Those of us participating in the childless elderwomen online chat today (Sept. 14) at World Childless Week were asked to write a letter to our younger selves. Knowing what we know now, what would we say if we could? Here is what I came up with. I invite you to try this exercise for yourself and share it in the comments.
Dear 20-year-old Sue,
If I told you how much the world would change in the next 50 years, you would not believe me. If I told you your life would be nothing like your mother’s, you would not believe that either. But it’s true. Everything will change. The only thing that will stay the same is you. Fifty years later, you will still be writing poems and playing music. You will stay up too late reading. You will keep doing yoga, even the shoulder stand. But you will not be Doris Day married to Rock Hudson (before we learned he was gay). You will be none of those movie heroines who live happily ever after with the husband, kids, and house with the white picket fence.
I don’t want to frighten you, but you will never celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary with this man you think you love. Nor will you be a mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother, surrounded by the family you and your beloved created. No. You will look like your mother. Same brown eyes, black hair, soft padded breasts perfect for comforting a weeping child. You will know how to make cookies and knit tiny sweaters, how to teach a little one to read, to spell, and to love God. You will have mother love to give but no one to receive it except your dogs. You will have dogs.
It could be different if you take a different path now when there’s still time. You got a late start. You were the girl who never had a date in high school, whose parents were so strict you stayed home sewing or knitting when your classmates were going to parties and dances. Now that you’re in college, you’re just beginning to experience what others did back in middle school. First dates, first kisses, first sex. It’s okay. Sex is natural. And it’s good that you went to the student health center for birth control. It’s not time for babies now. Finish your education. You will need that degree to support yourself. You will never be a housewife or stay-at-home mom.
Lose yourself in your lover’s arms. Enjoy it. But you do not have to marry him. And if you do, it’s all right to demand of him everything you need. Do not assume it will come naturally. This is not a movie, with love and marriage followed by the baby carriage. Talk to him, insist on answers. He has this way of clamping his jaws and refusing to talk. But he needs to know you expect to have babies. Just like you expect to keep writing and singing. If that scares him away, let him go. He is not your only choice.
This marriage will not last. You will be alone for a while. By the time you find Mr. Right, he will have already had children and will not be willing or able to father any more. And no, this is not “The Sound of Music.” His children will not adore you. But, you will have a love worthy of any movie. It’s your choice. Love or children of your own?
No, your life will be nothing like your mother’s or anything like you expect. But it will be good. When you were playing with your Barbie dolls, were they mommies? No, they were not. They were singers going off to the “club” to perform. Who was your idol in middle school? Jo in Little Women. The writer. You will be these things. Your obituary will list your book titles instead of your children and grandchildren. That is not a terrible thing.
You still have time to change your fate. Make other choices now, and you might live a life like everyone else, filled with family who call you “Mom” and “Grandma.” But I suspect this is how your movie is supposed to be. It’s all right. Everyone can’t be Doris Day.
Sue at 70