Regrets.

I wrote a few months back about the notion of regret, an emotion largely alien to me because I’ve not had too many ponderous moments of indecision in my life. On further inspection, it’s not clear whether this should be taken as a point of pride, as I had a difficult time coming up with more than one incident in which I felt I was actively choosing a particular path. Life often feels as though it is happening to me, or forcing my hand, or some such trope. Or maybe it’s that I am peculiarly self-assured in my decision-making and have therefore never truly grappled with irresolution? I can’t quite parse it out, but —

I can count major regrets in this life on one hand.

I’d rather not spend too much time dwelling on paths not taken, because, well, here I am and there I am not. And nestled among my daily litany of intercessions? Let me be present.

But.

Something Mary Oliver wrote has been nipping at my heels, in a chapter in which she describes “the responsibility” of living “thoughtfully and intelligently.” She writes: “To enjoy, to question — never to assume, or trample. Thus the great ones…have taught me to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always care-ingly.”

I am thoughtful by nature, and overly cautious, too. I fret (too much, I think). I do not bear criticism well, though this, in the end, serves me well, as I rarely make the same mistake twice and will carry even the most delicate of reproaches around for years. I remind myself daily to give others the benefit of the doubt when I am too quick to assume or write off or judge. In short, I think I share her idylls for a life lived “care-ingly.” But I realized the other day that I give little thought to “the other paths” I could have taken, the other “mes” I could have been, and sometimes I think this particular lack of introspection (more of a determined aversion, if I am honest, in part owing to my father’s frequent refrain to “keep on moving and never look back” — as he knows I am overly sentimental about the past) is unhealthy.

There are two regrets that surface when I stop to think, and both say a lot about my mindset these days.

The first is my immature, maladroit behavior over the course of the summer prior to my engagement. Oh, how I regret the many opportunities I lost to revel in the young love I shared with my would-be husband and other half that summer. One opportunity in particular stands out, and I conveniently omitted it from my prior post because it leaves me dyspeptic with self-reproach. The night after I threw my purse on the ground and stormed off in the rain, we attended the wedding that had brought us to Richmond in the first place. I was still seething with frustration and hurt. And that night, I would not dance with Mr. Magpie. I still remember the fleeting look of pain and disappointment on his handsome face as I churlishly turned on my heel, leaving him standing alone in his tux on the dance floor. I would give a lot to have that moment back. Because — to be young and unencumbered and in love! And to have lost even a minute of its glory! Shame on me.

The second is a more general feeling of displaced wanderlust. Travel is not in the cards for us for the foreseeable future, and I find myself wistful about the fact that we did not travel together more before we had children, as I now, rather morbidly, think that we missed our traveling prime. By the time our children are in their teens, we will be closing in on fifty, and gone will be the days (I predict) where we are drawn to the idea of traveling on a shoestring, which has always held its own brand of potent and alluring musk for me. I imagine a young Mr. Magpie and I standing underneath the aurora borealis, our breath heavy in the cold night air, or riding on the back of a precarious motorcycle on a frenetic street of Hanoi, or walking, wide-eyed, through a souk. I can already feel my more ambitious readers bristling against these maudlin thoughts: but you can travel with children! but you can still be adventurous in your fifties! but you will find time to travel once your children are sleeping through the night! but, but, but! I pray your counsel prove true and that we surprise ourselves by carving out a week or two of vacation, just the two of us, at some point in the next few years. But I do not think such excursions are likely. Is it pathetic to admit that we could not swing a weekend trip to Charlottesville with some college friends because we found that one month’s notice was too little? O.M.G. But there were long-standing doctor’s appointments, and the fact that we were going to be in D.C. the weekend prior, and the complicated possibility that I should just stay in D.C. during the intervening week while Mr. Magpie drove back up to NY solo so that there would be less car time for the children, but then my parents were scheduled to be out of town and I wasn’t sure I was up to spending a week by myself with the children alone in their house. And and and —

You see? I wish I were more spontaneous and less scheduled to begin with, but children take my overlogisticizing self to a whole new level and I actually stayed up in the middle of one night pondering possibilities to make that Charlottesville trip work. When I admitted this to Mr. Magpie the next morning, he looked at me with bemusement and then said, rather firmly, “Let’s skip it.”

I think we are in the “let’s skip it” mode for some time, something for which other friends have already scolded us, but — this is where we are. And so I regret not traveling more with Mr. Magpie, back when we were (more) footloose and fancy-free.

I am fortunate that these two regrets are relatively frivolous in the grand scheme of things, meaning that in both cases, no permanent harm was done. Mr. Magpie has forgiven me on the first count, and I talk often enough about that night where I declined his invitation to dance that I feel I am sufficiently penitent. And while travel would have enriched our lives, such is the concern of a very fortunate woman. (E.g.: “If only I could have seen the Northern lights,” she swoons dramatically, as her blessings pile up around her.)

