Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Could Have Been

Recently I was wandering around Facebook and happened upon some pictures of the daughter of an old friend of mine. We were friends in grade school and drifted apart in high school, as she took one route and I took another. This is actually also the friend initially responsible for my obsession with hockey, which, of course, eventually changed the entire trajectory of my life. We were very good friends for a very long time, and then things changed somewhere in 9th grade. She started hanging out with one group, and I veered toward another. My group was decidedly more academic, whereas her group...well...suffice it to say that she was voted "Most Likely to be Found in the Parking Lot" in our senior superlatives (and yes, that was really a category). As I recall she actually ended up graduating early, and I do remember seeing her at our graduation in June...completely unaware that she was already pregnant.

Back in the day I never would have pegged her for the teenage pregnancy/unwed mom type. We both had had great upbringings with Christian parents, attending a Christian school and going to church, doing well in school, and generally staying out of trouble. We both shared the awkward position of having family heavily involved at our school. Ultimately it was a good thing because it provided motivation to keep us in line, but for years people accused us of receiving special treatment. Not true, but whatever! But more than anything, I figured she'd be fine because she was a hardcore tomboy for years. I got into hockey because of her, and looking back she seemed to be one of those girls who was too busy with sports to get into trouble. She rode horses and played hockey, among other things. But at some point those activities must have trailed off in favor of something else. Maybe she just felt the need to branch out. I was saddened by how we grew apart, and by the time we graduated I didn't even know her.

Five or so months later, I heard she had a baby. She had a little girl, gave her an unconventional name, and beyond that I only heard snippets. I saw pictures from time to time, and I was constantly amazed at how much her daughter looked like her when she was that age. At some point she and her parents moved elsewhere in the state. My parents actually visited her parents not that long ago, and spent the day with them and my friend's daughter. To this day, I have no idea what my friend does for a living, what her relationship is with her daughter's father, or how her life has been in the past 14+ years. And I suppose it's none of my business. All I know is that she has a 14 year old daughter that looks amazingly like her.

So why I am I posting all of this? Well, I guess it just blows my mind, in more ways than one. For one, I can't believe how time flies. I remember when she'd just had the baby, and now her baby is 14. Where did that time go? Secondly, I can't even imagine what it would be like to have a teenager right now, nor to have gone through the most of my adult life with a child.

Believe it or not, this isn't the first time I've had to come to terms with a situation like this. Another one of my good friends from grade school had a baby during our junior year of high school. We had lost touch long before as she went to public school prior to 8th grade, but the news shocked me. I still vividly remember standing in the narthex at church watching her baby's private baptism from afar, completely blown away that someone my age who I had once known had actually had a baby. A year or so ago she friended me on Facebook, a pleasant surprise. I was shocked to see pictures of her two daughters, the oldest of whom is now 15 and quite beautiful. My friend looks similar to how I remember her, but I feel like she now looks a lot older than me. Maybe it's just because I remember her at age 12, or maybe it's just the photos, but maybe it's just been a hard life raising two girls alone. Not for me to say.

But long story short, it is immensely hard for me to process what it would be like to have a child in high school right now. I can barely handle the terrible twos, let alone the prospect of sex, drugs, and schoolwork. They were handling the terrible twos before they were even in their 20s, when I was just tackling college and trying to get my life up and running. Now all these years have passed, and I'm finally the one in baby mode, while they're sending kids off to high school. Their kids are now as old or older than the age at which I was last friends with them. And that's just odd. I can't even begin to imagine what they've been through. I know that it's hard enough doing the parenthood thing with a husband, two incomes, and in our own house, so I can't even fathom what it was like to do it as a teenager, with no college degree (and presumably a corresponding job), and no officially committed partner. I'm sure their parents were a huge help during those years, though I wonder how their parents felt watching their kids go through something like that at such a young age. Did they have the same excitement as your average grandparents, or was it ever so slightly tinged with sorrow or regret?

Please understand that I'm not trying to judge them or belittle their situation in life. Granted, that isn't the way most people want to structure their lives, but maybe it worked for them and they wouldn't change a thing. I know there are things in my past that I'd probably like to have done differently, but I know that each of those steps (no matter how regrettable) got me to where I am today. And with a wonderful husband, amazing little boy, and a great job, I can't say I'd really want to change much for fear it would change my current circumstances beyond recognition.

And I would have to think they are much the same. While they might regret the situations they put themselves in--the stress it caused, the opportunities it might have blocked--I can't imagine that they would trade their kids for anything...and if they didn't do things in the way they did, they probably wouldn't have the kids they have now. Even if they do regret the decisions they made, there's no sense looking backward. This is their reality, and I'm sure there is plenty of good to be found. And if not, then the focus should be on making better decisions moving forward. But I have a feeling they're long past any regrets and are at peace with their lives. And just think, they'll have an empty nest while in their 40s, when the rest of us are just getting to the stage they're at now. They'll reclaim the freedom they lost long before those of us who did things a bit more traditionally. It'll be a different sort of freedom, but I imagine it'll have its own perks as well.

Still, in looking at that picture on Facebook, it boggled my mind a bit to contrast my baby with that grown up girl. It's easy to forget that Jacob will someday be that age, and it will happen quicker than we realize. Some of us go about things vastly different than others, and there are pros and cons to each side. But as parents, we all have one thing in common: We all do our best to do what's best for our children. Regardless of when those decisions are made, or how we make them, it's a common goal. So, while looking at that picture is a startling reminder of how different our paths have been, deep down, we're not that different after all.

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