(Not So) Common Sense
What I'd go back and tell the younger me
By Carole Townsend
Ah, the things that come with age, yes? I love the wisdom and clarity; the ability to discern; the sure knowledge of what I want; the satisfaction of having raised, or nearly raised, our children; the sheer joy of having a grandchild. The list goes on and on.
I can certainly say that I love my fifties, and I love this season of life and marriage. Of course, stuff stops working around this age (by “stuff” I mean knees, hips, necks, etc.). Other stuff just plain hurts but hey, hurting and breaking down sure beat the alternative, don’t they?
Another gift that this season of life gives us is 20/20 vision, at least when we’re looking backward. While we yearn at this age to leave a legacy that will far outlive our physical bodies, my do we have the ability to look back with clear vision and undoubtedly, a tinge of regret. I suppose some of us have more regret than others, but even a little bit is mighty potent.
I’ve spent some time lately, the result of watching our own daughters’ struggles, I suppose, thinking about the Carole of my younger years. Boy, was I hard on myself. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but there are times that I look back on in which I feel a little sad for the me of yesterday. Why? Because I, as is true of most of us, lived through a few pretty rough patches in life, patches that belong almost solely to women, come to think of it.
I lost my mother when I was a teenager, and she was sick for many years before she passed away. Middle- and high school are tough on young people. They’re particularly tough on girls, I think, and a girl needs her mother around to navigate them. I’m not the only person to have lost a parent at a young age; I can only speak to my own experience. It’s tough.
Too, for reasons that today do not seem like good ones at all, I married a man who was likely the absolute worst choice I could have made for a life partner, and not just the worst possible choice in Georgia. He was probably the worst choice I could have made out of the entire world. I don’t believe in slamming ex-spouses (not any more, anyway), because frankly, doing so makes me look worse than he does, if that’s possible. And it sure doesn’t help my children any. Wish I had understood that fifteen or twenty years ago, but again – water under the bridge.
I made a few mistakes as a mom, too. In fact, I made a few mistakes a day as a mom. I think about some of them now and just close my eyes, wishing I had known better at the time. But I didn’t. That’s why God made grandchildren; they are the ultimate do-overs. We love them so much because they are part of our own beloved children, and because we have mellowed with age. Just like a beautiful old piece of silver, the polished patina is softer than it is on a new piece. It’s, well, it’s more mellow.
Our children watch me with our granddaughter and in disbelief, they ask, “Where were you when we were younger?” My answer, simply, is, “I was busy being your mother!” And there’s truth to that answer. When our children were younger, I was too busy keeping them clean, helping with homework, running them here and there, cooking meals, cleaning the house and working in my spare time. And when they were very young I did all this by myself, as a single mom.
If I had the ability, I’d go back and forgive me for being so hard on the me who was their mom. I can say this: Everything I did for my children, I did with love and their good in mind. I might have messed things up royally, but I did so with the very best of intentions.
I’d be kinder to the me who beat myself up for years for dragging my precious children through a divorce. My real mistake was not having the good sense and self esteem to marry a really good man. But I wouldn’t have been doing anyone any favors by staying with him, least of all my children.
I’d be kinder to the me of middle- and high school. I was one of the original bookwormy nerds, as socially clueless as a kid could be. Add to that fact that my mother was very ill, and we spent an awful lot of time in hospitals. By default, being the oldest of my parents’ children still at home during her illness, I also assumed much of the roles that my mom had traditionally filled: cook, chiefly. My poor dad.
Anyway to a kid like me, other kids are not always kind, especially when those kids are girls. The older me could have explained to the younger me just why girls are so nasty and vicious to others. Perhaps if I had understood that the problem wasn’t me at all, I wouldn’t have carried those difficult memories as far as I did into adulthood.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as an adult is that it’s absolutely none of my business what others think of me. But children are hard on themselves, internalizing everything and being so sure that everything bad that happens is somehow their fault. Yes, I’d definitely be kinder to that me.
As I stated earlier, wisdom and clarity come with age, and I’m wise and clear enough to like the current me. I still make mistakes. I still drop the ball when it comes to being a mom and a wife, a friend and neighbor, even a writer. But that’s OK.
I’m wise enough to like the old Caroles, all of them. They did the best they could, that much I know about them. I think the difference between now and then is that I understand the old me, in all of her forms. I like her, in all of her forms. And I can give her a break, because she deserves one.
While I’m at it, I might just ask the younger me if I could borrow her knees, ankles and hips. Can’t blame a girl for trying. The future me will forgive me.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth and newest book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, is slated for April 5, 2016 publication. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her most recent book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a sidesplitting look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. Her first two books, RED LIPSTICK AND CLEAN UNDERWEAR (a book about our Mothers’ advice) and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH (a hilarious look at the unique, charming and sometimes outrageous ways we Southerners conduct ourselves) earned Carole almost instant national fame, with her “distinctive humor and hysterical honesty,” – Los Angeles Times. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the southeast region, teaching writers’ workshops, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well being of the family. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.