Friday, September 4, 2015

Ages and Stages

Within the last couple days, some very eager folks from my high school class set up a Facebook group in anticipation of our 20th reunion next year.  Within a couple days they managed to track down about 3/4 of the class, which is pretty impressive.  Quite a few people aren't on Facebook, so the full number won't ever be reached, but it's one heck of a start.  It's been interesting to see some names and faces pop up that I haven't seen or heard in the last 19 years.  I'm Facebook friends with quite a few of my high school classmates, but they probably only account for a small percentage of the 403 other people in the class.  Some others are friends of friends, so periodically I get a glimpse into the life of those people through a status or photo they're tagged in.  And then there's a whole slew of people that I haven't come across at all.  So, the last couple days have been a blast from the past as people have been popping up in the group. 

One thread within the group has been for everyone to give a little biographic update.  It seems like they might be doing something with them at some point, but I find it sort of funny because when my mom had her reunions (I remember her helping plan a couple of them), they compiled a booklet full of everyone's updates that they mailed in ahead of time.  Certainly social media makes everything a bit more efficient, though now that we're seeing everyone's updates already, it seems to make it less important to get to the actual reunion, no?  Apparently there will be a number of events leading up to the main event, so there will also be multiple chances to reconnect.  How much I want to reconnect is still up for debate, of course.  I went to both events for my 10th reunion, since that was before Facebook and I hadn't seen most of the people in 10 years.  I had a lot of fun reconnecting with my friends at the informal event (despite a slight issue with some alcoholic beverages and a lack of food)--but the actual dinner was pleasant, though overpriced and pretty lame.  With so many Facebook connections nowadays I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the 20th.  I'd probably rather get a group together of the people I'm already connected to than deal with the former snobby cheerleader across the room or the guy who didn't give me the time of day.  I suppose there's always a chance to see people I don't expect, or have that moment where someone who totally ignored me 20 years ago acknowledges they were an idiot, but the odds aren't great.  For the record, at my last reunion a guy I've known since I was five didn't recognize me initially, and then told me, quite genuinely and almost speechlessly, that I looked great.  That was fun!  And a few years before that a guy I had a huge crush on in high school reconnected with me on instant messenger and told me he realized he should have dated me in high school, but let the usual high school social b.s. get in the way.  I had just started dating Craig at the time, so it clearly didn't work out, but it was nice to have a little validation!  So I guess it could happen, right?  Perhaps I've gotten a little better with age?

ANYWAY...The weird thing about the bios everyone has been posting is that if I had to guess at the most popular age of everyone's kids, I'm pretty sure the #1 age would be 17.  Meaning they pretty much had those kids right around 20 years old.  Wow.  I'm a full 10 years behind them...and I know of at least one classmate who's pregnant with her first, so that's quite a swing.  I'm not quite sure what to make of this.  Everyone's circumstances are different, after all.  Some of these folks have been married since then, or married and divorced, or married-divorced-remarried and on to their second set of kids, and some have been single parents all along.  Planned or not, it blows my mind how many jumped into parenthood so quickly.  I can't even fathom having a senior in high school right now!

Now, I went to a pretty average suburban high school.  There were better parts of the city and worse parts of the city, and the school definitely ran the gamut.  You had the preppy, smart, well-dressed kids, the kids you knew didn't come from a particularly good home, and almost everything else in between.  We were almost completely white (our valedictorian referred to the school as "homogeneous" in his graduation speech, which raised a few eyebrows), so we at least appeared to be your typical middle class school.  While I suppose I knew a good number of classmates probably wouldn't go the traditional route, I guess I figured our generation was at least more likely to go out into the world and explore a bit before ending up tied down with kids.  In the age of sex ed in health class, we at least had the knowledge to give it a shot.  Maybe some wanted to be tied down, and that's fine, but perhaps all of that youthful optimism made me think we were destined for more. 

