DIARIO DI MAMMA
In this, the twentieth year since I graduated high school, nothing has turned out as I imagined. Back in the day, I had this unbelievable confidence – certainty, really – that I would find success personally and professionally. Back then, I was loud and determined, studious and strong. I never backed down from an intellectual debate, cared less about diplomacy, and let my creativity flow unfettered. There was what seemed like an inextinguishable fire in my belly. There was more of that in college. But the flame was vulnerable and waning in the wind by then. Now, I spend most of my time trying to reach deep down inside to find that old self.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I see that the beginning of the end was when I started interning. That’s when I realized that the real world required complete conformity. I already was one to try and please authority. But this was even more taxing. If you questioned your boss (or even made a contrary suggestion), you might have to pay down the road. Maybe he wouldn’t give you the reference you needed to get the next internship. Or he would demote you. Or worst of all, he could fire you. So, you began to silence yourself (even when you were right or had better ideas). Actually, that confidence I once had started to fall away because I kept squashing my ideas and living in fear of opposing anyone in the office. The fierce Francesca had all but vanished. It is only now, a few years into motherhood, that I’m getting back to owning my opinions (and actually sharing them). The mamma bear in me has me wishing for a better world for my son and that makes me roar out loud and with conviction. Still, I’m rusty. Slowly, I’m rubbing together two sticks and trying to reignite that fire in my belly. I have seen some flickers.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I wonder what my life would be like had I taken a different career path or attended a different college. But I don’t allow myself to regret. This is the road – no matter how perilous and unexpected – I was meant to travel. And wishing for a different past is useless. There’s no changing what happened before, only what happens next.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I judge less and hug more. In 1996, as I headed off to The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., I thought I knew it all. I wrote off some people, who seemed to be drug addicts or hedonists. I looked down on those who cheated on their girlfriends or boyfriends. I walked on the straight and narrow, and I expected the same of others. I may not have always expressed those feelings out loud, but I was thinking them. That’s been wiped away. Now, I realize behavior usually can be explained and forgiven. Love does that to you. Once I missed some of those people and realized I loved them and that they were part of who I was despite whatever it was I had been judging them about, none of the other stuff mattered. Once I noticed my own errors, I could accept those of others and recognize the fact that I’m no better than anyone else. In fact, our imperfection is what makes us humans perfect.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I’m in love and far more romantic. Yes, yes, I realize this should have gone the other way. As a woman who has been married for nearly 8 years, I should be far less romantic now than when I was a lovestruck teenager. But back then I felt like chasing after a boy would get in the way of my future. I thought most of them were immature and interested in sleeping with girls more than being their partner. (I might have been right about that.) I also felt completely unattractive and didn’t think I was girlfriend material anyway. It all worked out for the best. While I had many guy friends, I never dated or hooked up and I focused on my school work and extracurricular activities, such as the debate team and the high school newspaper. This goes way back. In sixth grade, I set off my house alarms and alerted the police when my friends were playing spin the bottle at my neighbor’s house. College, frankly, wasn’t much better. A few GW guys actually showed interest, and I had my share of crushes in the dorm. But even with all that late-night philosophizing in the hallway, I wasn’t really ready for love. I was definitely a late bloomer, and I needed a push. My husband, who happens to be 8 years older than I am, was willing to push. He unlocked my heart, my desire, my inner goddess. Even though our shared values and dreams for the future got us down the aisle, breaking bread and shared bed are what keep us in love. That’s shocking because the high school me was expecting to eventually have a baby but not really sure about the husband. I never expected to fall madly and deeply in love like this.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I worry more about the world. When I was studying journalism in high school and college, Newt Gingrich’s shutdown of the government and whether Bill Clinton had cheated on his wife with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky, were among the major headlines. But a year after graduating from college, I found myself running down the streets of Manhattan with no shoes on, convinced I was witnessing the end of the world. It was Sept. 11, 2001. I had studied Al Qaeda in college, so I knew who was behind the attack. But, of course, I was still as stunned as everyone else that day. Never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine facing an act of war on my turf. I remember sitting on my couch watching news reports nonstop in the week after 9/11. I remember thinking that this would change the course of my life and our world in ways none of us could anticipate. I was right. I am – err, we are – still feeling the aftershocks, even now that it is 15 years behind us. Sadly, new tragedies come our way regularly now.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I am embracing my cousin’s children as they head off to college. Despite the challenges of a still misunderstood global economy and the threats of terrorism and the rape culture on campuses and the opioid addiction gripping the nation and climate change and the decimation of our environment, I am still hopeful. I am hopeful our future leaders will come up with some better answers than my generation has had so far. I am hopeful we’ll all get to a better place and feel the calmness of peace someday. Someday.
20 YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, I am still finding myself. But I’m not doing it in the flighty co-ed sort of way. Instead, it’s in the way of a nearly 40-year-old mom, who has experienced loss and misfortune and survived it all. That’s something special. So, even if I’m not a millionaire or the president of an organization or company or the editor in chief of some major publication and I’m just a mom and just a wife and just a writer doing her best to get by, I’m worthy. I’m valuable. I love, and I am loved. And I’m better than the high school me ever could have imagined.