I was recently beating myself up over past life choices. I mean, I was going at it in my head like nobody’s business to the point of tears. I’ve done some stupid things in my life that have had lasting consequences, and when you get to be a half-century old, you start to look at things a little differently. I had plans! I had hopes! I had dreams! And people, I had TIME.
I thought my life would look very different from what it does today. Years ago, I thought I’d have a great teaching career – my plan was to get a master’s degree and begin teaching at the local college. Maybe a doctorate would follow. I would influence lives and make a difference with the youth (and maybe some adults) in my community. I would be so educated! So fulfilled!
Then my life circumstances – and my dream – changed. It was now my job to raise extraordinary children whose happiness and well-being would impact the world. I would be the best mother and never feed them crap or plop them in front of the TV. Their father and I would build a stable, loving home for them and show them what love and hard work can accomplish. We would take family vacations and watch the kids grow. We would stand together at their weddings and at the births of our grandchildren. And somewhere in there was a porch swing where we would sit and reminisce with appreciation and pride.
Then things changed again. He chose a 25-year-old over a 23-year relationship. I just wanted to get through the day for a while. I worked on my bullshit because yes, I had some. I got really, really pissed and resentful. It was a dark time where I questioned all my choices, all my options, my entire future. This bleak, horrible time was a gift though. Some gifts you don’t recognize at first because they look a whole lot like boxes of crap. They stink, they’re messy, you wish you could just flush them. But being given this particular box of crap was eye-opening for me because it made me realize I got to make some choices. I could either continue holding it or figure out a way to clean it up in the most positive way for myself and my kids.
And that’s when things changed yet again. I made lists. Lists of what was important to me. Lists of what I needed to change. Lists of how to change them. Lists of what I wanted in a life partner (because that was on that first list). Lists of goals. Lists of how to accomplish those goals. I had lists coming out of the wazoo. I learned how to do a lot of shit I’d depended on my former husband to take care of, and that gave me confidence. Each successful task re-built my self-esteem, and I stopped doubting myself so much. I lived as the only adult in our not-so-small home with our not-so-small children, and I made it work. It wasn’t easy because I was used to him being here. But there was an upside: I no longer had someone who didn’t love me crazy-making in my life. Through a lot of HARD work, I eventually found a peace I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
You know what happened next? If you’ve been paying attention you already know.
I met a man who, from the beginning, has chosen to love me every day in big ways and small. Remember that list about partner qualities I wrote? This man meets 98% of that list – and let’s face it, no one is going meet 100% of your wants and desires, so 98% is downright phenomenal. Plus, you should have seen my list! Our love is easy and comfortable, but we don’t take each other for granted. There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t tell me I’m beautiful while holding my hand or kissing my forehead. There isn’t a moment that I don’t thank the Universe for sending me a heart-healer. I pray that I am as positive a force in his life as he is in mine.
Remember those lofty educational and teaching goals from way up there at the beginning of this post? I let them lapse for 20 years. I found myself all those changes later with no career, no way to earn a real income. But remember the lists? I set about figuring out how to get my teaching certificate. I researched and read. I studied for, took, and passed SIX certification and endorsement exams so that I would be fully qualified to teach middle and high school in the state and school district in which I live. I am working as a substitute teacher and earning a paycheck again which feels amazing. I am researching graduate programs and figuring out how I can afford them. I did all of this in the past year. ONE YEAR of hard work, study, and goal-setting. I’m proud of that!
Sometimes it’s hard not to say, “I wish I had a 25-year teaching career and a doctorate” or “I should be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary next year.” But as my dad told me years ago, “Wish in one hand; shit in the other – see which one fills up faster.” I cannot “should” on myself any more. Mainly because I’m 50-years-old, and I don’t have that kind of time left. With age comes perspective – and blog posts like this one help me get clear on where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished.
What I see as I look back is change, time and again. And I know it will keep coming, though I don’t know when or how it will show up. Change is life’s constant. Change is inevitable and certain. It’s how you choose to roll with it that counts.