Raising Richmond: Kid, you’ll move mountains

There’s a reason why everyone gets a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go when they graduate from high school; it says exactly what you need to hear when you’re entering a new phase of your life. Trust me. I know of what I speak.

Back in June of 2007, I left teaching to start a new career as a writer and editor. To commemorate this exciting (and totally terrifying) shift in my life, my co-workers gave me a going away gift at our last staff meeting of the year: a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go filled with hand-written messages bidding me goodbye and good luck. A bit cliché and expected, I suppose, but sweet and appropriate nonetheless. I mean there’s a reason why everyone gets a copy of this book when they graduate from high school; it says exactly what you need to hear when you’re entering a new phase of your life.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

So when it came time to build JR’s library, we made sure there was a copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go on his shelf. Like most parents, I’m sure, I loved the idea of sharing the book’s message with my child; I wanted him to hear it early and often.

I’d eventually find out that I would need to hear the book’s message just as much as JR. Probably more. Actually, there might have been times when I had thoughts that Dr. Seuss probably wrote the book just for me.

This past Friday marked the one-year anniversary of my final day as editor of RVANews. The day this post went up was my first full day as a (mostly) stay-at-home mother to our then two-year-old son, JR. If you’re doing the math, it was also the second time in four years that I was turning my professional life upside down.

Making the choice to stay at home with my son was–in a word–agonizing. During my entire stint as a mother working full-time (and then some) outside of the home, I felt a constant, gnawing guilt over the hours I spent away from him each day. I was convinced that the circumstances of my work situation were keeping me from being the kind of parent I wanted to be: confident and present. Pushing right up against that feeling was an equally strong sense of guilt over the potential repercussions of me leaving work: Was I going to send my family into financial ruin? How could I just leave the staff of RVANews hanging like that? What if I totally sucked at being a stay-at-home mom and ended up changing my mind after all that drama?

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

Even after I bit the bullet and did what was necessary to prioritize my happiness and my family, that guilt lingered for a good long while. I beat myself up over it and ran myself ragged for months until I eventually fell apart–physically (shingles, anyone?) and mentally (seen here…and in that earlier sentence about kind of thinking the book was written for me). I was so determined to prove to everyone around me this was the right decision, when I was the one who actually needed convincing.

I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.

I had read Oh, the Places You’ll Go to JR a few times when he was a baby, but it didn’t carve out a solid spot in our rotation until I left RVANews. I don’t know if it was my doing or his, but we read it multiple times a day, sometimes over and over again in one sitting. For us, it was The Book of 2011. He liked the illustrations and the rhythm of the words, and me? Dammit, I’ll admit it: I needed to be inspired. To be reassured that, yes, life is a big, scary, mess that can really, really suck at times…but it can also be fantastic if you hang in there and just…go.

So that’s what I did. I kept going, taking baby steps until I found my footing, until we found our rhythm. A year later, and here we are. It’s not all Boom Bands playing and banners flip-flapping every day, but it’s not all slumps either. We’re doing well, and the experiences of this last year have proven that should that change, I’ve got it in me to fix it. And will I succeed? Yes! I will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!)

— ∮∮∮ —

Friday is Dr. Seuss’s birthday and this column was a tribute to him. I hope you’ll take a minute to share your Seuss memories in the comments–those from your childhood or those you’re making with your children now.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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