A Letter to my 21-Year-Old Self

Dear 21-year-old Tracie,

In 5 years, so many things will be different that you'll hardly recognize yourself. How could 5 short years change you so much you ask? Well, just wait and see.

You may think you're an adult now. But you're not. You so still have so much to learn. 5 years from now you'll definitely KNOW you're an adult. And guess what? Though you currently feel old to high schoolers, in 5 years you'll feel old even to most people in college. But don't worry. You may be an adult but you're still the same silly, playful Tracie you've always been. No matter how old or responsible you get, you still find the fun in life.

Speaking of fun, you know that guy you're dating right now? The one you told you could never marry? The one you weren't supposed to get serious with so you could go on a mission? The one you weren't sure you could ever love like that? Yeah, you marry him. In about a year. In a summer wedding. In June. Something you said you'd never do. Needless to say, the mission didn't happen. And you have mixed feeling about it. You won't regret not going, but you often wonder what if?

I know your mind is reeling right now. Yep, you marry Austin. But don't worry because you have absolutely no regrets. He is perfect for you in every way, even if you don't know that yet. And don't worry because it is 100% confirmed to you that he is the right one for you. And you get married in the temple. So good job there! Also, you will find a second family. I know your 21-year-old self worries about finding a family to marry in that you'll be able to be yourself. But don't worry. You will be immediately accepted by Austin's family and feel loved by them all. You will, however, feel sad that so much distance separates you.

In the next 5 years you'll accomplish a lot. You'll get married in the temple. You'll graduate from BYU with a BA in English, a minor in editing, and a decent GPA. This is a major accomplishment. You will be the first woman in your family to earn a bachelor's. You'll get your first "real" post-college job as an editor working for a fast-growing online university, which will have you commute 80 miles a day up to SALT LAKE for 9 months. (You get over your fear of driving on the freeway and driving in Salt Lake.) And you'll eventually get to work from home. Awesome, right? Not to mention, you'll also have a baby and buy your first home...in the same year. Craziness!

Speaking of having a baby, it will completely change your life. Being a mom will be harder than you think. You won't love it as much as you think you will. You'll have trouble relating to other moms. You'll have difficulty breastfeeding and go through severe postpartum depression. But don't worry because you'll get through it because you are stronger than you think.

Though you struggle with being a mom, don't worry too much. You love your son, whom you name Morgan Danger. Yes, Danger really is your son's middle name. Austin talked you into it. And you can't imagine a more perfect name for him.  He's the cutest, most adorable, most curious little boy ever. He makes you laugh. He makes you smile. You love him more than anything. Thinking of him makes your heart swell. You never knew you could love another person this much. He is perfect.

By the way, you'll totally reach your goal of a natural birth. Not only that, but you'll learn so much about birth and the state of the maternity care system that you'll become a birth advocate. You will read dozens of books, websites, articles, and blogs. You will subscribe to said blogs. You will create your own birth blog. It will become a passion and an obsession. You will become a verifiable birth junkie and your dreams of becoming a published writer (a dream since you were 8) will become less important to you than your desire to educate women and become a childbirth educator and a doula, a word you currently haven't heard before much less know what it means. More than a dream or goal in life, you will find YOUR MISSION.

But not everything will be peaches and roses. Unfortunately, one of your worst fears will happen. You know how you were never going to reach THAT weight again? Yeah, you pass it. Mostly due to pregnancy. But the baby weight doesn't come all off. So now you're the fattest you've ever been in your life. And you kind of hate yourself. And you miss your 21-year-old self's body A LOT. The good news is your husband will still find you unbelievably sexy. Seriously, you can't keep that man away from you. Even when you don't shower, get dressed, or do your hair or makeup. He's like in love with you or something. And this is very good for your self-esteem.

Speaking of your self-esteem, it's in a tricky place.You are more independent and more sure of who you are and what is important to you than ever before. But at 26 you are currently going through some major struggles. Your 21-year-old self occasionally struggles with making it to church and you find it boring sometimes. But by 26 you are inactive. Yeah, seriously. It doesn't happen all at once, you don't lose your testimony or get offended, but gradually your church attendance drops to practically nil. It happens at first because church is boring and so occasionally you miss a meeting or two but then you get pregnant and you get sick a lot and then church is too early or too late. And then you have a newborn and you hardly sleep and you're dealing with PPD. And then you move. And your new church keeps changing its time and location. And it gets easier and easier and easier to stay home, especially with a very active baby. Now part of you wants to get back to church and part of you is unsure. After having the baby, you change A LOT. There's some things you're just not as sure of as you were earlier in life. And there's a lot of things that don't mesh together. You're not sure how to be true to yourself and reconcile opposing viewpoints. You're still figuring it out.

Your 21-year-old self is a night owl. You love staying up late but it isn't really a big deal because you sleep in on the weekends and you still go to bed earlier when your body really needs you to. But 26-year-old self is participating in some pretty self-destructive habits. You haven't slept a full night in over a year. At first, this isn't your fault. But even after your baby starts going to bed earlier and sleeping through the night, you still can't get to bed. This is seriously problematic especially since you went back to work when your 12 weeks of maternity leave were up. Yes, you are a working mom. And you will probably be a working mom for quite some time as Austin is still in school. But you always knew you would work and be a caregiver. It's one of the reasons you went into editing, as you well know.

