Regrets...I've had a few
...I've had a few but, then again, too few to mention.
If only. Those lyrics must have been written by somebody blessed with far more self-esteem than I have. I live in a permanent state of regret. Not guilt – that's more of an occasional thing – but a kind of multi-layered, multi-dimensional thought process through which I run every single plausible scenario when I consider any milestone of my life. It's like string theory.
My father died before I finished school and I felt like I should look after my mother and brother. That went awry. What teenager can cope with food stamps, a bi-polar mother and a younger brother with severe anger issues (and a subsequent criminal record)? None. And, if they can, they come out with scars. Even with the powers of logic required to make sense of all that, I can still pick apart every twist and turn of the soap opera that became my family's eventual implosion. I can still see the colour of the form I could have filled in so that my mother would receive inpatient care – instead of staying with us. If I’d filled that one in she wouldn’t have attempted suicide…well, maybe she wouldn’t have.
Luckily I don’t go back there very often. Now I linger over whether I should have tried baby-led weaning (it took a second baby to shelve those lingering pangs) and why the fuck I didn’t put money by so I could just move out of the marital home when things got utterly miserable. That one ends up with either a) a picket fence and a scruffy puppy or b) social services stealing my children. Mostly. I think I build a publishing empire in a really optimistic version. Or write the next great American novel – despite not being American.
Most people have regrets – because nobody is perfect. I would venture that people who don't have them probably aren't perfect at all. In fact, I'd give anyone that unriddled by doubt a wide berth. In a way, my process of living every possible version of life is a kind of posthumous forethought.
I’d like to think it helps me to make fewer bad choices in the future. Then again, it seems not.
It does, however, mean that I’m quite good at advice. After all, if you need a new perspective on your problem, why not go to the woman who will give you two or three? Or more – my brain seems to work like a key. All the little teeth touching the mechanism to open a vision of the future. I’m like a computer of possibility! The more information you give, the more I can play the options through the computer.
The only problem is that I continue to be human. Even after the glut of crappy experiences I’ve had, I still manage to make mistakes. I’ll always think that I can help a person. Always.
I know I can cheerlead and find the tools for them. I used to be a researcher – my skills make it easy.
The trouble is that people aren’t machines and you can’t rush them. It’s a terrible thing to say but I regret all the time I’ve spent on people I couldn’t help. That’s time I could have been doing anything but holding hair, driving to rehab facilities and AA meetings, writing plans, helping with rent and food. That’s time that could have been mine. I don’t have much ‘me time’ now. I have work and kids. That’s about it. I need a babysitter to go for a run or I end up working after my daughters go to bed now.
I regret the fact that I robbed myself of my time. I did that. If trying and failing to help people (and myself) has taught me anything, it’s that nobody but them can stop the pattern of behaviour. Help is amazing if you use it – and it makes it so much easier to step out of a cycle – but you need to take that step.
That said, for so many people there is none and – therefore - very little hope. It seems so selfish to regret trying. I’m torn really. I regret the cynicism that failing has fertilised in me but I’m glad I was hopeful enough to try.
From now on, I’m devoting my efforts to doing the best I can for two small daughters that I created. I may have screwed up my relationship with their father on many levels but I still love him and he’s a brilliant father. He isn’t plagued by my doubts at all, seemingly. They are a happy mix. The eldest asks ‘what if’ about the future. Her sister just goes for it. Somehow I haven’t infected them with the querulous mental journeys that plague me.
I used to regret having children. I didn’t bond with my first baby and she hated being breastfed. That’s going to hurt any first-time mum – even those ones who know about dribble bibs and cellular blankets before they even conceive.
They have taught me that there are some things that I can leave. In my brain’s options-algorithm, the children are not up for manipulation. They don’t leave the picture anymore. In contrast, I love my work but I still wish I hadn’t accepted some offers or hate the occasional client. When it comes to my children, their timeline stays the same. The landscape may change – maybe the sun is shining more brightly, say – but they and their actions are the rocks. I have no wish to change anything there. I could tell you some horror stories about our times together but I can’t give you any places in the timeline when I want to turn that key and see what happens when a tooth catches on a different mechanism.
It’s probably not that healthy to rely on children to keep you from sinking into yourself but that’s ok. I’ve been saving a little money each month since they were born. They’ll have an escape fund. Or a college fund. Or a travel fund. Or a therapy fund. Whatever they want, there will be the little that I can afford. And, when they blow it (shouldn’t take long), they can wait on. Or collect glasses. Or file. Or wash windows.
When it comes to looking forward, with them, it’s always positive. No regrets.