Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

July 29, 2020

I recently celebrated my 70th birthday. Well, perhaps “celebrate” isn’t the right word. I certainly celebrate the fact that I am on this side of the earth; visiting graves rather than being in the grave, reading obituaries rather than being the subject of an obituary; you get the gist. But I acknowledge my reality when reaching this pretty impressive milestone: I really don’t have that much time left. Time. The great equalizer. Rich, poor, tall, short, whatever the comparison is, when it comes to time, there is no bargaining. Each of us has an allotted amount and when it’s gone it’s gone. And there’s no turning back. So, what are we going to do about it? Whine? Wish things had gone differently in our lives? Wish our parents had been a little less responsible and poured their life savings into Apple or McDonald’s stock? Speaking of stock (like what I did there?) I decided with this blog to take a brief overview of my rather unexceptional life on this planet and craft a checklist if you will of some of my “wouldas,” “couldas,” and “shouldas,” things I wish I HAD done in the younger version of me, and conversely, the things I regret doing. Don’t get too excited. My life = not that exciting. It still isn’t but maybe by writing this I can find insight and so can you. In fact, maybe I can go back and change some of it. You decide. Some is not able to be changed and that’s fine, because it would have required altering the trajectory of my life, such as marrying my husband, whom I loved very much and having two wonderful daughters and the world’s most perfect grandchildren.

First, I want to share some thoughts from a few friends who were willing to provide me with their WCSs. What I find interesting is that they own it and it’s very personal.  

S. is someone I met through a widowed group and she has become a good friend. She shares a very personal regret: “My biggest regret is not having my husband be a stay-at-home dad. Knowing what I know now (that I would be a young widow), it would have been the perfect choice. We did not have our son for very long – about two years – when he died. I know he would have been happier as a stay-at-home father.”

My friend, A., also from my widowed group, laments that he and his wife didn’t travel more. They were saving for retirement when they planned to spend a lot of time traveling but sadly, those plans never came to fruition.

J. also wishes she and her late husband had traveled more. “I regret not showing him places like the Grand Canyon or Banff National Park. Those were things we intended to do in retirement, but he passed suddenly at 56. I had been to those places before I met him and it always seemed like we were saving for a house, college, weddings, etc., so we just didn’t get to it. We had a good life together and raised three great kids. I wish he could have known his grandchildren, too, but I believe he sees them from above.”

None of us knows what the future will bring. Planning is good to a certain degree for sure, but we probably should all take a step back and re-examine choices we have made and the effect they have had on us and others. Some had serious impact and were life altering. Others are mere blips in our memories. Would you change anything? Do you have regrets? Are you satisfied with that one decision or do you wish you had gone in a different direction? Was that hot pink satin prom dress with matching dyed pumps really the best choice? Should you have majored in philosophy or been more practical and chose something with real earning potential? I AM really glad about that stock purchase back in 2008. Buy low, sell high they say.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…” Frank Sinatra knew how to sing. There was never any trouble understanding what he was singing – because the man knew how to pronounce and enunciate his lyrics, an art lost on some of today’s contemporary artists, save Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble. These words from his classic “My Way” elucidate the dilemma we all face as we look back on our lives wondering how it happened so quickly and how things might have turned out differently given one wrong turn or one missed opportunity.

