The other weekend was my high school reunion, which, honestly, I was rather "meh" about. One wonderful thing it did do was bring my dear friend Laurie into town. We stole away with our families (she also has a husband and two kids) for a few days of camping at the coast before the reunion began.
Laurie is that friend who enters into your life just as you are beginning to feel out who you are and stays with you through all the changes of college and marriage and parenthood. We met in eighth grade, but only really became friends late in high school. She was relaxed and non-cliquish--in other words, my opposite. I spent much of my senior year letting her lead the way to the many adventures she dreamed up for us.
Some of my dearest memories with her are of our times at the coast. We'd blow off whatever obligations we had and make the one hour trip past the farms and through the coastal forest. Sometimes we'd play on the beach, but often we'd just walk, letting the sound of the pounding surf envelop us. On a northwestern beach the grey of the sea and sky often drift together, smudging the horizon until you feel you are looking into infinity. Surrounded by the mist and the ocean's roar, we would talk about things that when you're seventeen seem too real to share most of the time: Our uncertainty about what we wanted in life. Our hope of one day finding a partner whom we could love unreservedly. Our ambivalence about motherhood.
It's been over a decade since Laurie and I last visited the ocean together. This time we arrived in cars stuffed full of families and gear. If that weren't enough reminder of our old age, we shared the campground with a clutch of teenage girls--likely dragged camping by their parents--who spent long stretches of time in front of the bathroom mirrors applying makeup and brushing their hair. As I squeezed between them to wash my hands while they faux-argued about their beauty ("You're so pretty." "No, I'm not! I'm a hag." "Whatever. You're gorgeous. I'm hideous."), I admit I rolled my eyes internally. But it was a sympathetic eye roll, because I remember well my own teen self in a camp site bent over the side-view mirror of a car doing my bangs with a butane curling iron. That is the overwhelming memory of my teen years: the constant primping and prancing, the frenetic pressure to hide my flaws, fit in with the crowd, make everyone think I was okay because I thought the moment I stopped and said, "I'm fine the way I am" would be the moment they'd start judging me. It would be years before I learned about the quiet strength of self-acceptance.
My teenage self would sneer at the me of today. In the campground bathroom she would take in my pigtails, lack of makeup and squishy midsection and decide I had let myself go. She would pity me for being a mother by adoption instead of by birth. Hearing I once again live in my hometown and work at a fairly low-paying job would cause her to furrow her brow and wonder how I could have settled for so little. She would see the peaceful stillness of my life and mistake it for surrender.
That weekend as I watched our families romp on the beach where Laurie and I used to stand and dream, I thought about how our lives are everything and nothing like what we wanted for ourselves back then. After high school we found that the inner push for social acceptance morphs into a drive toward marriage, job, children. We braved unexpected depression and infertility and uncertainty about careers. We found mothering as demanding as we feared and more gratifying than we could have imagined. We married men who make us laugh and who adore us through it all. We learned to find joy in the moments presented to us.
I stood and let the wind lift my hair as the sounds of the children's playing competed with the ocean's roar. I caught Laurie's eye and she stopped to share a smile. Surrounded by all we wanted and all we didn't know to want, we were still.