Day Nineteen: On Advice and Aging

When I first started writing this blog, which was basically right after the idea to write this blog popped into my head, I envisioned something that would primarily be about sharing my vast knowledge with younger and future generations.  It’s not that I thought I had anything particularly unusual to say, but I tend to be pretty honest, so I thought I would just put it out there and hope someone found it helpful.  Instead, writing this blog has required nineteen days of admitting to myself, and the Internet, how little I have actually learned, or, to put it more optimistically, how much I still have left to learn.

I try to be careful with advice, because often, advice is passive-aggressive criticism.  I can remember years ago, when I was a teenager, one of my mom’s younger siblings frequently offered her parenting advice.  Since he didn’t have kids yet, it was easy to judge.  He liked to say things like, “My kids will never have a cell phone,” or, “If you didn’t let your teenager talk to you that way, things would be different,” or, “Show a little tough love.”  My mom, as you surely know by now, is not someone who likes conflict, so she would bite her tongue, but in private, would say, “One day he will have children of his own, and he will learn it’s not so easy, it isn’t all black-or-white.”  I admire her patience, of course, but I also think that’s pretty solid advice, wrapped, as it is, in a blanket of subtle criticism.  His children, by the way, all had phones before they were eleven.

For me, kids are off limits.  If I criticize your parenting, you’re really doing something wrong.  I don’t mean you’re feeding your kid processed sugar or letting him watch Caillou, although if you let my kids watch Caillou, we are going to have a serious problem, I mean you have to be pretty close to neglecting your child.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m a better parent than you are.  I probably do, the same way we all do, but nobody else is interested in hearing about that.  Kids are tough, and they are all different.  I don’t know your child better than you do (I hope), and you certainly don’t know mine better than I do, so let’s just trust each other to do the right thing.  One day I will have teenagers and, probably, sons and daughters-in-law, so I really try to bite my tongue.  I know I broke that rule two days ago.  Mea culpa.  I said I try.

That’s not the kind of advice I thought I would offer anyway, at least not in an obvious sort of way.  I could probably offer some tips on traveling with toddlers, via plane or car or train, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to remove silly putty from hair, but the way things unfolded, I just haven’t had room for that.

I’ve written recently about both hair and bikinis, and that covered a lot, but not everything.  Aging, for women especially, is a sensitive topic.  I realize that because I am not even thirty, no one wants to hear me complain about getting older, and there are a lot of things I have yet to learn (one friend says every time she laughs she pees a little, and that only started after 40, so at least I have things to look forward to).  I do have some thoughts on this, but every attempt I’ve made to write them out sounds pretentious or delusional.

My experiences have been so different than what is considered the norm these days, I can only really guess at what the normal experience is like.  I guess by now most people have a stable job, maybe a significant other, maybe they’re thinking about marriage or babies or buying their first house.  They probably have predictable routines and stable relationships within their extended families.  Maybe they notice a few fine lines or wrinkles or see that their hair is thinning and they mysteriously moved up a few sizes when they buy pants.  I don’t know, I can only guess.

I can say this.  Most of my friends have taken the “normal” path, and I wouldn’t trade my life for theirs for anything in the world.  Eesh, that sounds a lot like a criticism wrapped in a blanket of politeness.  It’s not.  I know that my life would not be for them, in the same way.  Things have a way of working out.  I wasn’t meant to live in the same house and to have the same routine for forty years, with a brief interruption to raise 2.5, or 2.1, or whatever the magic number of children is now.  I would lose my mind.  And I know many of my friends look at my life and feel the same way, but with an added level of horror.  “You sleep how many hours at night?”  “How many diapers do you think you’ve actually changed in the past seven years?”

I never would have thought I would have four kids.  I never even thought I would have one.  But I love them more than anything, and I love being a mom, and I’m surprisingly good at it, even if I have to say so myself.  I’m not sure I would have been a great lawyer.  I’m sure I would have been a good lawyer, but so are a lot of people.

I had plans, and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you do too.  Good.  Great.  Plan away.  God will laugh at you, but knock yourself out.  Just find a way to be flexible, because sometimes, you might know what you want, only to find out it’s not what you need.

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