Today I got to sleep in to a glorious 9:15 a.m. My eldest is at a sleepover, leaving our two younger kids home with us, ages 8 and 6. Three cats sleep on three different beds, and my generous husband has gone out for donuts, which I can’t eat but desperately want to. I need to get ready for work on this Sunday morning. We missed church, but will go on Wednesday because the kids have to play chimes then.
This is my life today. This is a cross-section of my life everyday. What would teenage Jessica think of this life? That’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately as I get ready to talk to students at my old high school next week. What can I tell them? Why am I qualified to speak to them?
Teenage Jessica’s greatest fear in life was getting married and having kids. It’s true. It’s something she wanted but was horribly afraid of. The first poem she ever read at a poetry slam (sophomore year, so somewhere in the 1994-1995 department) was about a lady who did the traditional role in life, got married, had kids, and resented all of her decisions. I had lots of poems like that, mixed in with various “love” poems and some poems where I was trying to be funny. So many poems on the same theme of what happens when you give up.
And what did I do in real life? I got married at 22 and started having kids.
Teenage Jessica could foretell the future, but only the teenage-angst filled future. I don’t regret getting married nor having kids. But I do regret putting this portion of my life on the back-burner for so long. It wasn’t until 2010 that I brought my writing back to life. I had to. I was drowning, choking on domesticity, wildly unhappy, and afraid I was heading for exactly what that first poem read-aloud was talking about.
I was in a deep depression of my own doing, and it wasn’t anyone else’s fault but mine. I remembered something my step-sister Megan once said to me: “It’s my life. If it sucks, I’d better change it.” I got out my little red laptop and started on a short story. That turned into a long story. That turned into a first draft of a novel. And now, it’s nearly a complete second draft of a novel.
What can I tell Teenage Jessica that would be a nugget of wisdom for her? I guess I could tell her that she needs to just keep going. Half of the experiences of life are had by just showing up. Keep showing up. Your life hasn’t peaked at 17. Or 21. Or 30. And certainly not at almost 35, which is where I am right now.
I have a family, I have a job; I have all those little domestic things that scared Teenage Jessica silly. And with all of these experiences, I have something to draw from and write about. Teenage Jessica certainly wasn’t counting on that.