Can we go back again? Is there a past period of our lives that those of us who are in our fifties look back upon dreamily as the days we long for? Or are we happy where we are right now?
I grapple with that quandary often when I day dream about those Friday mornings more than twenty years ago spent happily at playgroup with my toddlers, or the carefree afternoons in college many years before that sunning on the dormitory lawn. Was there a perfect time? Was it wasted on me while it was happening, and now I look back mournfully and realize I didn’t appreciate the joyful times while they were occurring?
Sometimes when I am buried under projects and inundated with worries over my adult children and my elderly mom, I think back to wonderful moments from past times. I smell the paste and markers from first grade, taste the sugar cookies from home economics class in junior high, hear the sounds of cheering from the sidelines at my high school softball games, and recall getaway weekends with my husband when we were first married.
Recently I was struck with the thought of whether others were similarly focused upon earlier carefree times. So I conducted an informal survey of my friends and asked them just that question: what period of time do you most want to relive, meaning they would re-experience it because it was such a wonderful time for them.
Interestingly, a few took the question to mean they could use the experience and smarts that they had accumulated over time and redo it in the sense of trying a do-over. One friend would take college more seriously and become a doctor instead of a nurse. Another would appreciate life more before a cancer diagnosis and be more vigilant about health care. If I could repeat any period of my life, I suppose it would be to take time between college and law school rather than rush to a professional life, use a year or two of that time to do very little – maybe travel, relax and enjoy a casual lifestyle until the inevitable crush of law school and law firm life began.
But many of the people who I queried used the survey as a moment for introspection of what period of life they would do over again because they liked it so much the first time. Not surprisingly, of the fifty people who responded to my survey, eleven chose college. College, they reported, was a time, where they were their best selves. There was a discovery, a self-awareness and a freedom. It is no wonder we look with such awe (and a bit of envy) now as we send our children away to school and tell them how wonderful their college years will be for them – so formative, memorable and fun.
Another time period that an equal number of responders looked back upon favorably and want to relive are the years their children were toddlers and in grade school. These were years they didn’t have to deal with illness of parents or peers, and could enjoy watching their children grow by leaps and bounds, before they lost their unconditional affection and maybe a bit of their attention.
One of my friends responded how much she longed to go back to her days of “stickers on school papers, brownies in lunch bags, and rubs on her heads from her relatives.” There were not too many responders who pined for their grade school days as much as she did. A handful were enamored with the single life before marriage, and a few loved the early married years before children, but they were outnumbered by the number of people who wanted to be young parents again.
How would I respond to the survey? I, like ten of the responders, would pick the present as my period of choice. Empty nester, kids are alright, I am healthy and not trying to prove something to anyone. So, maybe I do not want to go back again after all. Maybe feeling confident and self-assured is what I have always been looking for and do not want to go back to a time when I wasn’t sure if I was doing school, parenting or work right.
However, there is a caveat. I didn’t add to the survey one critical category. I didn’t ask whether they would, if they could, chose to go ahead in time, rather than redo a period, and go to the time when they would have grandchildren. It seems to me if that question were added to the mix, there might be quite a few responders who would long not for their youth, college days or the present, but for the prospect down the road of what lies ahead as grandparents. After all, you have to have something to dream about.