My first taste of freedom was that Barcelona trip I wrote about before. That wasn’t really freedom though. My parents had graciously funded that trip. It was only ten days, too. The real first bite of freedom wasn’t college either—again, my parents were helping me extensively, saints that they are. I was lucky, as an only child, to benefit from their help even to this day. But I’ll get to that later.
I’d say my first concentrated taste of freedom came after college. I went straight from there to Pittsburgh to the Linguistics Master of Arts program at the University of Pittsburgh. I was going to share an apartment with my former roommate from college who was already at Pitt. Because I didn’t have a full Teaching Assistant position for my first semester, my partial scholarship wasn’t going to cover rent, food and the like. I had to get a part-time job as well. I found one at a small bakery about a block away that offered me bleary early morning and filled-up weekend hours to fill in the gaps in my class schedule.
I loved moving to Pittsburgh for graduate school. While I was sad I’d be five hours away from my boyfriend (read “future husband” there), I felt for the first time like I was an actual adult. Looking back on it though, this new freedom had a price tag, especially for a young twenty-something.
Those early hours at the bakery put a damper on the social life I might have had with my new, word-obsessed classmates. And on some study sessions with them that I probably would have benefited from—ones that ran well into the wee hours.
Before this gets into a litany of first-world problems, I’ll suffice it to say that I worked hard. I kept my grades up. I didn’t miss hours at the bakery. That first semester though was tough. I was tired. I was depressed being so far from home. I was worried about keeping my grades up.
But I was learning more than just phonemes and semantics and pie or doughnut prices.
I was learning about privilege, and the real things about life. I was fortunate that Mom and Dad would send money occasionally to use to cut loose a little, or to throw in more for groceries. I was lucky that they could help me make sure the car was still running. They still took care of me even though I was an “adult.”
Do we ever really become completely autonomous? I wonder sometimes. Again, I’m grateful that I have a support system to fall back on when my husband and I have unexpected expenses we have to take care of. We’re lucky to get help from both sets of our parents. But I understand that many people are not so lucky. Maybe their parents and family aren’t alive anymore. Maybe they don’t have extra money to help them. My supported autonomy at that point tastes bitter inside my mouth.
What’s the bottom line here though? I think it’s that we should be thankful for the freedom we have. Not on some seeming patriotic, all-American level, rather on a personal one. Have you got the power to keep your car and heat going throughout the year? Be thankful for that. Have you got food when you need it, and friends to commiserate with when needed? Be thankful for that.
I work for the Commonwealth with Pennsylvania’s vulnerable citizens. I see people all of the time who don’t have those things. Some are elderly, some are children, some are underemployed, and others are immigrants working to better their kids’ lives. We need to think about we can help others have support when they need it, particularly if we’re lucky enough to have our own. Let’s put a spread out on a table big enough for everyone.