But on further inspection, as I attempt to “think with patience” a la Queen Mary Oliver, I also realize that these two regrets are in some ways permutations of the same threadbare concern that eats at me on a daily basis: that I have lost an opportunity to spend my days drinking up the beauty and wonder of my loved ones, and in this case, of my primary loved one, Mr. Magpie. I wrote elsewhere that one life with him is not enough, and I now realize that my principal regrets in this life are a manifestation of that lachrymose observation. How much richer would I be had I danced with him that night? How much fuller would our lives together feel if we had gone on safari that summer, or visited Antartica when he had that chance, or driven to see Mount Rushmore when road trips were an easy-to-plan-and-execute affair?

If you are young and in love, please travel. Actually, if you are old and in love, please travel. For that matter, if you are young or old or in love or not, just travel. Travel when you can and as often as you can swing it.

And definitely take him up on the opportunity to dance.

Post Scripts.

+8 things I never travel without.

+A fun top for fall.

+There are a ton of fantastic Oscar earrings on sale at Neiman’s — these are ideal for a bride, and these are a perfect addition to any gal’s jewelry box for more formal occasions.

+I won’t soon forget…

+I have a Kayu tote similar to this (on sale!) and I wear it constantly when I’m without the children. I also get a lot of wear out of my Amanda Lindroth straw “Birkin.”

+Was at a loss as to what to send a good friend who has just bought her second home when I realized — I’ll just send her one of my absolute favorite home products, which is this hand soap. Who wouldn’t love a luxe hand soap in a new bathroom?!

+I did for a minute considering buying her this chic cookbook stand and a few of my favorite cookbooks, but she is one of those uber-minimalist people and I don’t think she likes anything on her kitchen counter…

+I recently shared a few favorite pointelle finds. This is another pitch-perfect piece. The unexpected color! The sleeves!

+These are in my cart, a feeble attempt at convincing myself to commit to a running routine. (I’m taking it slow…)

+This shoe silhouette has been everywhere this season. I think it started with Jacquemus’ architectural heels and then trickled down to lots of other brands, but I especially love the color and style of these (bonus: on sale).

+A great gift for a perennial list-maker like myself. (When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with “bullet journaling” using these less-fancy, gridded notebooks. That impulse has tapered off a bit since micro was born; now I just carry all of the to-dos in my disheveled brain. HA. I might make use of something like this…)

6 Comments

  1. I’m with Molly here — sending you empathetic hugs. I’ve had a couple of “refusing to dance” moments, and I cringe at the thought of them. But: be gentle with yourself, and try not to dwell on these moments! As for the travel issue, there will be plenty of time for that once you’re out of the newborn/baby/toddler haze. My parents didn’t take solo trips at all until we were teenagers (!) but we had so many fun trips as a family in those years, including over a dozen to Nantucket & Cape Cod. Those vacations are etched on my memory and my heart, and now my parents travel all the time now that my dad is retired. There will (God willing) be time for you & Mr. Magpie to travel! xx

  2. Something about this post just makes me want to give you a virtual hug. Not our of pity, but empathy. Of course one month is not enough time to plan a trip, you have a what, 3 month (maybe 4 month?) old and a toddler? And the thing is, circumstances change all the time. What doesn’t work now or what doesn’t seem feasible now might seem so in the future.

    I will say though, one thing I think that if people can they should do more is take a short trip sans children. At least 3 nights (one night to sleep, one night to hit the town, one night to chill/recover). Perhaps even just a long weekend in DC or Nashville or Boston or New Orleans or Charleston will let you capture that feeling of being young and in love, dancing the night away and hurdling down the street in a motorcycle — in essence, to feel free. Isn’t that what being young is all about? xoxo

    1. Aw – thank you. You are so right that circumstances change quickly and maybe in a year or even a few months from now, these things will be easier to swing.

      I love the idea of short trip without kids. We need to figure out how to make this happen. We’re already planning a trip for our ten year reunion NEXT summer, but hopefully we’ll get away prior…

      xx

  3. I so love how you write about your relationship with your Mr. Magpie, Jen!

    YES. I try not to have regrets in life, but not traveling more pre-baby is one of mine too. My husband and I were married for 6 years before we had our baby, and looking back, I think that we had all the time in the world! Then again, not really… as he was in a startup and I was in a doctorate program, so truly a different season of life. But now, planning for traveling with a toddler, it seems like I need to take everything but the kitchen sink! Particularly for international travel as both our families are in different countries. A lot of planning and logistics. Is it just me? (First world problem, I know)

    But… my parents are 75 and they travel every year. This year they have been/are going to New Zealand, Japan, and the US. (#goals)

    My other regret is not learning Spanish from my grandfather, who was fluent from childhood. At the time we were already learning two languages and I think the mentality in the past was that we’d be confused with learning another? Of course now we know better. I regret it now, living in the Bay Area. Not too late to learn!

    1. Thanks, Mia — glad there are others in this same season of life struggling with the same thing! You reminded me of something, though, that even though in retrospect it feels like we had all the time in the world, we were actually very busy with various time-consuming things that made travel difficult. Still. I feel we could have tried harder…

      xx

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