Dear Little Me

I’ve seen those memes about what would you tell your younger self if you could talk to her now, and the answer for me is never simple. My younger self went nineteen to the dozen, either working and going to school full time, or working and single-parenting, or working two jobs. Hard to get anything of substance across to somebody traveling at warp speed, but bills do not pay themselves.

I do though, occasionally talk to my daughter, a millennial still thrashing through an undergraduate curriculum as she nears age thirty (oh, so old!). She’s also working and going to school, also riding horses, also doing battle with nagging mental and physical health issues. She gets daunted.

Who doesn’t? When we talk, I try to reassure her that these busy, overwhelming, difficult years will come in handy. She won’t know when, she won’t necessarily see it coming, but the hours she spent volunteering at an animal shelter in Denver, the voice lessons she took, the marathons she’s run (two, and many halfs), are all building equity toward happiness and effectiveness later in life.

I earned a degree in music history. My father despaired of my making my living playing piano, though I did just that all through college. After college, I closed the lid of the piano, and thought I was done with music. Thirty years later, I was writing The Virtuoso, and using my music history degree like a boss.

I rode horses as a kid, then put away my childish things. When I was staring at serious burnout in my mid-thirties, the horses brought me back to life.

To get my music history degree, I had to take twelve credits of German, but hadn’t had to use German for more than 35 years. There I was in Scotland a couple years ago, at Culloden Battlefield, grabbing lunch in the snackshop. An older woman gestured to the table I was standing near. “Ist es frei?” she asked. “Ja, es ist frei,” I replied. “Sitzen sie sich, bitte.” (Is this [table] free? Yes, it’s free, please do sit yourself down.)

That little exchange made me so happy!

Life comes together, I would tell my younger self. Treasures you forgot you stuffed in your pockets will come in handy down the road, and that will be big fun. Dots connect in wonderful and unexpected ways, skills realign to create new opportunities. I tell my daughter: It’s all yours to keep. No course, no race, no casual convo in the King Souper is wasted. You’re piling up riches that will pay interest you can’t foresee.

Romance novels nod in the direction of this sentiment when the closing scenes hark back to the opening lines, or use a setting that’s shared with the first kiss or the big black moment. It all comes together, and in a happy way.

What treasure did you pick up along the way that came in handy long after you thought the warranty had expired? Or is there something in your pocket you haven’t quite found a use for, but are glad you picked up?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed Windham Brides bundle: The Trouble With Dukes, Too Scot to Handle, No Other Duke Will Do.


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25 comments on “Dear Little Me

  1. I had a similar conversation with my daughter Thursday evening. She’s busy working, commuting to Boston to attend law school, interviewing for summer internships and prepping for trial team. Her friends are dating, traveling and socializing. Think she needed reassurance that this to will pass. And the experience gained from interviews, internship and trial team will benefit her later.

    I have rediscovered a few old “friends” in the past few months. Am walking 4-5 times a week with a friend. It is SO nice to get away from my desk for 30 minutes. Am back to dog school and trying my best to look forward…. With the puppy. I forgot how much I enjoyed walking teaching and training.

    Will think about the treasures in my pocket. Am sure I have a few I could find.

    • Please tell your daughter that law school is just like that–for a few years, “law student” seems to be the sum of your parts. Because I put in those years, I was able even as a single mom to provide well for my daughter, and yikes, what a gift that has been. I was also in a better position to deal with my parents’ situation when they became infirm, and I’m a more formidable author at the negotiating table because I did my time prepping for the bar.
      It’s time well spent, honest.
      (And Celeste walks with you.)

  2. In *real life*, I am a musician with several degrees in conducting. Of course, I use those degrees, conducting an elite semi-professional chamber choir and working and writing for my professional society’s website.

    But my *other life*, the one before music, was ballet. I was a dancer and as a teenager, was supposed to dance for a fairly well-known ballet company when I graduated from high school. My *fall back* was conducting, which I was going to do once I could no longer dance. I fell down a flight of cement stairs at my state’s Girl State (you probably know what that is)when I was 16 so that ended hopes of my dancing career.

    I would tell my young self not to be so upset about not being able to dance because I did anyway. I taught 7 classes a week (everything from baby-ballet to pointe work)to get through music school. I choreographed shows for high schools and community theater (Lady Be Good, Once Upon a Mattress, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and more)and organized and lead sacred dance troupes in almost of my church choir jobs.

