The Obligatory Letter to my Younger Self

My nephew Evan turned ten yesterday. Despite having my sister for a mother, and me as an uncle, he is turning out surprisingly well. In fact, he is probably the prototypical ten-year-old. He eats all the time, plays video games, is a regular customer of the tooth fairy, and his stock answer for any question beginning with the word why is “I don’t know.”

As he lives almost as far from me as one can in North America without being an Eskimo, I only had the chance to talk to him on the phone, rather than wish him a happy birthday in person. Listening to the litany of gifts he received sent me down the kids-today-have-it-easy section of memory lane. A hundred dollar video game gift card, another for twenty-five, plus his parents had let him take a long weekend from school starting on Thursday, the whole family piling into the car for a road trip culminating in an all-you-can-eat dinner topped off by an ice-cream sundae at a Rocky Mountain hot spring resort known as Radium. Saying he made out like a bandit is understatement.

I didn’t hike up my belt then lecture him on how I was lucky to get five dollars in a birthday card, or how I had to go to school no matter what day it was, trudging uphill through the snow both ways while walking backwards. I did mention having an October birthday was much cooler than one in mid-December, when your relatives tend to give you one gift for both your birthday and Christmas. Not that I was jealous or anything, It was only because kids today should know how lucky they have it. Yeah. That’s the only reason.

Evan also mentioned he went swimming in the hotel pool. My sister had told me he was taking lessons. Children in my family are late bloomers when it comes to buoyancy. I think I learned to swim when I was eleven or twelve. Before then ,I would sink like a stone. Keeping your head above water is more important in the literal sense, rather than the figurative, when you’re a kid. You only look cool walking around on the bottom when you’re a Pirate of the Caribbean.

Of course, I also asked if he had checked for grey hairs, now he had aged another year. He insisted he didn’t have any, nor any plans on what to do until he turned eleven. And that’s the way it should be. Despite the modern educator’s attitude, kids should not be setting goals for themselves until at least high school, and if you can put it off until your senior year, even better. You may think you have everything planned down to the slightest detail, but growing up is the process of continually discovering you aren’t as smart as you thought. Life should be enjoyed, rather than fretted over, for as long as one possibly can.

Which is why, despite toying with the notion, I decline to join the recent trend to write a letter to your younger self. Oh, it might have been advisable to ask ten-year-old-me to set up a Facebook event for 28 August, 2015, reminding fifty-one-year-old me to look both ways before crossing the street, but it would have been too complicated explaining personal computers or social networking to a kid with only a black and white television before there was even cable.

I could have passed on some excellent advice, it’s true. Like don’t let your angry mother drive a wedge between you and the rest of your relatives so you lose touch for half your life. Or, when your little sister tries to talk you into cutting her hair in a few years, don’t do it. Fifteen-year-olds do not make good hairstylists.

These are mistakes I could have avoided with advance notice, but how would that have affected my life? Would I have come to Florida, crewed on yachts, and traveled to countries like Mexico, England, Spain, and Portugal? Or beautiful islands like the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Azores, Ibiza, or Margarita, off Venezuela? Would I have gotten to play hockey with Rosaire Paiement, or worked for NHL charities, getting to meet boyhood heroes like Phil Esposito and Mark Messier? Would I have served on the advisory board to a county commission, while working my way out of homelessness by helping others who were on the street? Probably not.

In talking to a friend recently, the subject of whether the struggle was worth it was raised. If a higher power, whether it was God, Allah, or Martha Stewart, had appeared to me while I was in a coma after my accident last year, offering me the chance to keep going knowing what was in store, or simply call it quits with no prejudice attached to the choice, what would I do?

From a personal standpoint, getting out of bed, or a chair, then needing to walk the equivalent of a few city blocks before my ankles and calves loosen up sufficiently for me to get around comparatively pain-free, and less like I have two wooden legs, is not ideal. Nor does a complete recovery look to be in my immediate future. But if that’s the price for the opportunity to watch Evan grow into a young man, and maybe get another crack at my sister’s hair, I’m happy to pony up.

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