My mom is a sneaky genius.
With a Masters in Chemistry she’s also an obvious genius, but the confounding side of her brain I find usually dawns on me after the fact. Every mom is known to dole out pearls of wisdom, but Cami disguises hers as casual observations—digestible bites of knowledge that make her sort of addictive to be around, just like her sweetness. It’s not an in-your-face, big birthday party-throwing, wiping hands on her apron kind of momliness. She’s on everyone’s level, all the time.
I’m a nervous wreck about a lot of things, but never really realized that until I got older. And Cams made no real effort to point that out in some kind of homegrown diagnosis. I think she resisted it, because she’s smart like that. Like telling someone not to look down.
So no medications. No sympathetic pep talks. My worry might have aged her prematurely, but her pressing a little juice glass of sherry into my hands before cotillion—I know I’ve mentioned this before, but come on guys, genius—gave me wisdom beyond my years. I’m glad I didn’t know I was anxious until later in life, because it kept the ball rolling.
One of these pearls came on a morning when I was literally nauseous with anxiety prior to starting my first J-term internship with Hollins, working in the Corp Comm office of my dad’s company. It wasn’t a joke gig, either; I got put in charge of some serious shit.
Gagging over my cereal while it was still dark out in a pair of scratchy wool pants I never wore again, she said, “Just find the bathroom and you’ll feel better.”
She wasn’t telling me to go ralph it out upon arrival. She was illustrating a time-honored truth in a way that allowed me put one foot in front of the other without even realizing I was doing so: One. Thing. At. A. Time.
I like to think this, like her other great advice, was sort of implanted into my brain, like Total Recall, without my even knowing.
I’ve had a lot of first days at new, scary jobs since, and it’s still the first thing I think when I walk in the door. I sit down in cubes and attend orientations and meet a million people and run my hands over the surface of the desk, but nothing feels like a step forward until I’ve found the bathroom, walked there on my own, looked in the mirror for a second and got my bearings.
I had a friend going through some difficult stuff lately. Being older than most of my friends now, I mostly want to shake all of them by the shoulders and go, “Christ, calm the fuck down! Life goes on, kid.” I’ve always given advice tinged with the impatience of logic; my mom gives advice drawn out of a subterranean pool of kindness. (Not without a little spice, though. When warranted.)
So I texted back, “You just gotta find the john, then go from there, dude.”
One of my favorite things is looking back on things that felt new, tapping into that emotion, then assessing how far I’ve come from the first day—hammering out a route from desk to bathroom. I tentatively offer that if you rely on yourself as much as you should (remember, you are the anvil) this scary/new experiences thing should start to be something you have an appetite for. Adventure.
Because one day, the bathroom is going to be in your pants.