I am thankful to be along for the ride! 🙂


      • June

      • May 30, 2011 at 10:50 pm
      • Reply

      Great article Debra. I’m proud of you both!



    • This is terrific! I wonder the same things about my children, given how difficult the single parent years were. But today AJ, my 24 year old, said something that unmistakably ID’ed him as my son. When I congratulated him on his news that he will be getting his doctorate in the exact field that he’s wanted for so long, he replied, “I wouldn’t accept anything less.”
      Debra, we have raised awesome, awesome kids. 🙂



    • Sunny, we did OK, all things considered, didn’t we! 🙂



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