Shortly before my 30th birthday, I received an email from someone I grew up with. We weren’t close, but I knew him my entire childhood. That’s how things work in a small town. Everyone knows everyone, and Ben was one of those kids who was in the “blue” reading group with me through elementary school and still right there next to me in higher math classes in high school. He was always around and we were friendly if not friends.
Nevertheless, the email caught me off guard. Here is someone I hadn’t seen or heard from since high school graduation when I was seventeen, nearly half a lifetime earlier. He had missed our ten year reunion, he said, and didn’t much care, but he wondered about me. His email said that he thought often of how I was doing and was sure that I had left our small town and created an amazing life, found success. After all, he reminded me, the class had voted me Most Likely to Succeed.
I squirmed reading that email. And I never wrote back.
I hadn’t made it to the ten year reunion either because I was eight weeks pregnant with my son. Too sick to do much of anything other than survive, I couldn’t often leave the house and certainly couldn’t travel from my home in Maryland to my hometown in Pennsylvania.
I didn’t know what to say to him.
Hi Ben, great to hear from you! Today I folded laundry and later I’m going to change some diapers. If all goes well, I’ll be able to coordinate my kids’ afternoon naps today. Now THAT would be a success!
Maybe I could tell him that I had married a successful man?
Ben! What a surprise!. Life is fantastic. I’m at home full time, cleaning spit up off of couch cushions and trying to get cat vomit out of the carpet, but my husband calls me every day at lunch in between his meetings on Capitol Hill and at the State Department.
Nothing seemed to live up to this long email that arrived out of nowhere, setting up expectations that I seemed to have missed, letting me know that somewhere out there, I had let people down, people whose existence I had all but forgotten.
In the years following that email I have reinvented my life in almost every way. When my kids were four and two, I began writing this blog. Shortly after, I began working in social media marketing. I worked out a balance between walking my kids to and from the school bus every day and working for clients the other seven hours of the day. We moved to a bigger house. The lunchtime calls from my husband are now also scheduled around my meetings.
And sometimes I think about Ben and that email. Should I find him? Track down his email address? Maybe tell him he was right and it just took me some time to get my thoughts together but hey, now I’m running a business and writing a book and succeeding just like he imagined.
But the truth is that everything that happened between that angst-causing 30th birthday and turning 35 this week that is truly important, happened in connection to those two children who were with me five years ago and who have blessed my life every day since.
Just as I spent the years before it complicating my life with goals, I have spent the last year simplifying, trying to get back to those joyful moments that filled my time in between diaper changes and loads of laundry.
Finally finding that balance – finally making the time to appreciate my family – now that would be succeeding.