Like I said, this may have been planned for a lot of people, and that's great.  I, on the other hand, cannot imagine having a kid at 20.  In fact, had I been sexually active at the time, I would have been doing everything in my power to NOT get pregnant.  In reality I was doing the best thing I could have done--remain abstinent--mostly because of my beliefs, but at least partly because I was terrified of what would happen to me if I did somehow get pregnant.  I was convinced I'd be one of those girls who did it once and every precaution would fail, so that was pretty good birth control right there.  I just knew I was not emotionally or physically prepared for parenthood at that point.  Heck, I wasn't always convinced of it 10 years and a happy marriage later, either. 

After delivering two children I definitely thought about how overwhelming that experience must be physically for a teenage mom.  I didn't handle it very well as a real adult.  The pain, the emotions, the worry...it took a very good husband and as much maturity as I could muster to get through those early days.  I can't imagine doing it young, even after high school, and possibly without a steady partner.  I was thankful that we both had good jobs and a house, good insurance and enough income to comfortably raise a baby.  I can't imagine doing it before having a degree or a well-paying job, and knowing that having a child would make either option considerably harder to achieve.  I'd have missed out on so much--venturing out on my own in the relatively "safe" environment of college, meeting and having four amazing years with Mary and our awesome friends, learning a ton, achieving my dream of working in sports, meeting and marrying a fantastic man, and having a good number of years to enjoy guilt-free, baggage-free nights of fun.  So much of that would have been lost had my life gone down a different path.  There are days I regret that I'm not a younger mom for my boys, but then I realize that if I had been any younger, I'd probably have that much more regret that I didn't "live" more before I settled down to have them. 

That said, I can't fault or judge any of my former classmates for the paths they took.  It was their decision, and in many cases it was probably a conscious one.  It's certainly not a choice I would have made, but in many cases things have worked out just fine for them.  I'm sure it wasn't always easy, but I'm sure they treasure their kids and all of the experiences that formed who they are today.  Many have gone back to school and gotten good jobs, many have savored the time they had as stay-at-home parents, and many have moved away and found great lives elsewhere.  It's truly amazing to see the paths everyone's lives have taken.  But I still can't imagine having grown kids!

The bright side for many of them, of course, is that their kids will be grown and out of the house and they'll still be young enough to get out and enjoy life...probably with more disposable income than they would have had to sew their wild oats back in their 20s.  They'll have empty houses by 40, with potentially 30-50 years to go do what they want, enjoy grandkids, and whatever else.  It's not such a bad plan.  Of course, a few of the early achievers have continued to have kids--either because they got into a new relationship or because they just liked reproducing with the same spouse--and they will be sending their last kid out into the world around the same time we will!  So much for that benefit!  For example, one of the girls I went to grade school with has a son who just went off to college.  She's been with the same guy all along and they had a few more kids, the youngest of which just started Kindergarten!  It's such a spread, but it seems to work for them! 

I give the young parents all the credit in the world for making it work, but admittedly I'm thankful I wasn't one of them.  I couldn't have handled that kind of pressure at that age, and I'm glad I had the chance to experience life a bit before I had the responsibility to care for another person or figure out how to provide for them.  I gave myself enough of a challenge early on in those respects!  I'm sure most of them wouldn't change a thing because they love their kids as they are, but I'm sure the experience aged them a bit, too.  I can only imagine some of the things they went through, but then again, perhaps they're more comfortable than me with taking life as it comes!  Maybe they'd consider my life experience boring.  Maybe the thought of college was as unappetizing to them as early parenthood was to me.  I suppose it's the ultimate example of, "To each their own."  What works for one doesn't work for another.  We all picked our path--to some degree, at least--and we all have to make it our own.  I can tell you that in those bios, no one has pitied themselves or been ashamed of their past.  Some admit they didn't take the best path, but they're all certainly proud of how far they've come since.  And perhaps that's the more intriguing part of the 20 year reunion--having just enough life experience and just enough hindsight to make peace with your past and have a good start on the rest of your future. 

Better with age, indeed...   

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