Being a woman "of age" has its advantages. One of the biggest is knowing how things will turn out. During this season of valentines, I'm going to pen a love letter to my younger self, reassuring her about life's major milestones and telling her what I now know: It will all turn out just fine.
Here, let me give you a hug. Middle school is tough and changing schools is especially hard. After years of coddling and feeling like the star in elementary school, you suddenly feel invisible and insignificant. Everyone expects you to be self-sufficient. Your teachers drop difficult concepts into your lap and expect you to sink or swim. That said, you're really knocking that academic stuff out of the park! I know you're afraid to "mess up," but you are smarter than you give yourself credit for. Work on becoming more confident. And while that first secret crush is especially painful, there is nothing to be ashamed of. In a couple of years, you'll go from "gawky" to "elegant" and you'll have no trouble finding boys to date. Oh, and that "weird" kid in your third period science class -- be nice to him. Someday he may be your husband's boss.
Ah, high school is such a tempest. Mean girls, trash-talking boys and teachers who would rather be doing something else. Don't believe that the slightest misstep in your junior year will ruin your chances with a good college, which will ruin your chances at a job and important friends, which will ruin your chances at life. So much of all our futures depend on luck and happenstance, and you end up doing what you were willing to reach for. Falling in love for real is a whirlwind and you will fall hard. Weekends spent crying on the couch because your boyfriend is MIA seem like it is the end of your world. But it isn't. Enjoy your friends (the good ones, like your friend Beth who will still be in your life 35 years later!). Ignore the cool guys who converse with your chest. At your high school reunion 20 years later, they all have pot bellies and receding hair lines.
And stop catastrophizing. Getting a B- on your chemistry final and losing your term paper for honors English (in the old days when there were only typewriters) seem like calamities at the time. But the drama, anguish, gut-wrenching ups and downs of high school and college will help you to be a better and more understanding mother.
Oh and appreciate your own parents once in a while. While they might drive you crazy now, you will cherish their love and guidance once you have your own kids. The memories of long late night talks with Mom and watching Walter Cronkite with Dad seem so precious later in life.
OK, college girl. This is a time where your life just starts to come together. Yes, the freshman roommate is a bad match, but you get past that and really find yourself -- and a few parties along the way. Once graduation comes, you truly need to embrace your strength. You have emerged from college as a smart, kind, educated young woman. You may lack experience and some confidence, but you have ideas and you have character and you have the will to succeed. Soon you will learn that there is so much more to being a wife, mother and career woman than you know -- and many days you will feel like you are failing at all three. Have perspective and don't expect perfection.
And when the babies come, smell that newborn essence, cuddle that little bundle of life close to you and remember this overpowering feeling of love. Remember it because for the next two decades, it will be the driving force behind everything you do. Yes, all young parents make mistakes, and you certainly will make your share. Like the time 8-year-old Eric found his science project at the bottom of the trash, underneath the coffee grounds, tearfully asking "How could you?" But, it all gets folded into this new, chaotic, stressful, amazing and ever-evolving life. The things you do, good and bad, shape your children. You will worry if you and your husband work too much, fight too often and push the kids too hard. But you will love the people they become. Oh, and those career transitions and risks you made while trying to maintain a semblance of balance in your life? Don't worry... those things will help you move forward, even as you're struggling to hold it all together.
There are many reasons I should embrace you, young Jody. The most important reason is this: The self-doubt you overcame, hassles you faced, connections you built and the joy and sorrows you shared -- are all part of the fabric of your now 54-year-old self. While I don't want to relive my high school years or sleepless nights of young motherhood, I am grateful for the experiences and happy with the person I've become. You should be too.
Your Mid-Life Self