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My name is Cassandra Duncan. I grew up an only child. I was also an only grandchild on both sides. The youngest of all my cousins and the only child in a small neighborhood that consisted of a bunch of adults, I never really learned what it meant to just be a kid. And I certainly never learned how to relate to other children.
Accustomed to being around primarily adults, I was always mature for my age. Even my own friends often annoyed me during my adolescent years. I had a lot of people who invested in me, and I excelled at most of my many and varied hobbies. I did well in school, often knowing how to do complex math problems before the concept had even been introduced to our class. Looking back, I’m sure I was quite smug, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Unfortunately, self-awareness wasn’t something I learned until many years later.
Over the duration of six years in high school, my parents never bought me any textbooks solely because I always got them as prizes for being the best student in my class. I gradually stopped my extra-curricular activities, including music and art lessons, and chose to work instead. I graduated at the top of my class, although I wasn’t valedictorian—perhaps because I didn’t want to give my overbearing family the satisfaction. And then I chose a large public university a lot farther from home than the small private college my parents hoped I’d attend. I wanted to be a small fish in a big pond for a change.
In college, I was involved in few outside activities. I did pledge a sorority and even served as its president, but only after several of my sisters convinced me I’d be great at it. After a handful of jobs that paid the bills right out of college, I finally went to work for a large investment firm. There I continued the trend of just meeting my potential, only taking on new challenges when someone brought it to my attention that I’d be perfect for the opportunity.
I was never one who saw myself with a family. Not wanting to be tied down by the constraints of a husband and kids, I always assumed I’d never marry. But then I met Don in 2010 and agreed to marry him after so many of my friends and family pointed out what a great couple we made. Our son was born just over a year later. And before I knew what had happened, this externally motivated, single-for-life, independent career woman was a stay-at-home mom.
I’m proud to say this new role suits me. I’m driven, not to do great things for myself, but to spur my son on to even greater ones. I still don’t know how to relate to children in general, but I know how to distinguish between the slightest little nuances of my son’s tired cry and his hungry cry. I still don’t know how to be a kid, but I’m hoping he’ll teach me. Despite a lifetime of often falling short of my own true potential, I’ve always held on to a quote by the writer James Baldwin: “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” That always sounded like something I wanted to do. I just never knew how. The moment my son entered the world, I knew I had achieved it.
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