    Last year, I wrote several pieces for a local online dance magazine and the editor LOVED my work. In fact, it turns out, we both had studied at the same, elite dance school in Chicago–she graduated the year I began to study with them. We met last fall and I will be a reviewer for the mag this month. Dance has again given me a job.

    I told one of my sons as recently as yesterday, just when I think dance and I are no longer a *thing*, I am given a new opportunity to use the skills I perfected and LITERALLY sweat over all those years ago. When I was a young mother and we needed money, a ballet school would need a teacher with outstanding technique and someone would call me. I was suggested to choreograph a Gershwin musical because their usual person didn’t have the *chops* to teach all those different dance genres. I attended a church music conference and was the only one to sign up for a class in sacred dance–and the instructor and I did a piece for the last day’s worship because we worked so well together; the conducting clinician came up to me after to tell me how much he liked what we did and he normally didn’t like sacred dance!

    Instead of fighting it, I am embracing it. That other part of my life is still my life. Dance created the whole and I would be foolish to think otherwise.

    • I’ve never met somebody who had a significant brush with dance that ever, entirely, let that part of their life go. Even if all you do is watch the second half of The Nutcracker every year, you still see life differently.
      And how odd: The first musical I played pit piano for was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Now that Comedy Tonight vamp is spinning through my head…

      • One of my favorite things EVER to choreograph was ‘Everybody Ought to Have Maid’….loved it and had so much fun putting all sorts of *business* into it…..a great, fun and FUNNY show!

  3. Everything I’ve ever done-work, family or other life experience-has taught me something valuable. Even if that “something” was “I don’t ever want to do that again.” As a mother, grandmother and great grand, I’ve learned to listen and to share and when all is said and done to love. So far, it’s worked for me.

    • You bring up a good point: Even the rough patches teach you something. On my worst, most overwhelmed, down day, I can still think, “Well, at least I’m not sixteen years old and having to raise my hand to ask permission to go to the bathroom anymore.”

  4. Every now and then a language thing will pop up. I speak a not widely spoken language and I have helped elderly lost travelers in airports with it. It is a wonderful feeling to be the translator for someone who is so out of their depth, you can take someone from feeling scared and confused to the right gate and an explanation of what they need to do next and leave them smiling.

    • Is that not a terrific gift? I see now that we’ve come up with little ear-gismos that translate real time from English to French, and I think, “That’s not an entirely good thing.” Learning a language is an entirely good thing, though I appreciate that for some people, it’s very, very difficult, and not the best use of their time.

  5. I celebrated my 70 year birthday last week with family and friends and what a great time we all had sharing past events good and not so good,my children’s antics and only now finding out about them put my hair up on end.Looking back I realise that I have many memories of events and people actions through my years that have had an effect of shaping who I am and what I do.I could share with you all kinds of wise and wonderful things that have been passed on to me but I won’t . Instead I shall explain why I carry a safety pin in my handbag to this day. My mother was walking along her road in her neighbourhood when the elastic in her knickers snapped and her underwear fell to the ground she promptly stepped out of them and carried on walking hoping she had not been recognised if anyone called out to her she would deny all knowledge of ownership.My mum was a very proud lady and this happening to her upset her so much she instilled in my sister and I to be prepared for any eventuality if we could,I’ve got to say it did not always work but hey that’s life.

    • Your mum and mine… Can’t tell how many times my mother told me that holey undies or a tattered bra were not allowed, because, “What if you were in a car accident and the medics had to cut away your clothes. You wouldn’t want them to see you in holey undies, would you?”
      Erm… if they’re cutting away my clothes, Ma, I’m probably beyond fashion-consciousness…
      But Moms are like that, bless them.

  6. Hi Grace,
    I worked in Thailand as an EFL teacher for 4years. This was over a decade ago. I think I learnt more from my pupils then than they learnt from me!
    A Thai lady who has very little English fainted in a supermarket (we’re in England now). The paramedic who revived her couldn’t understand what she was talking about and she was becoming frantic and incoherent. I came up to her and I understood what she was on about! She said she’s pregnant and can we please ring her husband because she lost her phone? Everything was sorted! I felt so proud of myself for recalling what little Thai language I have. I haven’t used it for a decade!
    Kind regards,

    • What a timely use of your language skills, and how frightened that lady must have been. I fainted a fair amount when I was pregnant, and it rattled me every time. On behalf of expectant moms everywhere, thanks for that assist and for being a kind stranger when one was dearly needed.

