One of my readers asked where I thought I would be when I was 27-ish compared to where I am.
First of all, I know her well in real life, so don’t anyone laugh thinking she believed I was still in my 20′s. SHE is 27-ish.
Secondly, that is a terrific questions because it is one of the best and hardest lessons life has taught me. I have always been a “fairy tale” believer kind of person. I’ve also always been over-confident. I remember a high school classmate saying to me our sophomore year in college, “Wow, Jessi. You wanted to be in a band, so you just went ahead and started one, and now look at you, recording a demo tape. You did it.”
I actually remember thinking “Well…duh.” In a nice way. But I was bewildered with the idea that if you wanted to do something you didn’t just barge right ahead and do it. And it happened just the way you planned it, or certainly however it was “destined” to be. I think it may have been helpful to me had I experienced more giant flops in my earlier life to prepare me for what was actual reality. (Oh, and yes I realize how pitifully I am dating myself as to the fact that we didn’t have access to the technology to make a demo CD. NOT 27-ish.)
So I guess we are talking about two things here – the first is things you can control, the second are the environmental or outside factors that you must work around.
When I was a young adult (18-19) I envisioned, at 27 (ish), I would be married to a wealthy 8-5 businessman who thought I was the living end, have four children, probably train dogs or horses, be a suburban housewife who really did everything. I secretly also thought by then I’d have made a fortune along with the band I was in and have endless time to be a perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend. I would probably do Broadway shows once a year on the side just for fun. Life would really be easy. I had this completely foreign, fairy-land, make-believe image of what motherhood and marriage was. Even though I’d grown up witnessing a strong, real and working marriage, watching and recognizing mistakes adults made, listening to them apologize for those mistakes and understanding well that everyone is human.
It is funny to me that I created this picture of 27-ish, because I never before in my life had thought myself perfect or even one of the very best. I always thought I was fine but lacking, so tried to make up for it in hustle or sweat-equity (typical middle kid!). I guess I believed when you reached that magic number (for me it was 26) that you had finally figured it all out, that you knew yourself and all life’s complications and hardest difficulties were worked out by then.
Please pick yourself off the floor and stop laughing so you can read the rest of this.
Nothing in my adult life is what I imagined or planned for it to be, and I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that I have always been a dreamer, and whether it was dreaming of riding a horse when I got bigger, dreaming of going to junior high, dreaming of making the cheerleading squad, dreaming of being homecoming queen, dreaming of being a wife and mother…none of them turned out like I imagined (and it seems I have proven dense in learning that lesson because I still do that today). The other reason is because outside factors and pressures change the situation and have to be dealt with – often altering my plans.
I NEVER planned to homeschool my children. Heck, only crazy people did that. Then my kid ended up being screened for ADHD, but it turned out he was so bored the child psychologist suggested accelerating two grades. I never planned to send my children to Catholic school. Heck, only Catholic people did that. Then the public schools in our area all went to full-day kindergarten and insisted on a vaccine I didn’t plan on my children having. I never planned to be Catholic. Heck, you had to really believe in the creed to do that. Then I started researching religious beliefs and actually ended up feeling so foolish that I’d never tried to back my disbelief with something other than platitude. I never planned to marry a farmer, they are never home and HECK NO I didn’t want that. Then I met My Farmer and that wasn’t important any more. He didn’t think I was the living end, but he really knew me and loved me anyway.
Do you see a pattern here, people? It has become predictable that whatever plans I have made or however I envision myself at a later date will prove to be based only upon my own fantasies and inability to predict the future. So what have I learned from this? Prioritize.
I know that seems a laconic answer to this riddle, but it’s the best I’ve come up with thus far. So close enough.
I’ve figured out (DUH) that the problems and choices get more difficult each year. I’ve learned that situations get more complicated and what you were sure you would NEVER do is probably based on a misunderstanding of whatever IT entails, and you darn sure might end up doing it. So figure out what is most important to you and focus your energies on it, because the world spins faster every year and you have to adjust and react or suddenly years have gone by and you are doing the old “if only I had…” So at least this way, when you look back and say “if only I had…” you won’t be sorry that you were focused on things that really didn’t matter. You’ll be able to say “if only I had…but at least I gave it my best shot.”
One of our closest “couple” friends were in town for the first time in three years this December. The husband asked me, “So, explain to me this homeschooling thing, Jessica. I really want to understand where you are going with this.” After our discussion, he made a lifechanging statement to me. “So, it’s simple. The schools just weren’t able to meet the needs of your kids right now, so you are making sure those needs are met yourself.” I was far too concerned about people understanding what we were trying to do, and realizing we weren’t judging anyone else by doing it. But the people who know us and listen, the people who parent like we do…they understood.
I get one chance with these kids. A few short years and it’s over. I want to do the best I can. Even if it means doing something I never planned on and never dreamed would work for me. I am far from a perfect mother. Even farther from a perfect wife. I’m a pretty terrible Catholic. I’m an acceptable farm wife in some categories. I’m an awful housekeeper, really. I’m an okay cook and an elementary baker.
But you know what else? I’m getting a little better at each of these things as time passes. You know why? Hustle and sweat-equity. That old working hard pays off and practice makes perfect you better than you were before mentality.
Where I thought I would be at 27-ish is laughable now. Where I am is better because it was much harder earned - through some actual hardships, terrific failures, good and bad experiences, falling short of the mark, tests of faith. The rewards are much greater and the every-day miracles worth so much more this way. Real life changes every day, so hang on tight but don’t close your eyes. Put what is first in your life in the forefront and learn from your mistakes. Forgive yourself. This is where I actually am at 32 and it’s so much better (and worse) than I ever dreamed it could be.