Your Place in Space

In early June, our family traveled to Washington DC for the Toshiba Exploravision Awards Weekend. Emma and her two friends – Lola and Lela – accepted first place in the K-3 category for their science project on baby sea turtles.

The fact that they won first place is still somewhat stunning – not because they didn’t deserve it, but because winning was never really on their radar screen. Their project -the S.T.A.R. Sea Turtle Assistant Rod – was borne out of Lola’s summer vacation to the Outer Banks, where she learned that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive the journey from nest to ocean. It’s the ultimate underdog story, and we Philadelphians are suckers for a good underdog story. Just watch Silver Linings Playbook.

The all-expense paid trip to DC was a whirlwind event:

The girls met their congressmen

chakkah fattah

and senators.


They had TV and radio interviews with Bill Nye the Science Guy,

bill nye

and presented their project to the Toshiba executives at the National Press Club.


But there is one moment from the weekend that stands out in my mind. The girls were being interviewed at the National Press Club in front of an audience of over 200 people. The interviewer asked each girl a few questions, and then wrapped it up by asking Lola:

“What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to do something with animals or sea turtles?”

After a brief pause, Lola answered: “I don’t really know yet.”

The crowd laughed, because Lola is adorable and charming – and of course, why would she know? Such a perfect, honest answer. But when the girls came back to their seats, they put their heads together and whispered to each other. I heard Lola say:

“If they ask that again, what do I say? A vet? No, wait….a marine biologist!”

Then she repeated “marine biologist” a few times so she would remember how to pronounce it. This made me so sad for reasons I couldn’t name at the time. But the sound of Lola’s voice repeating “marine biologist” haunted me. It popped into my head just last week, at a Fourth of July BBQ, when someone asked me the dreaded question:

“What do you do?”

Suddenly I am Lola, up on stage under hot lights with a mic in my face; an audience of brilliant science nerds eagerly awaiting my insightful answer. I go from being in the moment, happily sipping my wine spritzer and enjoying the salty summer air to a state of total panic. My mind is now running the show. It sits in a director’s chair and shouts into a megaphone:

“Plug your blog! Give the yoga spiel! Play the mom card! Say you’re a marine biologist….anything!! JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION!!”

What I wanted to say was: “I do a lot of things. But right now I am here talking to you.” But instead I mumbled some lame answer about yoga and then booked it to the bar for a big girl glass of wine, sans spritzer.

When presented with these future-oriented questions, our mind yells “Action!” – or more specifically – “Re-action!” That is it’s job – the mind reacts. My mind reacts to pretty much everything like a monkey on speed. It is never satisfied with what is happening in the present moment. If I am writing this blog, I should be doing the laundry. If I am doing the laundry I should be writing the blog. It 100% wants me to be somewhere else, doing something else, talking to someone else, becoming someone else.

I am not promoting a life of inaction or navel gazing. But I am trying to take a step back and notice the difference between action and reaction. Lola took action to save the sea turtles because she was inspired to help the hatchlings survive. Thinking she now needs to be a marine biologist just because she loves sea turtles is a reaction to being trapped by an adult’s question and trying to give the “right” answer.

Action = I am doing this because it feels inspired or right for me.

Reaction = I am doing this because it feels like you maybe want me to do this, so it must be the right thing because you are probably smarter/older/wiser/better dressed than me. So…am I doing it right? Is this the right answer? Bueller? Wait…why am I doing this again?

In his book The Great Work of Your Life (a great read about dharma based on the Bhagavad Gita) Stephen Cope writes:

Longing for our idealized images of life separates us from our true selves and from our true callings.

What if we stopped asking our children “what do you want to be,” and replaced it with: “What do you love to do? What is your favorite activity? When do you lose track of time? When do you feel most alive?”

Maybe Lola will be a marine biologist someday. Or a teacher or CEO or fashion designer…or some new hybrid profession she invents all on her own. Who knows?

But the only thing Lola needs to be at eight years old is Lola.

The only thing Lola needs to be when she grows up is Lola.

And the only thing I need to be at thirty-eight is me. Not the future-idealized-finally-got-my-shit-together-me – I’m talking about the me that is sitting here right now, writing this blog. The braless, dirty-haired, no-career stay at home mom who is typing these words to you. And all you need to be is the you that is sitting there reading them.

In his closing speech at the Toshiba Exploravision Banquet, Bill Nye talked about finding our “place in space.”  Perhaps the first step in discovering our dharma is claiming the space we are already in.  Meeting ourselves as we are right now with compassion, acceptance and curiosity.

Maybe at this very moment, we are all exactly where we need to be.







16 thoughts on “Your Place in Space

  1. I understand completely! It has taken me 79 years to admit some things.  As much as I have been there and done that, There is still sssooooo much more I can envision! Nothing earth shattering , just some things I have always wondered about. The computer answers a lot of things I wanted to know and it serves the point when I get antsy.  But you know, It’s still a wonderful thing to dream of what I haven’t done! Larry and I like to travel and we have been half way around the world, yet we still see things and think , now that would be fun to try!!!!!  Who knows where we will eventually go one of these days!!!!!!!  Keep dreaming , girl!  It might keep the pocket book  better balanced but it is also fun to see something in ones mind and tell your spouse that one of these days we are doing to get off our duffs and go to some new exotic place!  Unfortunately I never run out of Ideas!

  2. I always come here feeling like you are reading my mind. This has happened to me so many times and has left me feeling weak and wanting to shrink. On the other hand I think you are incredibly powerful in just looking and exploring this rather than just letting these questions make you small. You must be so proud of Lola. What an amazing accomplishment!! She is very lucky to have a mom who is perceptibe and wise enough to sit so thoughtfully with the questions about action and reaction and who we want to be and what we want that to be like.

  3. I am 58 and I can tell you right now, you never get your shit together. I am a Mom to 21 and 23 year old daughters who are very independent girls who flew the nest at a very young age and live in Denver and Lake Tahoe and fly wherever life takes them so my nest is empty but I still am and always will be a Mom. I spent thirty years as an accountant and never found fulfillment and could barely say those words “I am an accountant” but I had bills to pay and health insurance to acquire.
    I am now an innkeeper along with my husband and we have been at this job for two months now and we enjoy it immensely. But I am also a struggling indie author and have self-published three novels and I feel after all these years this is the real me, the thing I love to do, but it doesn’t come close to paying the bills and I am a very small guppy in a very large pond so every day I get up and reinvent myself and live in the moment because I think Life is All This, hope and happiness and heartache and super human attempts at being just Me.

  4. Another beautiful piece! There are so many things that you touched upon that I would love to comment on. But I’ll just focus on the point of how adults question children and those questions seem to be filled with assumptions, so as a father who wants to be the “perfect parent” (which there is no such thing), I found myself examining everything that I said to my first born. And now that I have three boys, I can’t assume they like girls, so I can’t ask them about “cute girls in their classroom” and yes, we see many couples that are man and woman, but there are man-man and woman-woman couples and that is to be accepted too. It’s not political correctness but expanding my understanding that everything doesn’t fit into how I experienced things as a child.

    • Thank you Paul. I Love the idea of “expanding my understanding.” For me, parenting feels less intimidating when I try (and fail, and try again) to be less fearful and more curious. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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