On Regret

On Regret

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about guilt recently. A related – but different – emotion is regret. Wishing you’d done things differently. I think I may have experienced more regret over my adoption decision than guilt – but even that waned after one of my coaches encouraged me to perform a mental exercise.

“See it,” she said, “the whole situation, again, in your mind’s eye. Now, replay all of the possible outcomes, without judging any of them. What might have happened if you’d taken this road instead of that one? How could it have been different?”

Note – her question was not “How WOULD it have been different?” but “How COULD it have been different?”

So I thought back to my adoption decision, and what exactly went into it. The thing that most stays with me is that I was trying to solve what I perceived as an enormous problem for all of us with one decision. My goal was to make the best choice I could for my son, his birthfather, and myself. If one thing has changed since that time, it’s that I’ve become much more adapted to living in the present. At the time I was 27, though, all I could see was the giant expanse of all of our futures hanging in the balance before me, and I needed to come up with the one best solution for all of us.

I was terrified at the thought of being a single mother. I didn’t know how I’d do it to feed, clothe, and care for an infant son while working full-time. My family was back in Phoenix and I was in New Jersey/New York, so who would help with babysitting and errand running, especially since I didn’t have a car at the time? How would I possibly afford the great education my son deserved? Or braces? Or sports equipment? These were the questions that pummeled me, and I felt I had to have an answer to all of them immediately. Had I had the presence of mind to simply take each day as it unfolded (those AA people have one thing right, with their “One Day at a Time” mantra), I probably would have made a different choice.

But I did the best I could with the information I had at the moment.

So, as I performed Vickie’s thought exercise and tried to see the situation with alternate outcomes, I realized that the outcome that occurred was really the only outcome I was capable of at the time. And that helped dispel a lot of the regret.

The only time it really came up in a big wave of emotion was when Eric was maybe 3 years old. It was the only year I remember them doing it, but the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers held a Christmas party for the kids of the employees – and I was on the planning committee. We hired a Santa and some people to dress as the Teletubbies characters. We decorated one of the giant meeting rooms and wrapped hundreds of gifts for some of the most privileged kids in the Tri-State Area. (I still wonder how one more toy truck could have mattered to the child of a millionaire when so many other children really would have appreciated those toys.) We strung lights and hung decorations. This was a PARTY! And then the kids started to arrive. That’s when it hit me. Had Eric been with me instead of with Kathy and Bruce, he would have been at that Christmas party, tearing into a talking Buzz Lightyear.

talking Buzz Lightyear

The overwhelming feelings of sadness were, thankfully, brief. But I’m really glad I experienced them. They reminded me that I had made a conscious choice – the best one I could. They made me grateful for Eric’s family. And they actually reinforced my decision, because I realized that as much as I loved my son, I’m not sure I would have loved being a mom. Not the way Kathy did. Not the way he needed his mom to love being his mom.

I think I’ve actually been blessed to have the best of both worlds: a connection to a kid who is absolutely amazing, along with the knowledge that he had the best parents I could ever have hoped for. I did a good job mothering him for the better part of the first year of his life. Then I handed him over to the people who did the bulk of the work. But it took all of us to get there.

The Day the Lightbulb Went On

The Day the Lightbulb Went On

I still remember the exact moment it happened – not the precise date and time, but where I was and how it felt. Like that proverbial lightbulb going on – I had the realization that my life was up to me. On my way home from work, I was walking from the bus stop to my house in Jersey City. It was dusky, early fall, and the weather was crisp but not uncomfortable. I dragged my finger along a chain-link fence as I meandered. I had a cat at the time, but she could take me or leave me, so there was no one waiting for me, no reason to hurry.

It was on that walk that it dawned on me that all of the results I’d achieved, the situation in which I found myself, were mine and my doing alone. I was 27 and pregnant. Unmarried, and unlikely to marry the birthfather. And while it would have been quite easy to blame him and get angry with him for not stepping up, (a) that wasn’t going to solve anything and (b) it wouldn’t absolve me from my role in the pregnancy. I realized in that moment that I couldn’t blame anyone else for my lot in life: I couldn’t blame my parents, my son’s father, my siblings, my schooling, my church. There was no one else to point the finger at. Sure, all of those people and organizations had influenced me – but the choices I made were mine.

No one forced me to choose my high school or my college or to date Tony or to move to New York or to take a job at Lehman Brothers or to have unprotected sex or to carry the baby. Good and bad, my choices had been up to me – and at that moment, I took ownership for them.

It’s amazingly freeing to take responsibility for your own decisions, to realize that what you’ve done, accomplished, achieved – or not done, not accomplished, or not achieved – is really up to you.

I didn’t get married until I was 43 – remember how until the early 20th century, a woman still unmarried past 21 was a spinster, likely to remain single forever? Even as recently as 2015, the average age of first marriage for women in the U.S. was 27.1, and for men it was and 29.3.* So both John and I skewed the average quite a bit. Could I have gotten married sooner? Probably – if I’d ever agreed to a second date with any of the guys I met on Craigslist before meeting John. But why should I have? I didn’t like any of them enough for a second date, let alone to marry them. Yet I think many people fear being alone more than they fear marrying the wrong person. I owned my choice to be single for years longer than average – and have been so vastly rewarded in meeting and marrying the right guy. The choice to wait proved immeasurably worthwhile.

One of my birthmother friends was a Peace Corps volunteer. And when I was dating before meeting my husband, I met a writer/photographer for whom Phoenix was a pitstop as he traveled the world. Then I had a roommate briefly who literally backpacked across Eastern Europe. I used to envy these friends and others who traveled. Until I realized that envy wasn’t going to get me anywhere. They traveled because they prioritized traveling. All of my excuses – particularly the “not enough money” excuse – were really just bullshit, because if I’d really wanted to be a world traveler, I would have been. I liked the idea of world travel – but I wasn’t exactly prepared to get a passport, pack my backpack, leave my pets behind, take a sabbatical from my job, and just go.

Perhaps that’s why my first novel (forthcoming this year) is about a guy who travels around the world with his dog. I’m living vicariously through my fictional character, Stan. So far, my world travel has been fairly limited. My goals are shifting, though, as I see more trips on my horizon in a way I hadn’t until relatively recently. I’ve been a little worried about marketing a book about world travel when my own travel has been so limited. Hmmm… What were the choices that led to this place? The choice not to travel, coupled with the choice to write about a guy who does travel. I wonder who got me into this situation? Oh, wait – I did!

Everything that has happened in my life has led me to this point, today, writing this blog and preparing to (finally) launch my novel. I’d be a different person if I’d chosen to parent Eric. My life would likely have had radically different outcomes if I’d stayed in New York/New Jersey instead of moving back to Arizona. I sometimes wish we had the opportunity to take both roads so we could know which outcome we really preferred. Those who study quantum physics might tell you that there are parallel universes, where we could (or do) simultaneously make different choices. That’s heady stuff, though. In practicality, I live in this world. And so I can only make one choice at a time and experience one outcome, as a result.

The best thing I ever did – and I think I have Eric to thank for it – was realizing that every choice is mine. No blame, no finger-pointing, no excuses. My choices led me to today – and what a remarkable day it is.

SOURCE: https://www.thespruce.com/estimated-median-age-marriage-2303878