Your 21-year-old self loves living in Utah and can't even fathom the possibility of leaving. But, 5 years later, you'll find Utah stifling and you'll feel like a fish out of water. Yet you still won't want to leave because you love living close to your family, despite the fact that it's never been more apparent than now how different you are from them.

One of those things happens to be your political beliefs. Yes, you are interested in and follow politics now. You no longer call yourself a Republican, but neither are you a Democrat. You find both parties pretty ridiculous and divisive. You are, however, a liberal. And to you it isn't a dirty word. Though you prefer the term progressive. You have become a lot more open-minded over the last year. You have truly learned how to let people have their own beliefs, even when they differ from yours. Unfortunately, you have noticed that other people aren't so inclined.

Five years from now you will declare yourself passionate about feminism. You have always considered yourself a feminist. Even as a 11-year-old who declared, "Where in the Constitution does it say I have to wear a bra?" But only now do you truly know what it means to be a feminist. You have noticed how the patriarchal society is degrading and unfair to women (and to men). You don't believe gender essentialism, a concept you hadn't heard of at 21, to be anything more than a social theory. You are opposed to discrimination, prejudice, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and homophobia in any form. You also have a dream that one day people will not be judged by the color of their skin (or their gender or their orientation or their political beliefs or their age or their appearance) but by the content of their character.

Your 21-year-old self doesn't have many friends. But you do have one best friend. A friend you've been friends with for years and have shared pretty much all of your life with, all the way through elementary school to college graduation. But in the next year things will slowly start to change after you both get married. Then she'll move away and you'll cry and things will change even more drastically. And by 26 you won't even know where things are with this person anymore. You will cry more about this than any other single thing in your life. And you'll feel completely helpless to do anything about it.

On a more positive note, you'll become closer friends with Brittnee and get to know Matt, who will eventually become her husband. You'll rekindle friendships with Amanda and Lechelle. You'll get to know and love Brett and Charlotte. And you'll make new friends. You'll meet Charity and James, who will eventually introduce you to Brad and Shelly and Wendy and Jake. You'll also get closer to your younger sister again, who you now talk to every few days. These will all be answers to a prayer.

So in summation, the next 5 years will be mostly good for you. You will learn a lot, accomplish a lot, and change a lot. Life won't be perfect. There will be hard times. Unfortunately your 26-year-old self doesn't have everything figured out just yet. But don't worry. I will someday.

Yours always,

26-year-old Tracie

*Got the idea for this from The Feminist Breeder, one of my favorite blogs.

Comments

I was hoping there would be more insight on what you were like at 21. Maybe some "before and after" pictures would've helped. But seriously, i know this is long as hell but I could've gone for some more detail and explaining. What are the opposing viewpoints you are trying to reconcile? Why was Tracie at 21 so adamant against marrying younger Austin? Why don't you believe gender essentialism is anything other than a social theory? Why is the word "doula" so funny? Can you make a Tracie FAQ?

If I wrote a letter to my 21-year-old self the entirety would read "Stay the course, buddy! You're looking great!" OK that's not true. But it was the age where I started getting my stuff together.
Austin said…
Dear 21 year old Tracie,

I haven't stopped loving you, quite the opposite.

Give that Austin guy a chance, he's crazy about you and I think he might just be perfect for you. FYI you make him happier than anyone else ever has.
Tracie said…
Jake, those are all good questions. I didn't get into the nitty gritty details because, as you said, the thing is pretty long as is.

I'll do a before/after post with pictures as it's something I've been wanting to do for a while.

I will also write a post about why I told Austin I could never marry him. Some of the issues I have written about in the Tracie & Austin story. (I started writing out our story. So far it's a 3-parter and I'm not even close yet. I posted it back in 2008 I believe.)

The gender essentialism thing is a whole 'nother can of worms. I will be writing extensively on this topic on my other blog that you and Wendy know about.

The word doula is a funny word. It comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves."

I'd love to make a Tracie FAQ. If there's anything I like writing about, it's myself. ;)
Lechelle said…
Dear 21 year old Tracy,

Agt 26 when you go through self esteem issues, what you might not see clearly is that your friends haven't noticed a change in your beauty at all. They find you just as vibrant and gorgeous as always. They hear about you going through postpartum depression, breastfeeding issues, self esteem sorrows, and sleep issues, and they hurt for you and wish there was something they could do to help. I wish I lived across the street so I could come over and surprise you with a hug, take you on a walk with me, and bring you fresh blueberry muffins. Please remember that as you go through stuff you have a world of friends who care about you and are cheering you on.

love,
One of your Fans
Mark said…
Thank you for knowing you are part of a loving second family. We are so pleased that Austin found someone who loves him as much as you do (and we're quite fond of that Morgan dude, too).
I think you should write a letter from your 31-year-old self to your 26-year-old-self.
There was a note above my mission president's desk that said, "If you don't change directions, you'll get where you're going" - the first time i saw it, I was offended ("why are you telling me I need to change directions?") - then I realized that if I was going in a good direction, I should stay on that path.
Alice wants to come for a visit in early August.
Love to all.
This does make perfect sense. The person I was at 21 is so drastically different than me at 26. I am almost 36 years old, and again I am so different and many of my viewpoints have changed, again!
Shelly said…
I am so glad I got to read this! I wish I knew Tracie at 21, but I'm glad I know you now. :) Although it feels like we don't see each other as much as I would like. Can we remedy that?

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