For me, the year was 1969 August. I was winding up my shift at Howard Johnson’s and preparing to spend a few hours with some friends before heading home to be greeted by my dad who was at the ready to help me count my tips and roll the change. He was vigilant, I will give him that. Here’s a regret and a big fat Coulda and Shoulda – but I didn’t figure it out until my senior year in college. I always handed over every penny and was given a small pittance for spending money each week. My two sisters were a lot smarter. They skimmed off the top before handing their tips to the old man. What an idiot I was. Or maybe they observed my mistakes and acted accordingly when it was their turn to count and roll coins. I am glad to have led the way for them. Anyway, back to that night in August 1969. A few of my friends invited me to go with them to a three-day music festival in New York a couple weeks later. We would camp, bring our own food, and see lots of great acts. And tickets were fairly cheap, about $6 a day. Surely most of you born before 1985 have concluded that the quaint little music festival (which is what we thought) was Woodstock. I expressed excitement and enthusiasm to my posse, but inside I was a cauldron of anxiety, fear, and huge misgivings. I was just out of my freshman year of college, home for the summer earning as much money as I could to defray expenses not covered by loans and scholarships, while still trying to carve out a little time for a social life and being a kid. But my angst was rooted in several factors: I knew my dad would raise hell because I would miss several profitable days of work, he understandably had issues with me taking off to parts unknown with people he really didn’t know, and remember, there were no cell phones in 1969. So, he didn’t totally forbid me from going, but he made it clear that he would be very upset if I did, which in my mind was forbidding me, because he told me in no uncertain terms that he thought I “was a damn fool” for even considering it. In hindsight, he worked his magic, because he knew I wouldn’t go without his blessing. And so, I didn’t. Truth be told, after hearing how conditions were, I would have been miserable because back then I was a timid little mouse without an adventurous bone in my body. If there is no indoor plumbing within 20 yards of where I am sleeping, I will break out in hives. Add in the lack of preparation, resources, crowds that exceeded all expectations and torrential downpours with accompanying mud and I would have been miserable. Throw in the drugs (weed was about as adventurous as I got) and the crazy behavior and I probably would have lost my mind – remember I was a pretty sheltered, Catholic school girl with a crazy Irishman for a father, but in this case, my parentage came in very handy. So, I secretly thanked my dad, while blaming him to my friends. No CWS in this case. Thanks, Dad. You rock.

I always feel like I need to take care of everyone. Perhaps it comes from being the oldest of my siblings and it just sort of went with the territory, but it carried over into adulthood and includes every social situation in which I find myself. I cannot relax unless everyone is having a good time. I have refined the art of conversation to the point that I am sure many people just want me to shut the F up. I talk, and talk, and talk, and talk some more. It’s as if I am afraid there will be a lull in the conversation, and it will somehow be my fault. It’s that Catholic guilt thing and I believe a palpable response to my painful shyness as a child. I can take a simple story and weave a complete subset of intricate plot lines unrelated to the theme of the original story and somehow weave them into an amazingly fluid but also burdensome bunch of bullshit designed to rob the air of oxygen and tick minutes off the clock. I obviously need therapy. So, this is an ongoing issue that I need to deal with – a major Shoulda, dontcha think? I have come to realize, albeit very slowly, that there’s actual beauty in silence. I’m learning to embrace it during lots of time spent alone during this pandemic.

I have some personal regrets in my life that I won’t discuss here, but they have made me grow as a human being and as painful as they were and as complicit as I was in their occurrence, they have opened my eyes into the human condition and our frailties as imperfect beings. I have hurt people but cannot change the past. But what I can do is learn, understand, be a better me and forgive myself. It is also important to forgive those who have hurt me. I have learned that holding grudges is so counterproductive and just letting go of the anger feels great. It is liberating. I don’t think I could have said this even a few years ago. Saying it now is a huge step for me and it feels good. Not that Bob Marley is or ever has been my muse, but I came across a quote of his recently that were I still into cross stitch, I might do it up in bright colors and hang it in my powder room: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” I have been asking myself that a lot lately. Must be this whole turning 70 thing. Or maybe I am channeling Bob Marley and the next time you see me I will be sporting dreadlocks and my Alexa will be playing reggae. We shall see.

I’m not finished bearing my soul. There are a few WCSs I should probably get out there for discussion among yourselves or just general derision and shaking of your heads in disapproval. I’m a mess, ladies and gentlemen.