  7. Someone somewhere said something about the universe wasting nothing.

    My degree is German Lit., with the extra hours in music. I can read the horrible fractur script that meant I could re-type the Blackstone for our daughter’s law class during her accounting degree. I think a good chunk of the class, the accounting kids anyway, used it.

    Our son told me this week after I’d thumped out hymns for congregational singing (keep the strongest voice more or less on key and at speed) during a gospel service that he was glad someone who could hear the music had played. My father said that my recitals were his lessons in humility. I am not a performer. Our son is not given to compliments and I was pleased. Made some of the “lessons in humility” worthwhile.

    I sometimes wonder, Grace, if some of your law cases get a happy every after in your books, even if they didn’t in real life. It would be nice to know the end from the beginning, but I’m thinking that only happens in fiction, and maybe not even then.

    • Marianne, those law cases are fascinating, in that kids for whom every possible stop is pulled out still manage to go down the tubes. Kids whose case files read like a serial killer’s worst nightmare become very good social workers. We’ve identified two factors associated with those “inexplicable” successes. First, somebody showed that kid a consistent, healthy definition of love. Could have been a teacher, a neighbor, a grandma… somebody said, “This is how you deserve to be treated by people who care about you. That other stuff was wrong and should not have been allowed to happen to you.”

      The other indicator of success among foster children is an ability to play, to have fun without getting in trouble or hurting somebody. How much time and money do we spend on recreation and play for foster kids?

      None. But then, as a society, how much priority to do we place on rest, rejuvenation, and joy?

      Which is where a well written HEA can come in!

  8. When I was growing up, my dad was in charge of the irrigation for all the farms in our town and surrounding area. It was quite a unique, highly specialized job and I used to spend hours riding around with him, checking the canals, listening as he talked through problems. I learned a lot about irrigation and found it interesting. But, when I left farm life behind and moved to a big city, it quickly became clear that most of the people I met had no idea what irrigation was and were NOT interested in discussing it. So, I filed it away and didn’t think much about it for years.

    Years later, I was working at a hospital in Albuquerque. A very persnickety, slightly grumpy man had been admitted and was giving all of us nurses a hard time. I was in his room one afternoon when he started talking about his farm with one of his visitors. He mentioned having trouble with some of the irrigation equipment and I immediately recognized what he was talking about. I sat down and talked irrigation for an hour and enjoyed every second of it! That crusty man warmed up and became such a good friend that I visited his farm after he was discharged. All of my irrigation knowledge seemed useless until it earned me the respect of a hard to please patient.

    • Boom–exactly. He was having a bad experience, grumpy, probably scared, uncomfortable, lonely. You had what he needed and what he could not possibly have known to ask for–somebody to talk Farm with. Amazing!

  9. I have had the things will get better and it is all worth it talk with both of my children – I’m not sure they believed me. As for actual nuggets I’ve picked up along the way, I can’t think of anything very profound. Occasionally I can use an archaic bit of computer knowledge from my tech writer career when talking to our system administrator. It helps remind him that just because I’m female it doen’t mean I don’t understand computers.

    I do know that I wouldn’t change any of my experiences because they did help me become the person I am today (for better or for worse).

    • The struggle women in tech face, in terms of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and cultural stigma is appalling. I think of that every time I see Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto, while they have one of the nastiest sexist cultures going. If that’s not evil…

      I’m glad you wip out your tech talk. Keep ’em on their toes, and paying attention.

  10. Hmmm… when I was 10 years old I fell in love with reading and History. I am currently taking a class on Russian History. I am enjoying it. I enjoy baking, especially around the holidays or special occasions. I enjoy doing it and folks enjoy cookies, fudge, and quick bread.

    • You have mentioned this, and I think that’s such a cool and timely way to grow your knowledge base. One of my uncles spent a lot of time in Russia, ostensibly teaching English, and married a Russian lady whom he brought back to the States. He loved the culture and the people, but yikes… some sad history there too.

  11. I treasure letters from my granny that she wrote over many years of my childhood and young adlthood. We lived far away from one another for years, and she wrote to me many times a month. They were a lifeline during so many difficult times. I do not even have a picture of us together (she adhorred having her pictures taken). So I could just hug my younger self for having the foresight to never throw those letters away. It’s been twenty years since she left this earth, and to this day they are just the balm I need when I’m feeling down or lonely or unsettled.

    • What a wonderful legacy. I know of two authors who turned old family letters into books, both with happy endings. I hope you can find the right person to pass those letters on to when the time comes.

      You’re reminding me that a childhood friend recently send me a pile of letters that I’d written fifty years ago. Must read them… MUST.