Friday, March 23, 2012

Words of wisdom

always the photographer

What would I tell my younger self?

I use to have braids and ride horses

My awkward pre-teen self?

our wedding

My newlywed self?

what is that?

My pregnant self?

What would I tell her that would save her even one ounce of pain or regret?

The interwebs has been talking a lot about what sage advice we'd give our youthful selves in the hopes of maybe reducing our mistakes or merely dampening the turmoil they cause us.

Anything that, were we to have really listened, might have made a difference. Perhaps even providing a guide for weary, fearful Googlers as they make their way down the path we and generations before us traveled.

I've thought about this a lot over the years.

Thought about all the things I'd have done differently.

Of course I've grown and changed. I've learned how to listen to advice that spoke to me, and tried my best to ignore advice that wagged its finger in my face.

But I've loved and loathed so many aspects of each situation I've found myself in that I also find it hard to point to any one of them and lament … If somebody had just told me …

in this way …

so I could understand.

Life doesn't work that way. It isn't about doing the right thing the first time. It's about finding the right thing for ourselves in our own time.

Maybe we're supposed to have regrets.

One of my most painful regrets as a parent happened in the hospital, after the birth of my daughter, as my newly emptied body floated on a roller coaster of hormones and fear.

She had been with me for nearly 10 months, an active mass of fetal flesh that would change my life forever … and I was afraid to be alone with her. I sent her to the nursery every chance I got. “What if …” became the scariest proposition in my mind.

I'd done all the classes, talked to all the mothers I knew. But experience taught me the most.

Going through it. Waking around the clock. Spit-up. Crying. Dealing with the fear and uncertainty of every decision. Finding a solution after losing count of my failures.

And then having to find another solution when everything changed again.

When my son was born a few years later I was hesitant, too. Late-pregnancy tests showed a medical condition that could cause kidney damage later in life, or even be linked to Down Syndrome.

It was a frightening time filled with feelings that I hadn't done all that I could do. It was a time that I also wondered to myself: "What had I done?"

When he was born healthy but for the wonky kidney, none of it mattered. Only him.

I couldn't let him leave my side. The nurses had to come to find him for weigh-ins and tests. They had to wrestle him from my adoring gaze and serpentine arms.

Then the guilt.

The differences.

Nearly five years later I still want to have had a different first experience. I want to have made different choices.

I want to go back and give my daughter all the first-days' love I gave my son. And there's nothing I could say to myself that would change that desire. The only thing I can do is move forward and understand that this entire process of living is made up of experiences we'd either rather not have or have had differently.

By constantly looking back, though, don't we just build up a mountain of regret we must overcome?

Sometimes I think we think about what we could have done differently so often, we search for answers so exhaustively, that we forget life is a process built on missteps and failure. We understand ourselves best through experience. We trust ourselves best for having gone through it. We want to spare people something they maybe shouldn’t miss.

Instead of telling my younger self what to do differently, I will whisper to my future self: “Try to relax and enjoy what is now.”


Gail at Large said...

I agree. The advice sounds great in theory but we don't live life as vicarious visions from those who came before us. People have been having children since time immemorial, yet no amount of advice amassed can iron out all the wrinkles.

Besides, I never listened to anyone. Would anyone listen to me? I kinda hope not, I didn't turn out that badly.

Rebecca said...

Outstanding post. So very true!

sandpiper214 said...

Such excellent advice! I absolutely adore the photo of the young you btw, thanks for sharing such a wonderful snapshot :)

Carl said...

Anything I would tell myself, somebody else did at the time. I didn't listen to them, I certainly wouldn't listen to myself. The mistakes are me, the scars are me, and in the end that's not a bad thing. Wish I'd never hurt others, but it's hard to live and not do that.

You're hugely brave to talk about that, by the way.