Over winter break, it dawned on me that my three-year post graduate plan is halfway complete. Instead of hyperventilating and puking into a paper bag, I sent an e-mail to Mona, one of my favorite professors from last semester and asked if she would meet with me when I came back to New York to discuss…”my plan”. Yes, that is exactly how I phrased it. Re-reading the e-mail now (which was sent at 11:48 PM on a Sunday night, mind you), I’m shocked that it was her name, not that of Student Health Services, that appeared in my inbox at 12:14 AM that night.
Anyway, we met today. I was immediately struck by the fact that when we said hello, I was looking her directly in the eyes. Maybe it was memory—or my impression of her—that left me thinking that she was much taller than I, or simply the difference in visual perspective from the student’s desk to the professor’s podium. In any event, she greeted me with two air kisses and we made our way to a coffee shop several blocks away from school, where we were to discuss my summer goals (at least this is what I said I wanted to accomplish in the e-mail; subconsciously, I think I was crying for a maternal figure besides my mother to tell me that no, your being here is not a mistake. Yes, everything will be OK. Of course, you will do just fine. You do belong. Not so subconsciously, I think my professor was aware of this).
We walked along the sidewalk in silence for a few moments before she asked how my semester was going. I offered typical, innocuous responses: I’m already tired! The readings are drier than the Sahara! (I don’t want to talk about me anymore because I’m absolutely frantic so) how’s yours going?
She told me it was actually her last semester teaching in the US, that she was moving to London with her husband in May.
That’s exciting, I exclaimed.
She studied the thick white bars of the crosswalk and furrowed her brow. Is it? she said.
I wasn’t sure what to say.
Perhaps aware of this, too, she continued on. “Savannah,” she began, “how old are you?”
24, I told her.
"I’m 35. And, you know, I think I’ve put this off for long enough. I went to the doctor the other day and she said I’m at the point where…where I can’t put it off anymore. Starting a family, I mean."
So you’re…moving to London?
The words fell awkwardly from her mouth, almost as if she was afraid of what they might form if placed incorrectly. “There’s…infrastructure there. My husband’s family is there; they can take care of the baby when I get back to work. And I mean, come on. Raising a child in New York sounds like punishment. Even daycare is competitive.” She paused. “But you know, the thing is that around 10 years ago when I was your age, I was saying that I wasn’t ready. And that was fine then. But I’m still saying that today. And I guess I’m just afraid that, well, if not now, then when?”
I offered what little I could in the realm of family planning advice. My mother had me when she was 35, I told her. She wanted to make sure that she was financially stable, professionally satisfied and emotionally mature enough before she brought someone else into this world whose needs she would inevitably have to place before hers.
"And it all worked out well for her?"
Well, I’m an only child.
No, I said. Of course it worked out. My mother is fantastic.
We entered the cafe. I placed my order with the barista, and my professor pulled out her wallet. You don’t need to do that! I said.
"Don’t be silly," Mona replied. "Of course I’m paying."
The barista looked to us and smiled. “You don’t know how many times I see this every day; best girl friends come in and fight about who gets to have the lighter billfold. Never happens with men. Only women. I don’t get it.”
We took our cups and sat down. We did in fact discuss various summer internship options, the areas in her class I enjoyed most and would like to potentially focus on professionally, how I should approach potential employers, and that no, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me for never ever wanting to work in Asia. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Asia isn’t my thing, either.”
Before I knew it, over an hour had passed and she had to leave to prepare for one of her classes. We both slipped on our jackets and collected our things, and I thanked her for taking the time to meet with me and hash some things out. She thanked me as well. I was puzzled.
We rose, and she cupped my shoulder. “Listen, I’m going to tell you something one of my favorite professors told me. Because it’s true and because I want you to hear it.”
She cleared her throat and smiled.
“‘It takes more than one bird to make Spring. So when you find one, a good one, you want to keep them with you. And you help them in any way you can.’”