A dear friend of mine has just sent me a link to the webpage of the house that she and her husband are buying. She pregnant with her fourth child, and they need a house that is big enough to accommodate their now large family. I looked at the webpage — it is a stunning, 5 bedroom, thatched house — an old converted post office — in one of the nicest (most expensive) neighbourhoods in the area where we used to live. It has big inglenook fireplaces, a private garden, and the village has sweeping views across the Vale. The asking price is £500,000 ($1million).
My friend and her husband are a few years younger than I am but, in every other way, we are contemporaries. We have the same level of education, similar socio-economic backgrounds, and she and I are now both SAHMs to young children. In many ways, we have led similar lives. And yet, she is in the position to spend half-a-million pounds on a house and I am not even able to afford a starter home — something around £120,000 — and so have had to move back to the other side of the world in order to make ends meet.
And whose fault is that? Mine. I have made bad choices in my life. I chose badly in university when it came time to picking a major. I chose badly when I decided to follow my heart and move to Britain — accepting a go-nowhere job in order to make it happen — instead of putting my nose to the grindstone and building a career. I chose badly when I married a man I shouldn’t have, and then later divorced him (statistically speaking, successful people marry once and stay married). I chose badly when I fell in love with a lovely-but-unambitious man who was also divorced, with two children to support, on blue-collar wages. I chose badly when I missed my chance to buy a house in England back when houses were affordable. I chose badly when I decided to have babies while we were still renting, and then when I grabbed at redundancy after our first daughter was born, because it gave me enough money to stay home with her for a few years, even though I didn’t know what we’d do when the money ran out.
Where we are financially is my fault. This mistake in my taxes is my fault — my oversight — even as I was trying to be a wise steward with our money and do right by my family. I have made all our financial decisions, and so I have made all our mistakes. I look around at our friends and it kills me. They are all in the position — financially, career-wise — that you’d expect someone to be at our age, while we are still flailing around aimlessly like we are in our early 20s.
I had enormous amounts of promise. I had every opportunity that everyone else had — more — and I blew them all. While everyone around me was working hard and turning chances into stepping stones, I was being lazy or stupid or both, and grabbing at whims and dreams. The future felt like forever and there was time enough… plenty of time… I would make up for lost time later, somehow.
When I told my mother about the tax situation yesterday, she was shocked, and then wonderfully sympathetic. She hugged me while I sobbed on her shoulder — me embarrassed, she happy to play the role that I rarely indulge her in these days. I was struggling to keep things straight in my mind — I told her same things over again — and she listened patiently through it all. Then she suddenly smiled to herself, laughed, and said, “Oh, but you’ll write a book about this and make millions!” like none of it mattered because I am so special that I could turn straw into gold if I wanted. It was absolutely the wrong thing to say, though I knew the whole time that something like this would come, sooner or later — my mother’s soaring expectations for me always do, regardless of how inappropriate, regardless of how catastrophic my current failure may be. I hated it instantly — hated the endless faith that she has, the faith that I’d learned, and which had taught me to believe, erroneously, that I would always pull it all off in the end somehow. Her blind faith suddenly brought my failings into painfully sharp focus. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want it! The tears were hot in my eyes, my mother’s image blurred before me, and I hissed, “Mother, stop it! I am not going to write a book! I am not going to make millions! I am ordinary! JUST ORDINARY!”
But if I were ordinary, here in my late 30s, I would own a house. I would not be an economic refugee, starting over and taking my last chances to put things right. I would have married once. I would have had a decent career before I had children. I would be worried about soccer uniforms and whether the curtains should match the couch, not exchange rates, copays, and tax bills of my own making and startling proportions.
How can I regret my wonderful husband? How can I regret my beautiful children? I can’t. But my many many mistakes… oh, I regret, I regret, I regret.