Time traveling was never in my wheelhouse. Like it or not, we can never go can go back in time. Our life playbook has only one gear – forward. So since I’m already pretty far forward in mine/our life, kiddo. I thought 18 is a pretty good age to catch you up on a few things. I had to cross a lot of time zones to see the number you are now, but I thought it was time for a chat. Taking the long view (and it’s gets longer every day) there will never be a better time to let you know that no matter what – it’s all gonna be okay.
It won’t always be easy and you’re going to make a hell of a lot of mistakes. You’ll be pushed sometimes beyond your breaking point but you won’t break, I promise you. You won’t always be strong; but you’ll rock it when you need to. In moments you feel the most insecure, the most vulnerable, the most scared, those moments will also most shape you. When you think you’ve reached a dead end, a new path will open. When you feel most like a failure, you’re the closest to finding your center. Sometimes you’ll wonder if you’ll ever recover. You will.
Spoiler alert. The jury is still out on happily ever after but judging all that’s happened, the chances are iffy. Your heart is going to be broken more than a few times. Trust me that you’ll feel a wee bit resentful that you skipped art school to put a husband through college. That choice will never feel dumber than after said husband exited stage left and you become a typing, filing single mom of three instead of the artist you thought you’d be. But kids grew up, jobs came and went and doors opened to new possibilities. You’ll discover gifts you didn’t know you had. Okay, your art will be less Michelangelo and more commercial illustration and graphic design, but, hey, you’ll be doing it. Your creative self will evolve as you do. And every time you get sucked into the stigma of missed college, a shelf full of creative awards will remind you that, while you did it backwards, you did it.
And while we’re on the subject of creative, all that journalling you’re doing now? One day you’ll wake up and realize you’re actually a writer! Seriously. All those fanciful book reports and goofy reflections on life in that pink vinyl diary with the key will be your training wheels for becoming an honest to goodness copywriter. People will actually pay you for your words, even adding a trip or 3 as a bonus. Not a bad gig, kid.
So here are a few cliff notes for navigating the crooked road to future you:
- Spend more time with your prankster kid brother; he won’t always be there. That pesky imp who pushed you and your very cool up-swept hairdo into the pool, fully dressed, will be gone in a heartbeat before he turns 20. His jokes, his innocence and his absence will haunt you always. The grief of his loss will prepare you for others to come but this one will always be a keeper.
- Spend less time obsessing about the size of your butt. It ain’t all that big and, believe it or not, when it falls and can’t get up, you’ll kinda miss it. That butt will join jiggly arms that aren’t strapless ready anymore, a chin that’s less than chiseled and those abs will have seen better days, courtesy of three babies, especially that 9 pound one. Just remember you, and not the mirror, is your worst enemy. Trust me, you’ll always see yourself a lot worse than others do. In fact, people who love you have the x-ray vision to see inner beauty you don’t even know you have. And as years come and go, outer beauty becomes less important than grit, kindness, and a damn good sense of humor. (I hate to break it to you but our obsession with hair will never change. Sue me.)
- Slow down. Don’t be in such a hurry to be the woman you will become. Yes, you want to leave home for all the reasons I know too well, but you were born too early for the freedoms your kids will one day have. In the age of you, it’s not at all cool to spend a few years backpacking in Europe like your baby daughter will someday or skiing the Alps like your son will do before getting married themselves. Our generation came with conscribed responsibility and a wee bit less alternatives. Still, I wish you’d wait before grabbing that gold ring — literally. It will prove to be tarnished brass; not 14 carat. I’m sorry; not sorry. Three precious, gorgeous children are the gift of that marriage — and they’re everything.
- When you first started driving, dad called you hopeless (well, you did knock down your share of cones) but you learned, right? Full disclosure, you’ll never take a solo trip cross country but confidence will comes the more you sit behind the wheel. It will also come the more time you spend at the computer (you’ll learn about that invention later) the more you relax into motherhood, and the more you tweak your magically delicious cheesecake recipe.
- Authentic love will come along, but not before dudes in between teach you a few valuable lessons. (‘reason, season, lifetime’) Your self-esteem was nearly extinguished in childhood, then obliterated in early marriage. (Hey, we were 19 – SEE why I’m writing now?) The good news is self esteem is always there, ready to be there on the flip side when you’re ready to own it. And, public service announcement, you’re gonna need it to maneuver the rest of your (our) life.
