My 25th high school reunion is this weekend. That makes me officially OLD since there’s no possible way it’s been that long. And I’m nervous…
Nervous because of the things that I didn’t get done- I didn’t lose that 25 pounds (ok, 30) that I meant to. Stuff got in the way. I didn’t make that million dollars- stuff got in the way. I didn’t have that marvelous life that I “supposed” to- stuff got in the way. Heck, I didn’t even get that pedicure that I was trying to get done- stuff got in the way. And no, there’s no time left for any of that- even the pedicure, because I leave in half an hour for a conference in Nashville that I will have to leave a presentation early in order to catch the plane to Dallas- you know, “stuff”.
Generally, I feel pretty good about my life. I love what I do and I love my family. We have regular stresses, and we have autism, and we have Tourette’s, and we have a dog who continues to chew up everything. We have, you know, stuff.
But my high school was a unique experience. For one thing, it was an all-girls boarding school. My family traveled from Colorado to Texas and back every year, following my dad’s work as a forester during the sunshine months and as a carpenter during the winter months. High schools tend to frown on moving around every year, during the year. I was a scholarship kid with a vastly different way of life than many of the other girls. I went to school with daughters of captains of industry, horserace families, politicians, “old” money, and oil money. And a few professional families who were doing the best for their daughters. It was an expensive school- the tuition alone was more than most colleges.
And we got our money’s worth. I used to laugh that I was never challenged like I was in high school until I wrote my dissertation. I learned how to write (thank you Dr. Saxon), how to challenge and think about history (thank you Mrs. Skaggs and Mr. Kramer), how to truly appreciate art (thank you Mr. Long), and how to never think that women can’t do scientific fields (thank you Dr. Johnson). I learned how to learn. I learned what I was capable of. I learned about the power of expectations.
And since it was high school, I appreciated very few of those lessons until I reached adulthood. I look back on pictures of high school and realize that while high school taught me where I could go, I had a long way to go. I was scared and lonely and felt very, very different. I had a few friends- many of whom were also scared and lonely. But I look at pictures and remember very little, other than feeling awkward.
It really wasn’t until college until I realized what I could do. I could be funny. I could be smart. I could love music and art and hang out. I could drink coffee. I could be… me. High school- that was not me. That was the shaping of the me that I became.
I know that there are others like that- who became themselves- themselves that no one else in high school saw. I read the updates and find out that someone is a French professor- Really? I had no idea she liked French! Someone else is a 4th grade teacher- Really? She liked kids, too? Someone else is a writer for movies and television- now, that I could see. She always was funny and a really good writer. Someone else is a doctor- Really? She LIKED Biology class? I don’t remember that…
And that’s the other thing about my high school that is a bit intimidating. Many, many of the girls, now women, followed right along in their family’s incredibly successful footsteps. There are a whole lot of lawyers and engineers and doctors. There are a few professors. Many married each other’s brothers. Many didn’t marry at all. One was a pop star. Heck, one is a real live PRINCESS- I kid you not!
I feel a bit like I did when I was watching my children not make the developmental milestones- oops, she’s not talking on time. Oh well, not this year for Barbies. Maybe next year he’ll lose the tantrums. They’ve made a lot of milestones on time. They’ve made some of them early. But for a long time, I monitored her in comparison to other children. I still do. Competitive mothering is a real problem.
One of the pieces of advice that I give families of children with exceptionalities- disabilities and giftedness- is to try to stop the “milestone” comparison. A child with a disability will almost always lose that battle, and as a parent, you spend your time frustrated and sad; a gifted child will “win” and as a parent, you will wind up defensive and anxious. You HAVE to focus on the development your child IS making- and find other people who will also celebrate your child’s first words, your child’s potty training, your child’s first friend- even if all of those things are later or earlier than other children. ALL children develop. All children grow- and you have to celebrate your own child’s growth. And watch them become THEM- the person that they are becoming, not a set of milestones that they meet at a different time. Competitive living is a real problem.
That sounds great. And sometimes, it works. But grief hides- when your cousin’s friend’s child has their first Bar Mitvah and reads from the Torah, “Now, I am a man.” When your neighbor’s child drives. When your friend’s child has a “crush”. When other children say “Oh, Elmo- that’s for babies!” I, and friends of mine have all shared our grief at those events. And you never, ever get over that. You get past it. You focus on other things. You celebrate. But you never get “over” the grief of not meeting up to expectations.
And when I go to my reunion, I will try very hard to recognize the importance of 25 years, but not to measure myself against the ideal “milestones”. I’m very curious to ask others who they’ve become- what books they read, what Mommy experiences they’ve had, what heartbreaks they’ve had, where they’ve been- who they’re becoming.
25 years. It’s quite a milestone. (Maybe I can put some polish on my toes on the way to the airport…)