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Not Always Great, but Finally Good Enough

A Personal Perspective: No regrets, just acceptance of my choices.

Source: bjaffe, with permission
Source: bjaffe, with permission

There were roads I could have taken to excel in different areas, yet I chose not to pursue them. I sensed while I was good, I wasn’t always "great." I have no regrets, just acceptance, and observations of my choices.

My music life

One of my earliest positive memories, and a choice that affected my life’s trajectory, connects to our family’s light brown Chickering baby grand piano that occupied one corner of our living room. From my bedroom down the hall, I listened as my mother’s long fingers, with her nails painted bright red, traversed the ivory keys in the late weekend mornings. Her classical music and Broadway show tunes soothed and comforted me. It was a given that I would take piano lessons.

Mrs. Riddle was an old-school piano teacher (demanding, didactic, and formal) who, after a short while, determined which of her students were blessed with the gift of becoming actual pianists and those whose parents pushed them to take lessons. I fell between the two categories and could have forced myself toward the first if my passions took hold of the 88 keys, but l loved listening to music more than practicing.

I didn’t give up easily, though, as I took lessons for 10 years. I never liked the annual anxiety-provoking recitals (we had to memorize the pieces we played with no sheet music to guide us) held at Mrs. Riddle’s home. I dreaded my mother’s edict: “Go practice before dinner.” I just knew I would never be like my friend Carole, whose fingers melted into the keys, as she truly became one with the instrument. I was good enough to get a scholarship at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco but rarely looked forward to my lessons. Rather, the corn nuts sold at the Conservatory’s store were my weekly incentive. The instructor and my mother knew my time there was limited, yet my love of corn nuts has continued.

While in college and in love with John Denver, Joan Baez, and many other musicians of the time, I took weekly guitar lessons. I was somewhat of a natural despite learning in my 20s. I could have been exceptional, but I stopped playing again because I allowed the rest of my life to get in the way–having kids and working on my career. While I was somewhat talented, I just wasn’t great; I wasn’t "one with the guitar." The guitar and the piano were placed in the rearview mirror of my life.

My academic life

In terms of academics, I was always a hard-working student, doing whatever I could to earn the grades I needed and wanted, but I wasn’t naturally brilliant like my friend Lori. By her own admission, she did not always study as much as she could have, but she did well in her theoretical math major at UC Berkeley (What is that?). I chose my major at UCLA based on a lack of math requirements. I did well studying five languages as long as math wasn’t a class I had to take; however, I wasn’t gifted like Lori.

My work life

How did I become an English professor when I detested many of my English teachers in high school and college? At the university, I even changed my major from English to Linguistics. I couldn’t tolerate any professor telling me how to think (how to interpret a poem when I did not even agree with the explanation or his analysis). If truth be told, I am not a fan of Shakespeare, so I never shared this "secret" with many of my professor colleagues who loved all things King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

I felt like a fraud at the beginning of my career. But, I truly had a passion for teaching–the physical act of communicating the subject matter, especially to those who might not enjoy learning English (most of the students). I adored writing and had the natural ability to teach others how to write. I was in my zone when teaching, one of the few areas where I was authentically utilizing one of my natural talents. Yet, I often experienced that imposter syndrome, especially when I was newly hired.

I envisioned the administration entering my classroom and removing me, saying, “What kind of English teacher can you be without a love of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and even James Joyce?” Would they find out I have a sketchy memory of many British and American classics? But I taught what I was passionate about, which translated into students’ enthusiasm for the subject matter. I chose impactful books about the Holocaust and man’s inhumanity to man, so they could remember their readings and lessons long after the semester ended.

My motherhood life

Source: bjaffe, with permission
Source: bjaffe, with permission

I played with dolls until I was 14 and figured I’d be a great mother, somehow sensing that playing with plastic babies would translate to the real thing. I had a rude awakening when I realized motherhood was just plain hard, and not everything came so naturally. Of course, while I was lovingly connected to my sons and worried about their physical and emotional well-being, I didn’t always give them what they needed.

I surely worried far too much about what others thought about me and my little boys. When they misbehaved, I felt judged. I didn’t have the confidence or self-esteem to understand that their temper tantrums weren’t about me. Still, I worked hard to be the mother I wanted to be and the mother I would have wanted. Did it come naturally? Well, not like I thought it would. I was much better with my dolls, I think. I was good, perhaps good enough, but maybe not the great mother I had always planned to be.

Source: bjaffe with permission
Source: bjaffe with permission

My nana life

But, of course, another area, like teaching, that really came naturally to me was grandparenthood. I became a Nana in 2014 and have since evolved into embracing four sweet souls. They have added colorful meaning to my everyday life, whether I see them in person or through FaceTime. I can confidently say that I am a great Nana because I love every second when I can be with them. I don’t worry about caring for the house, cleaning, cooking, and working (I’m retired). I can just be. Through loving them, I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin, for I am enough to them. That counts for everything.

Source: bjaffe, with permission
Source: bjaffe, with permission

Yes, I am good enough

I remember talking to a therapist long ago when a mother to little children. As with so much in my life, I shared that I just didn’t feel like I was being a great mom, and he said something to me that I never forgot: Good enough is just fine. Despite not being "great" in many areas of my life, I guess I am good enough at this point, so in answer to my book’s title, When Will I Be Good Enough? I respond, “Now.”

Source: bjaffe
Source: bjaffe
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