Do you ever find yourself turning conversations and events from the past around in your mind, rolling them around until the edges are smoother and more manageable, more tolerable? I often catch myself feeling embarrassed by my “former” self, the little weirdo storing string cheese in her mouth in kindergarten in order to enjoy it during story time, the odd child elaborately playacting with toy dinosaurs while the rest of the class is lining up quietly for chapel, the teenager with the orange plaid pants and the self-inflicted hair-cut, listening to what they used to call “emo” music.
By 8th grade, I was a “skater” girl. And by that I mean I bought “retro” clothes from thrift stores, “altered” them with my non-existent sewing skills (this usually involved minimal thread and lots of safety pins), chopped my hair into uneven spikes, and owned a skateboard. Notice, I make no reference to skill.
Today’s story takes place at Houghton College, long before I studied there myself. I spent my visit hanging out with my sister, who was a student there, sitting in on some of her classes, and skateboarding around campus. My sister’s townhouse was at the bottom of “Roth Hill,” which is not only very steep, but also curvy and rocky, with a narrow walkway, and a grassy drop-off on one side. Of course, you know what happens next. I stand at the top of the hill with all of my unearned confidence and I just fly down it with very minimal thought. Within seconds, a large patch of skin from my arm has been flayed off, and I am laying stunned on the grassy hill. But that’s not the dumb part. I actually get up and performed the entire stunt over again, and scrape a second layer of skin off of the same exact spot. I spent the next several days picking stones out of my flesh and refreshing bandages.
Looking back at this version of myself, it seems to parallel other areas of my life, where I would, at times, blindly and ignorantly throw myself down a sort of rocky hill and expect to stay impossibly balanced on four small plastic metaphoric wheels. This makes for a lot of amazing, fun-filled memories with friends, but also many memories that include embarrassment and failure.
I think sometimes we want to deny the selves we once were. We turn our memories over in our brains to soften their edges. Or we work to rid ourselves of our memories, to separate the “old” from the “new.” In today’s age of personalization, we are constantly re-creating ourselves, re-arranging the furniture of our minds, our bodies, and our worlds—both virtually and physically. We are constantly pushing old versions of ourselves out in favor of new and improved versions. In a way this is good. We should always strive to be better, more well-rounded, and more loving people. We are not meant to remain caricatured, angsty, adolescent versions of ourselves. And yet, there is a danger in becoming so absorbed in our current selves that we deny our former selves a right to exist as part of us. We adopt theologies of “present living,” and choose to “let go” of our past. In a way, we forget where we came from. I am not advocating any sort of dwelling in the past. Nostalgia can grow into a habit of unhealthy escapism. I get that. I am talking more about embracing that weirdo you once were, understanding you were doing the best you could with what you had, and knowing that some day, a little old lady (or man) version of yourself will look back and chuckle at you and will hopefully accept you for everything you are now.
Having children is probably one of the largest re-creators someone can experience. When we see that these little humans completely rely on us for everything, it forces us to grow up a little in a way that is good, but can cause a bit of an identity crisis. Part of getting through this is embracing the new parts of yourself and remembering to take time to hang out with your old self, even if this means hopping in the car between feedings and running an errand while blasting Dashboard Confessional and screaming the lyrics you still know by heart.
I may be a more well-rounded, less-angsty person than I was at the top of that hill. I’d like to think I am better at discerning what I am capable of doing before trying it. But I kind of like that weirdo I used to be, and her unfounded confidence. As I near 30 and become increasingly aware of the reality that I am, in fact, an adult, I am happy to own all parts of who I am and who I have been. And if anyone has a problem with that, or gives a side eye to the grown woman at the stop-light passionately singing “it’s cool to take these chances, it’s cool to fake romances, and grow up fast and grow up fast and grooooowwww uuuup faaast!” while punching her fist in the air… well, I simply do as Ray Bradbury did: I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing