Whenever I have one of those retrospective moments — usually those moments when my kids are being particularly cuddly or sweet and I’m wondering how they flashed from squishy babies to preteens oozing smells and attitude — my mind goes to an unlikely place.
I flash back to a bathroom stall in the Barnes and Noble in Corpus Christi, Texas — I warned you it was unexpected. I was in college at the time, and my college best friend and I decided we’d take ourselves down to the wedding-planning corner of the bookstore to plan our weddings. If you’re thinking this sounds like a Hallmark movie — two college besties engaged at the same time and planning their perfect weddings alongside each other — I should share that neither one of us was actually engaged at this point. Yours truly didn’t even have a prospect at the time.
A few hours in, we had every wedding binder and magazine pulled off the shelf and in an “organized chaos” type pile. We decided to break for a run to the bathroom, sure no one was going to dare tangle with our mountain of publications.
Through the stall walls, our conversation shifted from flower sprays and engagement ring settings to something a little deeper. I don’t remember which one of us started it, but someone asked, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”
At the time, we were just two free 20-somethings. No real responsibilities outside of school. No nine-to-five, no expectation to grocery shop, clean the house, make dinner. No worries. Just think about the free time and headspace we must have had to spare just trying to fill an afternoon with a hypothetical dream wedding.
We must have been crazy, right, to rush through such a great phase of life just to rush into the American dream. And, perhaps the worst part: We knew we were crazy for trying to fast forward to “the good part,” but that didn’t stop us.
Skipping to the Good Part
Now, make no mistake, I love my life as is (save for maybe taxes and the morning commute). The life I’ve built, the people I’ve surrounded myself with — my husband, our kids, family, friends — I wouldn’t trade them to go back to college and do it all over again. I still find myself rushing through the “now” to get to the “next.” I muddle through the weekdays to get to the weekend. I can’t wait to get orders, then I can’t wait to find a new house, then I can’t wait to pack, arrive, settle, then do it all again.
Those retrospective moments come more frequently these days — maybe it’s a product of aging, like wrinkles and creaky joints. Maybe it’s because I know we’re coasting toward military retirement (TBD on whether that’s three, six or nine more years, but still). Whatever the cause, the lesson remains unchanged.
Note to (My Former) Self
If I could give my former self one piece of advice it would be this: Don’t spend today wishing for tomorrow. Tomorrow will come whether you’re ready or not. And this applies to every phase of life. In every phase — newlyweds, pregnancy, first-time parents, second-time parents, and in every place we’ve been, there is something I miss. There is something I will never have again, and that is hard to accept when it finally hits you.
So, former self, focus on what is right in front of you, right now. Ignore the laundry to play a game with the kids before they stop asking you to play with them. Don’t let the distraction of stress from work or moving, or other boring adult responsibilities keep you from laughing with your husband, tickling your kids, cuddling with the dog (and, if you have time — sure — the cat too). Make the mess, take the trip, order the fries instead of the salad. Wear what you want; say what you think; ask for help; give yourself a break sometimes; and for the love of everything don’t wear shoes that hurt your feet. (That last one doesn’t really have anything to do with my point, but my feet just hurt all … the … time now, so relevant or not, still something my former self needs to hear).
Putting it Into Practice
It’s not easy to take that advice today when I’m a creaky creature of habit, stubborn and stressed and set in my ways. But, I have the benefit of knowing I’m not the expert at being present — not by a long shot, clearly. But I know a couple of people who are: our kids. So, I’m going to try to be a little more like them.
I’m going to try not to wish away a day, even the bad ones. I’m going to give myself space to get excited about even the smallest thing. I’m going to try not to let traffic get to me, but honestly, that might be the first part of this I give up on — just being transparent. Because, as ready as I am to wrap up our chapter here at our current duty station, I will miss things about it when we leave. It might not be the obvious things like landmarks and museums; it might be the way our daughter’s laugh sounds at this age or the way our son is starting to grow into his sarcasm and it’s still kind of cute when he tries to get sassy.
We’ll never be here again (metaphorically, at the ages and stages our family is in — I never put it past the Marine Corps to send us to the same geographical place twice). And I, for one, don’t want to miss a thing.