Balance by Laura Alexander

I once read that the first child in a family is either artistic or academic. The second child is the opposite of whatever the first child is. But the third child, unable to put herself in one of these two roles in the family because they’ve already been taken, that child is the jack of all trades, master of none.   

Well, I’m the third child. When I was growing up I was never really good at anything. I tried softball and I was ok but not great. I tried drawing in fourth grade and was really proud of a little bird sitting on a flower but I think I reached my peak that year. I played the flute but was always last chair in the band. I tried guitar – well that never got off the ground. I was pretty damn good at flipping burgers at McDonalds – now that’s a skill that would take me far. I could cook well enough and sew better than most, I was a B student although I might have been an A student if I had applied myself. I was never that great at sports of any kind. I could hold my own and wouldn’t be chosen last in the schoolyard pick but I wasn’t chosen first either. I was never very good at Math and although I loved Science, it didn’t love me. I once lit my eyebrows on fire in Mr. Leggett’s lab and got a D in Anatomy and Physiology in Nursing School. What kind of a nurse gets a D in Anatomy and Physiology?? 

As I turned into a young adult I tried all sorts of things. I did calligraphy for awhile and was ok at that, I went to classes in harmonica, movie make up, tai chi and sign language. I’ve tried mountain biking and sailing and once talked about becoming a white water rafting guide. I was a mediocre skier and an adequate outrigger steers person. I tried backpacking a few times and rock climbing and held my own in both.  In my later years I built a cobb oven and experienced the challenges of beekeeping. I once tried out for a play but didn’t make the part and I sang in a black gospel choir for a bit which was an interesting experience since I can carry a tune but I usually change keys 2 or 3 times over the course of one song. I play ukulele and hand drums if you can call it playing.  More like playing AROUND. I’m not a bad public speaker and my garden is nice but not ooh aah phenomenal. I used to do archery and could hit a bullseye probably about 50% of the time and can hold my own in a disco dancing contest. I’m rotten at tetherball and my baking skills are maybe a bit above average. Oh, and I can balance ten oreos on my forehead. As much as I enjoy my most recent artistic pursuits I don’t think I’m going to be writing the great American novel nor are my photographs going to win any pulitzer prizes.  

You see, this is my pattern. I get interested in something, I buy a book, I take a class, I do it. I never get really good at it because I don’t have that passion for it.  I lose interest, it takes too much discipline, it interferes with everything else I want to do. I know just about enough about all of these things to be able to talk to someone like I know more than I do but if you asked what’s one thing that I’m really really good at? I don’t think I could name one thing. I remember when I was in high school and in the basement of my self esteem I told my Mom that I wish I was really really good at just one thing. My Mom told me I was. I had a really really good personality. Now I know she meant well but if your mother can’t even think of something you’re really good at you’re kind of a lost cause.   

One day my husband, Jon and I were having coffee at Coffee Roasters in downtown San Rafael, watching people come and go and in walked two bicyclists. You know the kind. Their entire outfit matches, they have calves of steel, slim physiques, look good in helmets and stride in like they own the world. They look like they have been bicycling their whole lives and they probably just did 75 miles in training for the centurion they’re going to ride in the following weekend BEFORE they even had their morning coffee!  

These two bicyclists walk in and I turn to Jon and I say “You know, I just wish that for once in my life I would get really really good at one thing. I wish I would have the discipline and the interest and passion to stick to one thing until I really excelled at it like these bikers do.” Well, my husband who is so much more wise than myself nodded his head and he said “You know Laura, the thing about you is you are a very curious person. But that’s what makes you so interesting. You know a little bit about everything. Naw, I think you should be just the way you are. Lots of layers.” And he looks me in the eye and smiles. 

Laura is a registered nurse, writer and photographer living with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of her stories are taken from her poignant experiences as a nurse and from the frequent misadventures of raising her four sons. She is currently working on her memoir in hopes of sharing her life’s journey with her sons and grandchildren. She has been published by CafeLit and Potato Soup Journal. You can find more of her writing at