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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Note to Self: Dear Me, Age 20

This post was written for this week’s “Letter to My 20-Year-Old Self” Blog Hop for members of the midlife-bloggers’ group Generation Fabulous (#GenFab), hosted at Chloe of the Mountain. If you’re blogging during your midlife years, regardless of what you’re blogging about, and interested in being part of this group, you’re invited to e-mail Chloe directly.

Hi, me at 20!

listening and thinking (www.3rsblog.com)
NOT me at 20!
Well, there’s no going back now, even though this is probably the last place you expected to see yourself at this point. Barely had a date in high school, and now, not even two years out? Married and pregnant, although those events happened in the opposite order. And honestly, considering that you both took a Catholic-school-kids’ approach to birth control--that is, Catholic enough “be careful” (that is, not to use anything proven effective), but not Catholic enough to avoid doing things that might necessitate using it--you’re probably lucky they didn’t happen sooner.

As far as that goes, though, you’ll come to believe that there’s never an exactly “right” time for anyone to have kids, and that all things considered, this timing wasn’t all that bad. You’re young and healthy yourself, you’re not trying to get a career underway just yet, and you have support around you now.

Your parents, especially your mom, really couldn’t have been better about this unexpected development. There’s room in their house for you, your husband, and the upcoming addition, and they’re letting you stay there rent-free; your mom grew up in a multi-generational, extended-family household, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s just how family works. And she’s said she and your dad will care for the baby while you and B. are in college--because the one non-negotiable is that the two of you will finish your bachelor’s degrees. And although it’ll take an extra year to do it, it’s going to happen--debt-free, too. You’re in college at a time when your combination of high academic achievement and relative poverty will actually work in your favor; you’re both getting through on grants, scholarships, and summer jobs, and your parents’ contribution is keeping your cost of living minimal.

Living in your parents’ home as a married parent yourself won’t always be easy, and by the time you and B. finish university and move out on your own--you’ll work for the Ivy League university where he'll be in grad school--you and your mom will both be ready for some distance. But you’ll always appreciate their help, as well as the fact that your untimely timing allowed your mom three years with the only grandchild she’ll ever know. When the three of you leave, she’ll already be showing symptoms of the early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that will require full-time nursing-home care eight years from now (seven years of it, until she passes away in October 1999). You won't be around for any of that. I'm still not sure whether that made it easier or harder.

CLU(e) Bookstore window (www.3rsblog.com)
If only "getting a clue" were this easy...
You won’t want to hear this part, but I need to put it out there anyway. You and B. don’t feel you “had to” get married; you were already talking about it, although you figured it wouldn’t happen until some time after college. But baby makes three, and now, married you are...although adult enough to know what you’re getting into, you’re not. Early marriage and parenthood will give you a jumpstart on many aspects of adulthood...but in others, they will stall your growth for years to come. You’ll be functioning in a couple before you’ve learned to function as yourself, and you won’t understand where boundaries should be. Neither will he--and since you’re pretty much following his lead in this relationship, that’s going to be a problem. You’re trying to be, and do, and give, what you believe he needs...but neither of you really grasps just how great his needs will be. On top of that, you’re so focused on what he needs that it will be years until you start understanding what you need. Your needs as individuals won’t mesh, and by the time you recognize that, it won’t be worth wondering if they ever did. You’ll always be connected by your shared parenthood of C.--who turns out quite well, for the record--but it will take too many years to accept that you’re not right for each other. Trust me on this, though: that won’t mean you’re not right for anyone...or that there’s no one right for you.

And while I still have you as a captive audience, I have a few more things to tell you:
  1. That decision you made, spurred by the baby-and-marriage thing, to switch your college major to Accounting will pay off just as you hope. You’ll always be employable in your field, no matter where you live, and after years of the full-time-parent/full-time-job juggling act, you’ll be glad to have a solid career track record when you have to rely on your own income. You’ll never love the work, but that’s not really one of the payoffs you’re hoping for anyway, so I suspect that’s not a surprise.
  2. You’ve been reading since you were four years old, and you’re a chain reader--almost never between books for more than a few hours. What you read will change over time--your tastes will expand, and improve--but reading is fundamentally part of who you are, and from where I sit almost thirty years beyond where you are now, I can assure you it’s staying that way. 
  3. There’s not much else I can make that assurance about, other than this: you can’t plan for everything, and all too often, your plans won’t go as you planned. It doesn’t matter. You’ll--eventually, usually--end up pretty much all right anyway.
love,
me at 48

Other posts in the #GenFab "Letter to My 20-Year-Old Self" Blog Hop: