Cinnamon and spice oatmeal, the kind in the little paper packets, shouldn't make anyone cry. But this morning, it made me cry.
It's been a long, long time since I've eaten Quaker oatmeal. Usually I am an oatmeal purist, making it from scratch with old-fashioned oats that cook slowly. I add my own blend of spice and brown sugar, fresh blueberries if we have any, and then I un-healthy it by serving it with a dollop of cream.
But Kendell's been eating Quaker oatmeal for breakfast at work, so I've started buying it again. Jake and Nathan especially love it, and when I made some for Jake this morning I decided to make some for myself, too.
It tastes like childhood.
It thrust me back into remembering, sort of, what it felt like to be this girl:
with my strong hands and legs, with my sister behind me (that's Suzette's foot in the background), with my tiny gold hoop earrings and that clear look in my eye, the one unhampered by sorrow. I was shy and socially awkward but I also had an enormous sense of confidence that my life would be successful. Before my feet were a thousand possible paths to take, decisions that could lead me anywhere. I could have become anything.
That photo must be nearly (if not exactly) thirty years old by now; I was probably ten, but maybe nine or eleven. I look at it and I know the look in my eye is no longer so clear. I feel a vague sense of disappointment: that I ended up being just an average person after all, that I made so many mistakes, that I haven't lived as fully as I could. I wish I could get it back, the nameless emotion behind that look. I wish I could feel again how it felt then, certain that life would bring me everything I wanted.
Perhaps it's because I am at this transition point in my life right now that I am spending so much time thinking about the track my life has taken. As you grow and make decisions, you pass by the other choices, the ones you could have taken. The possibilities dwindle. But here I am: late thirty-something. All of my kids in school, at least for part of the day. Needing to find my way in this landscape my decisions have led me to. Thinking about the past, but also about the future: college and missions for my kids, graduations and weddings, beginnings and endings, their own paths swirling before them. What will I do with my life, now that the phase of mothering-little-kids is passing?
There are paths to take now, right at my feet. Not as many as thirty years ago, but I still get to choose. I know the one I want to take, but I am not sure if I am strong, smart, or talented enough to follow its rises and falls. It might lead to a dead end and to failure, and I don't have time left for failure. I need—and not just for myself, but for my children, too—to find success. I need to act upon the feeling I had in that photo, the surety that I deserved the things I wanted and that I was smart enough to work for them.
Out of all the thousand choices I've made in my life that have brought me to this moment of deciding anew "what should I do with my life?", this one, this one matters most. (Just as, in their time, the other decisions mattered most.) I can't explain why, but I feel it: I am at a turning point, the sharp turn of a switchback that will lead me in a different direction. Am I brave, smart, and talented enough to take the turn? Or will I let fear leave me standing in stagnant ground, stranded with nowhere else but here and now for the rest of my life?