I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend. Gulp. When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion. I still can’t actually. I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.” Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes. Because I don’t feel that old. Because 18 seems like yesterday. Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age. So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body. Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life. And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school. Zits? My mom being sick? Short-term, immature boyfriends? Drinking til I puked? Never having the most popular clothes? Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends? Pegged pant legs? Nope, nothing. I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings. That’s what really did it. Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids. It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl. Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing. And empowering. My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck. They were, in fact, made for a purpose. So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care. I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support. Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember. There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent. But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well. I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
When I was fifteen I got a perm. Oh yes. A perm. I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change. I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic. I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look. Not the best way to begin sophomore year. And from then on it was curly. A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles? The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight? I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin. I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have. But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin. Oh the blessedness of growing up.
I left the reunion rejoicing in my life. Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on. The whole 38-year-old package. I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18. My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one. As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries. I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me. I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did. As we all do. I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones. I’m sure all parents hope for this. I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see. Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out. And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.