As my primarily female readership cheerfully and anonymously admits it would rather be (A) stay-at-home mums or (B) working full-time for $£€ until retirement, I will now reflect on the great relief and privilege of knowing just who the heck you are.
Now science was not my bestest topic in school, but I can read pop psychology in the magazines at the hairdresser's as well as any other gal, and I always enjoy reading about how teenagers are not exactly sane. Apparently their mental wiring zings when it should zap and zaps when it should zing, and therefore teenage girls cry uncontrollably at awkward moments and teenage boys attempt to skateboard down railings. Aha!
Sometimes I have wondered if we aren't all just chugging merrily along until we are eleven or so--like those incredibly intelligent eleven year olds in films who give sage advice to their wrinkled-foreheaded parents--and then puberty hits and we are a big mental mess until our 31st birthday. (Our 31st birthday is approximately when we get over having turned 30 and feel rather happier about everything until our 34th birthday knocks us for a loop.)
Old people love to say that you are as old as you feel, but I suspect that we are all the ages we ever were all at once. Right at the core of our personality is a plump little fetus floating about happily without a care in the world. Around her is a one year old baby who is screaming with existential angst. Then around her there's a two year old around that who wants stuff. Then there's a three year old who wonders what happens if you pull a dog's tail really hard. And so on.
Having no children of my own, and a lot of time at my disposal, I occasionally think about myself at different ages. (This is rarely pleasant, incidentally.) Right now I am cramming Italian vocabulary into my head, so I am interested in my 15 year old self, the self who decided to sign up for Grade 11 Italian even though (or because) her 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old selves were bullied by "the Italian girls" in elementary school. Today I am very grateful to that 15 year old. It's as if she had socked away a nest egg to collect interest that I could spend in later life.
That said, and no disrespect to myself at 15, I seem to be a lot better at learning now. It may be true that mathematicians and physicists do their best work before they are 25, but there is no way at 15 or even 25 that I could have memorized 25 Italian vocabulary words a night. But behold: la testa, la fronte, il naso, la narice, la bocca, il labbro, il mento, il collo, la spalla, il seno, il torace, l'addomo, l'ombelico, l'avambraccio, il braccio, il gomito, il polso, la mano, il palmo, il pollice, l'indice, il medio, l'anulare, il mignolo. Grazie, grazie mille. If I keep that up I'll have my entire visual dictionary memorized in six months. Yay, me at 40!
To be fair to me at 15, I had a lot of other homework. Also my brain was zapping when it should have zipped, and zipping when it should have zapped. And it carried on in that mad unstructured fashion for quite a long time. Throw in a bad (and unsacramental) marriage into the mix and--eeek! It took me until I was 32 to really understand who I was and what I wanted to be and also that I COULD be who I was and what I wanted to be. It was (mostly, since I have some bosom sins) OKAY.
I do not know why I could not connect the dots at an earlier age. I really do not. And I have envied friends and colleagues who have told me knew (KNEW) at incredibly young ages--like 17--that they were meant to be Jesuit priests or married to their high-school sweethearts or owners of hairdressing salons and that this was OKAY.
However, there's nothing I can do now about my own 15 years (or so) of flailing around trying to know who I was and what I wanted to be, and to give myself permission to be them. Those years are history, and they're in the past, and I can look at them or ignore them, as I choose.
Maybe one day I will have to do a thorough review with God, and sometimes we will laugh, and sometimes I will cry. Right now, though, mostly I'm glad I got through. And although this seems like a really weird place to put in a plug for Lonergan's Insight, I'm really glad I read Lonergan's Insight because I am absolutely positive it made my brain expand. It helped make me who I am today.
Oh, wait. That is SUCH a cliche: It Helped Make Me Who I Am Today....