Once upon a time
Years ago at university in the US, one of my professors asked our class to imagine ourselves at age 50. I suppose he chose 50 as a nice round number, more than double the age of most of the students in the class, perhaps his age at the time. I remember that I was the only one in the class who supposed that at age 50, I would probably be the happiest I would ever be in my life. I figured I’d be happily married, perhaps with my kids grown or almost grown, my health would most likely be decent – fingers crossed, my career would be well-established, my finances secure. I saw 50 as a nice, secure, safe place when I could reap the benefits of all the hard work of my youth.
Happy Birthday to me
So here I am at the age that I theorized to be the happiest age of my life, 50. Am I the happiest I have ever been? I don’t know honestly. I am not even sure what it means to be happy or what I thought being happy meant as an 18-year-old college student. In some ways I haven’t changed much. I can tell from my old analysis that I valued security very much and equated it with happiness, and I think I still do. It’s not that I never take risks, but the risks I take are measured. Since becoming a parent, my desire for security and peace of mind is even stronger, and I try to have a plan A, B, C, all the way to Z.
First comes love, then comes marriage
I am married, that’s true. Our kids are not fully grown, but they’re teens already – practically the age I was when I envisioned my happy 50-year-old future. In my 18-year-old mind, having a family of my own was more of an abstract concept. The presence of a future, unknown partner would make me married. I wasn’t the type to doodle a boy’s name in my notebook. There were no wedding dress daydreams. And those future imaginary children were just objects that made me a parent. I was far from peaking into baby carriages or swooning over the smell of a baby’s head.
Actually, I didn’t think that much about having children until one day I got sick and thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to have them or have anything for that matter. 50 seemed impossible. And I thought to myself, what a pity, I won’t make it. But then I did, and here I am.
Then comes baby in a baby carriage
Even as I waited for my first child to be born, I was still focused on becoming a mother, not meeting my child, a fact which I now find incredibly strange. Later, with my second child, I was already a mother, so I was more focused on my children – the one already here and the other I couldn’t wait to meet. By this time, I had figured out that children are their own wonderful people with their own distinct personalities. But at 18, I didn’t deeply consider all the joy and love having children would bring me. I had no idea of the pain, sadness, and fear that comes along with being a parent. I suppose this is something parents don’t share with their children or maybe with anyone. My parents certainly didn’t share any of that with me. Even as I am here, willing to share it, I find it difficult to articulate that being a parent makes you the happiest and the unhappiest you’ll ever be. It’s a pity that my parents didn’t and don’t really know me as a parent. I am a different parent than they were in some ways. I try to express to my children that this is our home, not my home. They’re not on any timeline. They can stay as long as they want or need, and they are always welcome. I don’t always understand them or what they need. Like all parents, I wish I could give them more. I really love them.
An apple a day
I am not the healthiest person in the world, that’s for sure, but what parts of my health are within my own control are under control. Can I hear you? Not really, but I will nod along. Can I see you? Not really, but I will say dzień dobry and later ask my husband who you were. Do I have any nałogów? Absolutely not, unless mushroom picking counts. I go to bed with the chickens, eat a lot of fiber, and exercise every day.
Above and beyond
Can I say that I have a career? I suppose I do. It turns out that I know a lot of people and in securing commissions or contracts in my field, you have to know what you are doing and you have to know people. If that qualifies as an established career then so be it. I’m the first to toot my own horn, and I definitely do not suffer from imposter syndrome. However, over my entire career I have had a constant fear of being unemployed and a sense…not exactly of failure…but something like a lack of success. Am I financially secure? I would say more or less. I think my risk aversion is what has done it and also my unwillingness to take on debt. I don’t have a mortgage, so that does give me a small sense of security. Ciasny ale własny, right?
Back to the future
At 18, I never could have imagined that I would live out my adult life anywhere other than in the USA. And if you had told me that my children would prefer another language over my native language, I would have been weak. I wanted to travel and had applied for semesters and internships abroad (that’s how I got to Poland in the first place), but the concept of living somewhere besides the US was not even a faint glimmer in my mind.
Who doesn’t like to read those books or watch those movies where the main character wakes up 18 years old again, with a chance to right all wrongs and set themselves on a new path? I’d love to get out of bed in the morning with my 18-year-old back, and it would be great to navigate the world with my 18-year-old hearing and vision. But other than that, I don’t even like to entertain the thought. There are so many things I would do differently, but even more that I wouldn’t change at all.
What would I tell 18-year-old Chris? Probably nothing. I wouldn’t tell her to study more, she’s a kujon. I wouldn’t tell her to work harder, she’s got a lot on her plate. Actually, I’d probably tell her to chill out a little bit, wear sunscreen, and invest in Apple. And enjoy her life.
Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.