What would I tell my childhood self?
My awkward pre-teen self?
My newlywed self?
My pregnant self?
My new mother 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.
Advice that, were we to have really listened, might have made a difference. The goal, I imagine, is to provide a guide for weary, fearful Googlers as they make their way down the path we and generations before us have traveled.
I've thought about this a lot over the years.
Thought about all the things I'd have done differently.
Maturity isn't something you learn exactly. Eventually we understand how to listen to advice that speaks to us, trying our best to ignore advice that wags its finger in our face. But we don't reach our destination until we realize that sometimes the two are interchangeable.
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 precise 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.
So many differences.
So much guilt.
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.”