Tuesday, July 30, 2013

She's 17 going on 35

Psalm 146:3-4 (NIV)

Do not put your trust in princes,
   in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
   on that very day their plans come to nothing.
I’m almost comically behind on my newspaper reading. I slipped before our vacation earlier this month, and the trip only increased the backlog. But I’ll never recycle an A&E section without first reading the comics and the Ask Amy advice column, written by Amy Dickinson.

It was my job to take Max in for his allergy shots today, so I grabbed some papers to read during our 30-minute wait. The first Ask Amy I reached, from July 24, hit me like a large quantity of something heavy that would make a serious impact on a human body. Here is the first letter, in full:
Dear Amy: I am a 17-year-old woman.

I do not want children and cannot picture having any. I am a very bright student with a lot of drive and a full college scholarship waiting for me next year, so it is safe to say that I am taking my life and future career to a far higher level than the ordinary stay-at-home mother.

I have decided I want to have surgery in order to guarantee against ever becoming a parent, and yet family and friends scoff at me for making this decision.

I know that numerous men and women out there have found their children to be the light of their lives and have no regrets (even if the children were not planned), but parenthood is just something I do not want. A baby is not going to make me happy. I am going to be the one to make me happy.

How do I show to the people I know that, although I am young, I am not going to change my mind on the baby subject tomorrow, next month, next year or even when/if I am 35 and single?

If I ever really do want a kid of my own, he or she will be an older adoptee, and I will have lived a pretty fulfilled life; I'll be financially and emotionally ready to give that child everything they need. How can I convince people I want to be surgically sterilized?

— Of Sound Mind
This letter reinforces two things: One, I am richly rewarded for my commitment to Ask Amy. Two, as much as I fancy myself a professional newspaper writer, I could never, ever do what Amy does.

I didn’t even get past the sentence without shaking my head. “I am a 17-year-old woman,” she wrote. No you’re not, I thought. You may be 17, but that does not make you an adult. I know what I thought about myself when I was 17, and by the time I was, say, 19, I realized how foolish 17-year-old me really was — to say nothing of what 22-year-old me thought or 33-year-old me thinks.

So it came as no surprise the rest of her letter came off as someone who sorely lacks the perspective age provides. In her first full paragraph she details her grand ambition while also belittling any parent who stays home to raise a child. I can only hope this young lady is not the product of a household with a stay-at-home parent, and that she does not air her opinions in front of stay-at-home parents, most of whom can quickly cite the things they once prized but set aside to make parenting a top priority.

The rest of the letter was less offensive to my senses. There are young people the world over on the brink of high school graduation who have no plans to ever be parents. They are entitled to that opinion, and I’m generally glad they see life that way because I don’t think 17-year-olds make the best parents. But most of those kids are able to take the “I don’t want kids” belief and append a “right now” to allow for the possibility their priorities will evolve.

Were I to meet this lady, I wouldn’t even mention her thoughts on parenthood. They are hers and hers alone, and far be it for me to tell anyone else what to do when it comes to bringing a new life into the world. I absolutely don’t want advice on the subject, and I intend to return the favor by keeping my mouth shut.

Ultimately, it is complete folly for anyone to decide at 17 what they will care about when they are 35, no matter if the subject is kids, careers, place of residence, amount of time devoted to baseball and video games, you name it. Change is inevitable. I’m about to be 34 and even I don’t have absolute certainty about my mindset at 35. The ability to evolve and grow is one of the best things about being human. Once you start closing your mind to possibilities, there’s no telling what rich experiences you might be eliminating in the process.

I won’t repeat all of Amy’s response, but I was really impressed with her conclusion. Again, it proves why she’s a “can’t miss” and why I’d never be right for her job:
“One sign of womanhood is having the strength of character to hear, tolerate and perhaps even be influenced by other points of view. You need to relax, take your time and work on growing up.”
I wish someone had been so direct with me at 17 — and if they were, I wish I’d been wise enough to listen.

A prayer for July 30:

Lord, thank you for giving me the chance to learn, grow and change with each passing year. I am glad for the freedoms I had when I was younger and the lessons those childhood experiences taught. I also am satisfied with the way age and perspective have enhanced my appreciation for the people who put so much effort into seeing me safely into adulthood. Please give me the tools I need to shepherd my children through the choppy waters of youth, and bless them with an appreciation for the love that surrounds them. Amen.

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