Saturday, April 30, 2011

Opportunity Cost

I like advice columns. Always have. Sometimes I like them because I can disagree with them, but most often I admire advice-givers who are able to see through the slobbery mess that someone puts out there and hone in on the real issues, then give guidance. (Not tell someone exactly what to do-- in many cases, that's not helpful. Guidance is better, unless you need to be really direct in situations like "call the suicide hotline," "call children's services," "move into a shelter NOW" or something along those lines.)

One of my long-time favorites has been Sars at Tomato Nation's The Vine. Some of the letters she gets are hilarious, some are heartbreaking, but Sars has a way of seeing what matters. She seems to tackle less significant topics lately, and the focus of the site has subtly (or not-so-subtly) shifted, which is a shame. But I'll still dig through old Vines sometimes, for inspiration or encouragement or common sense.

A more recent discovery has been Dear Sugar. She's just as practical as Sars, although you can tell she's a writer rather than a journalist; her flowery style isn't for everyone. But under the style, the advice she dispenses is excellent and deeply thoughtful. Her most recent column (#71) hit home.

My great-grandmother (Elle's namesake) would every so often take her prayer book, let it fall open, and read the prayer that appeared there; she believed that accidental page was something meant for her to know that day.

I kind of feel the same way about Sugar's most recent column-- it appeared just when I needed to hear it. (Maybe you should go read it as well, or the rest of this won't make as much sense. The comments on the entry are fascinating as well.)

The state of Colorado has been running tourism commercials locally. I love the mountains in Colorado with an intensity that is probably not entirely healthy. I don’t think of myself as a particularly brave or fearless person, but I’ve taken seven-hour hikes in the backcountry entirely alone, simply because the hike needed to be done. I pore over trail maps. I take copious notes of each hike. I can sit by a Colorado river (or the Colorado River) for hours and not notice time passing. High on a mountain, sweaty and hot, wearing my beloved hiking boots and carrying a half-ton of water in my pack, I feel closer to God than almost anywhere else I’ve ever been.

(Completely illogical, given my Midwestern roots. But there it is.)

I was stopped in my track by one of the Colorado tourism ads the other day, just before I read that Sugar advice column. I had the strangest feeling, watching it. I brushed it off.

Now I know what I was feeling-- that sister life, that life that is no longer mine, brushed past me as I watched.

If there's anyone out there who doesn't feel they have a "sister life" running alongside of the life they actually live, I probably don't want to know them. And that doesn't necessarily mean the sister life is one they prefer.

But I think that part of being a self-actualized adult is recognizing that all your choices, even the small ones, set you on a path that is different from the path you might have otherwise taken. There's a reason that so many people enjoy stories of alternate universes-- the movie Sliding Doors is one that comes to mind (underrated, I think), or the classic Groundhog Day. And just about every science fiction television series has at least one episode along those lines.

We all wonder, sometimes, where different choices would have led us.

Becoming a parent is not a small change, obviously. Anyone who has become a parent understands how dramatically everything shifts-- everything. As I was a non-parent for far longer than I've been a parent, I can say with absolute confidence that there's no way that a non-parent can truly understand how immense the change is. I'm not making a value judgment there, or saying non-parents are somehow less, because that's not the case.

But people without children do not, cannot understand the magnitude of the change that occurs when someone hands another life over to you. It doesn't matter whether you give birth, or adopt, or become a stepparent, or a foster parent; the how doesn't matter at all. It's that it happens, and you cannot be the same person once it does.

(Some people don’t seem to change much, and that’s a topic for another day. That’s not what I’m focusing on here.)

Sugar's column made me think about that. About choices that aren't mine any more. About new choices I have to make, every day.

I do not, for a moment, regret becoming a mother. If that's what you, the reader, take from this blog entry, I'm doin' it entirely wrong.

But I think I had a moment where I turned a corner from my old life, and moved fully into my new one. You might have thought that would happen during childbirth, or when I held Elle for the first time, or the first night we were up all night walking the floor, or any one of a thousand other things that have made up her first ten months of life. Apparently, you'd be wrong.

For me, it was a commercial for Colorado.

There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

Thanks, Sugar.

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