By Ruby Roberts
Dear Young Self,
I’m writing to you from your unforeseeable future. I can see you, but you can’t see me. Even if you could, I suspect you’d barely notice my presence – I’m like your slightly frumpier, less glamorous, more preoccupied cousin.
You don’t realise it yet, but the space I occupy is a parallel universe to you. As you are, you hardly register those mothers in ponytails, wiping vomit from their shoulders, racing through the supermarket to get home and start on the homework/dinner/bed routine. Why would you? You’re far too caught up in your other, freer, more spontaneous world, and that is how it should be.
Perhaps I sound envious. Well, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t admit to occasionally looking at photos of you and coveting that effortlessly svelte body; that capacity to go out and sit for hours at a café and talk books or drop everything and go off hitchhiking and picking fruit for beer money. I do miss having an unlined face, and your eyes with no dark rings underneath. I miss your energy like you wouldn’t believe – god knows, I need it now.
Early on in the piece, I remember feeling a real sense of mourning for that girl who engaged in interesting conversations for hours at a time, and wondering how I would ever comfortably inhabit this new self that would forevermore have someone else to consider; someone whose needs were at least as important as my own. I think it’s only after you have children that you realise that your step in the world will never be so light again. It’s a shift, alright.
Then again, I wouldn’t want to go back now, to a world without my little fella in it. That would be unthinkable. I am glad you are doing what you are doing, but I know what you would miss if you never became a mother, and it’s no small thing. You would never know what it means to love someone the way a mother loves a child. You would never know the pride and thrill of watching that child grow into a unique and gorgeous little character; someone you know better than anyone. A lifelong friend. Truly, nothing beats it.
There are things I can laugh about now, like how quaint your concept of early parenthood was. You hadn’t really spent that much time around parents with very young children. Much as I hate to admit it, I think you might have been the type to get annoyed in cafes and wonder why parents couldn’t control their errant children. You believed you would just wear a baby sling and go about your life as per normal. I remember you planning to take up guitar and crafts. You figured you’d be at home all day, why not? You had no idea, did you? Oh, dear.
I guess these days I look at you from the top of a pretty darned steep learning curve. Even if I could go back in time, there is no way I would have made it any easier on you; not really. Trying to explain the seismic shift coming in your life would be nigh on impossible. No one could prepare you for something like that. Having kids is like going to the moon. It truly is indescribable. You probably think you can picture what it’s like. Well, you can’t. No one can.
I’m sitting here wondering. If I could go back in time and occupy your body again, would I change anything? Would I make more out of my freedom? Knowing I could catch up on sleep over weekends, would I get out and do more? Would I travel? Would I invest more of that abundant energy and headspace into building a career? Would I save a nest egg, knowing how handy that would end up being? Knowing how finite and precious those years were, would I do anything differently? It’s hard to say. You weren’t the most mature young adult, that’s for sure. But here I am now, where you end up, and it’s not too bad at all. Actually, it’s pretty good. Sure, I could go back and neaten things up and make them easier for you, but where would I have ended up? I’m satisfied with here and now.
All of this is only ever going to be fanciful thinking anyway. All I can do is look back at you with fondness. You were a feisty young thing, not afraid of adventure, and I’m really grateful for that. I’m glad you got it out of your system. While your life was a lot more unstable than mine is now, you’ve given me lots of good stories and enriched my identity today. I will always be grateful to you, my younger and more glamorous self.