I think my decision to go to grad school was similar in a lot of ways to my mother’s decision to buy a Razor scooter.

My mom says she always wanted a Razor scooter, and indeed, I remember her envying all my middle school prepubescent friends coasting around our block. But she’s waited a long while to actually purchase one for herself. She’s a big girl with a big-girl job—the child’s toy was not cost-prohibitive—but for whatever reason, she didn’t decide to get one until right now. Specifically, a couple of months ago, when she saw one at a garage sale for a couple of dollars. She can’t resist garage sales, and she couldn’t resist that scooter sitting there, calling to her, saying, “This is the perfect time.”

Maybe the scooter was right. The weather was nice this summer, my mom was trying to instill in herself and her granddaughter a love of a more active lifestyle, and in a lot of ways, she’s the most carefree she’s been in years. That certainly sounds like the perfect time to go a-scooterin’.

But her used-new, sleek, fresh-out of the ‘90s scooter came with more work than she thought it would. The wheels were rusted pretty badly, and in places the rubber had worn away lopsidedly so the actual scootering movement looks a little more like limping, and it will until she can figure out how best to clean the thing out. And once she does that, she’ll learn what all my middle school friends learned years ago: scootering is more work than biking, more work than roller-blading, more work than walking wherever it is you wanted to go. It’s actually very minimally fun, even when the wheels aren’t effectively soldered to the chassis.

Hearing my mom talk lovingly about her scooter and all the great happiness it would bring her, my brothers and I all laughed like bullies in the cafeteria. We laughed because we remembered our mom talking about the scooter she wanted back when she didn’t have one, and the hilarity of the whole situation hasn’t changed much. But watching my mom talk about her scooter, I saw her sort of bashful smile, the way she staunchly refused to be amused by her dream, the way she really wanted this little relic to work for her, the way she visualized herself flying down our street, untethered by friction or feet. Watching her talk about her little Razor, I got worried that even if she did de-rust the wheels and manage to get the thing to stop listing awkwardly to the left, her heart would be broken by the realization that it’s not the great liberator she’s imagined all these years.

My two-year master’s degree is not going to cost me only a couple dollars. But if its proverbial wheels are metaphorically rusted to the figurative chassis, I’m going to get a lot worse than a laugh out of my hypothetical children. And right now, as I sneak this blog post in past the piles of readings that strategically litter my dining room table, I feel like my whole life is listing awkwardly to the left. Did I really imagine that, after spending the next two years of my life trying to intimately understand and positively change the problems of the world, I was going to be zooming down the streets, the wind in my hair, using some sort of magic Social Worker Wand to zap the bad guys and supercharge social policy? When I told my family and friends that this is what I wanted, and some of them laughed and tried to tell me that I was crazy, were they foreseeing my broken heart and trying to protect me from it? I thought they were just being cafeteria bullies. Were they right?

I don’t know if my mom still rides her scooter. I don’t know if she ever really rode it after she bought it. But I know I’m going to be riding mine nonstop for the next two years, and I hope to God I’m not doing it alone.

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