Typically, she would proceed this advice with the blaring of a country music song with that particular chorus every time one of us made the tragic mistake of stepping into her car. My mother was a great believer in the wisdom of country music lyrics, Chinese proverbs and defying authority to stand up for the little guy or gal.
When I was a teenager I dreamed of running off to join Greenpeace or at least wearing tie-die and taking part in some 1960s inspired protests. Peace. Love. Earth Day. These were my inspiration. In middle school I wrote and starred in an earth day play that my science teacher helped me take on the road to educate elementary school children in our small town about their new holiday and their responsibility to recycle. I saw a future in political activism for myself, although I certainly did not have that language, nor did my hometown have much of that kind of activity back in those days.
By the time I got to college, working as a waitress and doing homework had bogged down every piece of my motivation to change the world. I didn't even recycle. I just wanted to make it through the day to the next day so that eventually I could reach the day where I didn't have to scrounge, work, study every second.
It wasn't until my thirties that I came back to the question my mother had asked me all those years ago with so much urgency. "What do you stand for?" I didn't like the answer all that much. I had great kids, a great corporate job and a house in the suburbs.
So, I started to pursue my passion for helping kids, beyond just my own. I started to do public school advocacy and I did advocacy work around important services to help poor families. I started a scholarship program to help kids without the means at our middle school go to Washington, D.C. with their peers. And, I started writing again, giving my characters struggles, making them ever more diverse, working to integrate the points of view of many different kinds of people into my books.
At the end of the day, I always feel like I should be doing more. But, I'm starting to feel like I stand for something that goes beyond just myself and that's deeply fulfilling.
So, what do you stand for?