I wish I knew then what I know now

While having dinner at my mother’s house on Saturday night I got to catch up with my sister’s two oldest children. Her oldest, Mariah, is almost 15 and sometimes I think she was sent to the wrong person because in every way she should be my kid. We have the same build, the same mop of hair on our heads, and the same tendency to mumble our words so that we always sound like we have a wad of chewing tobacco the size of a grapefruit tucked in our lower lip.

Mariah also takes her schoolwork way too seriously much like I did when I was her age, and I often want to pull her aside and tell her that it’s okay to relax. But I know that even if I did she wouldn’t be able to understand it or accept it. My physics teacher in 11th grade once yanked me out of class to give me a lecture on the fact that because I had made a 98 instead of a perfect 100 on a test I was still an okay person, and I didn’t believe her. I was so obsessed with perfection in my schoolwork that anything less was an indication that I would end up homeless or in prison, or worst of all a person who grocery shops in her bare feet.

The joke was on me, wasn’t it? Because even though I graduated at the top of my class I still ended up becoming a person who carried around a sockless baby in public. I know in my heart that I became that type of person because of that one time I made an A minus on a trigonometry test.

My other niece, Meredith, is 13 and is completely opposite from Mariah and me. She’s going to be much shorter than Mariah and has always been refreshingly carefree. She’s also been confident in her decisions since the day she was born and as a result doesn’t care if she brings home a C in math class because hell if that is going to stop her from conquering the world. Where Mariah is the one hoping that she’s doing enough to make it to Heaven, Meredith is the one wondering if when she gets there any of the angels are going to be cute.

Throughout dinner on Saturday Mariah had a look of panic on her face, a panic I recognized in my bones, and it turns out that later this week she has a geography test that is going to require her to draw the entire world from memory and name every country. I know that between now and that test she’s going to spend every minute worrying about it. Meredith, on the other hand, was having a hard time coming up with a fifth item on a sheet of paper that had the word GOALS written in very round letters across the top. I told her I’d help her but that I needed to see the other items to get an idea of what she was looking for, and this is what she showed me:

1. Learn backhandspring
2. Exercise
3. Earn some money
4. Learn how to do hard stretches

It still amazes me that such different people were born into the same family, and even though my automatic response was to want to say something sarcastic, like, you know, some people could accomplish three and four at the same time, I just smiled and said, “I think your list is perfect as it is.”