Parenting. I think I was a good parent – for the most part. But my daughters, whom I consider my greatest accomplishment, might take exception to some of my methods – you know like locking them in the bathroom when they were fighting. Making them write compositions about their bad behavior. Limiting television. NOT buying them Cabbage Patch dolls when people were lined up for hours. Not catering to their dietary wishes – eat what’s for dinner or don’t eat. You get the picture. But I do wish I were a little less rigid in some areas. It took me years to simply just shut my younger daughter’s bedroom door so as not to see the mess. Instead, I wasted so much energy yelling at her to clean her room and get organized instead of simply appreciating her creativity, fun-loving spirit, and kindness to others. An unmade bed is not a big deal.  I could have made fewer lists during the summer months for my girls. Instead of so many chores, I should have added a couple fun activities to balance out the drudgery.

Typically, I have pretty decent fashion sense. I wear the classics, try to stay away from trends, and look appropriate to the occasion. But that one time, when I thought hot pants with some sort of attached skirt behind them would make me the belle of the ball at a company Christmas party, I had a serious lapse in judgement. That’s a big NO. At the time though, I was thinking I looked ravishing. Another faux pas in the clothing arena included hip hugger bell bottoms with huge daisies covering them. Paired with a bright yellow midriff peasant blouse and platform shoes, I was rocking it, I tell you. It’s when you look at photos years later that you lament: “What the hell was I thinking?” and “Damn, I wish I had that body now!” Good times.

Finally, I will end this tribute to “hindsight is 20/20” with a long-held regret that when I think about it now, I say to myself, “What the hell, girl? Why not, you idiot?” Parents, if you have any horny 17-year-old daughters reading along with you, now would be a good time to have them step away from the device, because I do not want to be responsible for their degradation and bad decisions going forward. Here goes. Why the hell didn’t I “do it” with my high school boyfriend? Looking back, I know for sure it would have been freaking fantastic – after the initial, you know, fumbling and shit, but we would have figured it out and had a grand old time. Sigh. But it wasn’t meant to be. Because, well, you know, Catholic, and fear of Irish tempered father. Greatest sex aversion method of all, bar none.

I have many more WCSs to add to my list, but perhaps for another day, another blog. I do feel oddly cleansed and renewed and will leave you with a quote from psychologist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”  I intend to do just that. Pandemic be damned.

2 thoughts on “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

  1. Interesting subject matter for its timeliness- oh, and congratulations on reaching the birthday milestone! Your introspection seems to be a common refrain these days with those of us of a certain age. If i had to distill the SWC down to a single phrase it would be, “failure of imagination” on my part. By that I mean that I completely underestimated my brains and talent because what I see today in people at the top of their game is so pitiful and cringe worthy i find myself constantly grabbing my phone and texting someone to point out yet another absurdity from of the mouth of someone making more money that I ever did. Then there is the daily interface with people who are unable to think beyond a script laid out for them. Loads of meaningless word salad regurgitation on display. They can load a app and link their lives better than I am able to do therefore, somehow, that makes them super human. I weep. Can you just fix this problem, I ask? Long pause, deer in headlights look and I think, oh here we go. Do you really need a calculator to figure out 20%? Rinse, repeat- it’s a new day and another Charlie Foxtrot brought to us by our betters.

    I’ve been without a dryer for more than a week. My dryer is 2.5 yrs old. When I pointed this out to the repairman he shrugged and said, “Yeah, they can need replacement after a couple of years.” Oh, terrific, durable goods are now in the same longevity category as the latest fashion trend. The mother board designed by someone who is considered a whiz kid, manufactured by others who are very good at coordinating their IG and Linked in accounts.

    Your blog makes me laugh and it makes me cry. It hits the right notes so thank you. And just for the record, I always enjoy laughing together at family events. Seems like such a long time ago…….

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    1. Jeanne, thank you for your introspection and kind comments. I am sorry it took me so long to reply. One question: do I know you or did you just happen across my blog? I am glad that you enjoy it and find some value in it. I have thought about “gussying it up” with color and graphics, but honestly, I can’t be bothered. 🙂 Stay well in the mess we find ourselves presently and try to keep smiling. I always try to find the humor, even if others think it’s inappropriate. Take care.

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