- So, ding, ding, ding – we have a winner! You WILL find love again, for the first time, but when it comes along, you’ll be older and a lot wiser. Newsflash – this love will come with a big price-tag — cancer. I won’t lie; it’s not going to be a cakewalk. But you will do whatever you need to do – for him. There’s no way to prepare for that particular hard road, but you’ll come through it stronger, braver than you can imagine. There will be unimaginable loss but trust me, mini you, life will prepare you to be tough enough for a few lifetimes. You just don’t know it yet.
There is so much ahead for you, not all perfect and not all terrible. In other words, pretty much like everyone else’s life. Okay, maybe yours will be a little complicated at times. (We could write a book, a very large book) Still, when I look around at what is now, it’s a lot. All those mistakes, iffy judgement, sadness, joys, insecurity, hard work –they brought both lessons and learning. They also brought family, a really wonderful, crazy and loving one. Along the way you’ll reinvent life as we would have wanted it to be, rising above whatever was less in our raising though hardly perfection. You are not broken; you are just beginning. And from the my AARP vantage point, I can even be more be grateful for precious memories unique to us. You will always remember hanging up stockings on St. Nick ‘s Eve and will do it for your kids even though their friends will be clueless. You’ll be thankful for those trips to Cape Cod, even if they weren’t Norman Rockwell, because you will never stop crushing on that elbow shaped piece of land.
Somehow, wistful girl, try to look at each experience as just a piece of the puzzle; just a fraction of the person you will become. Try to inspire yourself; everyone else is busy. You’ll get a lot of what you wish for, and the stuff you didn’t wasn’t meant for you. Trust the process. Accept, heck even embrace, the challenges that come your way. You can handle them. You are a survivor, girl. Don’t forget that. Humans were built for mistakes. It’s how well you repair yourself that counts. Don’t worry about what people think; they are probably thinking more about their own stuff than little ol’ you.
You are super adventurous and unafraid to try everything . . .said no one ever! I hate to break it to you but a daredevil you’re not and won’t be. There is no bungee jumping or parachuting in your future. Even driving solo to our favorite place, Cape Cod, may not be in the cards, (Sorry, kiddo. I fall asleep at the wheel) But, hey, take a risk once in a while – for both of us. Fly past your fears. Try to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Though I am a certified worrier queen (big surprise, right?) you still have time to be a warrior, even a Minnie Mouse version.
You won’t always be stupidly happy, but it’s plain stupid to think a setback means you’ll always be UNhappy. Sometimes it just means you’re not looking in the right direction. Happiness will always be an inside job.
While we will never be the reserved, solitary kinda girl, sit in quiet once in a while. It will serve you well, especially when life deals you that widow card. When you’re suddenly, irrevocably alone, you’ll be thankful you know how to keep company with your inner self.
You won’t have the perfect life; no one does. But no matter how imperfect life becomes, live as large as you can. You deserve good stuff and you’ll have a lot of it. Sure life will be full of twists and turns. Nothing will ever be free but it will be rich if you know how to look at it, especially if your children, grandkids and friends are in your sights. (by the way, girlfriends are everything so – good job) Never stop your addiction for books. And exercise? One day, though you’ll never hear it now, exercise will be not only ‘cool’ but necessary.
So, young me, learn to fail with gusto; it’s the best way to learn to do better the next time. And for God’s sake – stop with the baby oil suntans! You don’t tan; you burn – ouch. Stand up for yourself. It might save us a lot of heartaches along the way. Laugh your ass off; you’ll always gonna need it.
Life will be a bumpy ride but you’ll make it. So do you. Always do you.
I’ve read about the concept of writing a letter to your younger self and what a good exercise it is, but yours is the first one I’ve ever read. I’m so impressed! I had to laugh at your “I hate to break it to you but a daredevil you’re not and won’t be.” If I ever write a letter to my younger self, I’m going to borrow that idea. I still have bungee jumping and zip-lines on my Bucket List for old times sake.
Really love this, Mare, keep on writing….
You have a gift
Thank you, Sue. When you need to make sense of what you feel, you write not caring who reads it but you care very much how they make someone feel. Sending you big hugs.