Saturday, May 14, 2022

It Might Have Been Otherwise

“No regrets.” That’s what a handmade sign I passed on my running route the other morning read.

What a dumb concept was my knee-jerk reaction when I saw the spray-painted message.

No regrets? Do you have no shame? my inner, barely-there Catholic scoffed.

Still, the sign’s message stuck with me. The timing was auspicious. Before setting out on that muggy morning, I had been talking to my husband about how much I regret not moving. I hate Minnesota, especially the weather, like how it goes from snowing every day in April to smothering humidity in the span of a week. I swear, we didn’t get more than a handful of days that could be considered spring. ("It's hot and muggy where we were going, too," my husband helpfully reminded me.)

OK, summer (my second least-favorite season) is everywhere. And yet, I think about our almost-new-hometown every day – not because the place was particularly spectacular but because I really wanted – needed – a fresh start. But then I run the numbers (yes, I do the mortgage/health insurance/relocation costs calculus daily, too) and there’s no way to make the math work.

No regrets? Aren’t regrets good? Don’t they show that we’ve matured and learned, that we’re smarter and (ideally) more moral? Don’t they prevent us from making the same stupid mistakes again and again?

Since all I seem to have the bandwidth for lately are lists, here’s my list of regrets, from petty to mortifying (though not necessarily in that order).

- Quitting soccer (it got too rough) and piano (I couldn’t read music) in my youth

- Choosing a Minnesota-based college because I didn’t want to rock the boat with my then-boyfriend, later-husband

- Getting divorced (though I really don’t know who I would be today, or if I would be mentally healthy, much less happy, if I had stayed)

- Buying too much house post-divorce (and having to sell at a loss six months later)

- Not consulting a financial advisor post-divorce

- Abandoning my Master's degree program(s)

- Missing out on major swaths of my first two kids’ childhoods because I was entangled in an eating disorder

- Engaging in a romantic relationship with my former therapist (in my defense, I later learned he was a predator who had a history of preying on his patients)

- Flirting with other people's partners in my 20s

- Sleeping with people I didn’t care about (or, more importantly, who didn’t care about me)

- Not saying “I love you” when I felt it, even if it meant saying it first

- Staying in relationships with men who didn’t love me back

- Signing up for any and every form of social media

- A particular newspaper article I wrote about which we shall not speak

- Letting my faith and religious practices lapse (permanently?) during the pandemic

- Contemplating adoption (and the pain I caused the prospective adoptive couple)

Ahh. That feels better. I think we should all get together and share our lists. Let’s normalize regret!

Another thing I’m getting more comfortable with: accepting that I’m having a midlife crisis. I don’t know why saying that should trigger shame. If there’s a name for this phenomenon (and self-help books galore about it), it’s because it’s a developmental milestone. Lots of people freak the fuck out around age 40.

My midlife crisis has manifested as a mild to moderate panic about how little time I have left in my life and what I want to do with it. I want my work to be meaningful (or even better, I want to not work and just take care of my kids). I want to write things that matter. I want to be present with my family. I want to live in a place I love. I want time to daydream (and to believe that there are still some wild dreams that might come true for me).

I think a lot about my legacy, and not in that rich-old-guy-wants-his-name-etched-on-a-public-building kind of way. I think about what I am leaving behind, from memories to my online presence to financial gifts (sorry, not much there, kids). I want to leave on a good note, with a clean conscience.

Having little kids at middle age is kind of a downer. I try not to ruminate on this fact, but sometimes, it breaks through my denial and it makes me sad: my littles will likely live at least half of their lives without a mom. I will only know them for a blip of their existence as adults – if I’m lucky. (Pause for tears.)

“No regrets.” Ha! “No complaining” would be a better mandate for me, and it’s one I’m working on. Even better: “More gratitude.”

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