This is an uncomfortable post to write. Its difficulty comes from the fact that most anything is hard to write if you don’t know what it is that you want to say, and that is the only way I can approach answering the question posed to me this afternoon.
She asked it as we sat having a coffee. She’s asked it before but never so bluntly and I suppose it had more of a sense of urgency and authenticity to it because I am the age that I am. By the time she was twenty-eight my mum already had her house, a husband, two children and was balancing a career while planning to set up her own business.
It is hard not to feel a failure in comparison.
Of course I am not alone in feeling this way. None of my close friends are married, have children or a house. Most of my friends aren’t even earning enough to set aside the money to begin saving for a house. The rest of them are too busy forging careers to have time to even think about beginning to save for a house. There are those who us who lived through the Irish recession and see all houses as haunted and ownership as an omen.
Though we are the generation whose childhood was hugged close by the Celtic Tiger, we are the teenagers and young adults for whom life unexpectedly threw emigration in our paths thanks to the global financial crisis.
We graduated secondary school in 2008 at the fever pitch of the economic recession, which hit Ireland particularly badly. Almost everyone I know has spent time abroad; at the time when I left, emigration didn’t feel like a choice you could ignore but a very popular and realistic option against a life of social housing or worse, living with our parents.
Let me get this straight though – I don’t regret leaving. I am all that I am because I boarded a plane in 2013 and naively arrived in Spain to my first post-graduate employment.
Had I never left Ireland I most likely would have followed in the footsteps of my parents. Because I would never have allowed myself to “fail” by moving back to the village, I might have worked two or three jobs in any industry just to maintain buoyancy. I imagine I would have found solace in a relationship and in the dream of a family and babies.
As it were I found myself in Barcelona having fun. As someone who takes even passing comments extremely seriously, this was a revelation. There was no sense that there was something missing from my life and even on days when I felt lonely, my mind never once visited a place to examine whether or not it was the lack of a family plan or a partner that was the cause of this.
To say that my years in Barcelona were selfish would be an understatement. I might write about it in more detail (if anyone is interested). My life truly revolved around me. At that time there wasn’t the same mainstream culture of self-love as there seems to be now and more than once I was accused of being selfish when I returned to visit Ireland.
As I write this I am smiling to myself while asking myself have I really changed so much since then?
One of the great pleasures of my life is that I do feel free to change it. While working does hem me in somewhat, I have managed quite well to feed that rebellious streak so often peeking out from behind the curtain of conformity. If I want to do it, generally I go and do it. (Disclaimer: sometimes I make terrible mistakes).
It is probably my own fault that mum asked her question. I know I have talked to anyone who happens to be within earshot about what I feel I should have achieved by this age and being here in the village makes it no easier to avoid this type of thinking. The urge to compare my life then and now and what might have been is so achingly simple to do.
But when she asked me I could feel a smile like the one I just gave myself in writing this on my lips. Do I want to give up the life I have now?
My boyfriend and I have had evenings together in our various apartments (we don’t own them of course, we are millennials) dreaming of where we can go or how we could suddenly change our lives. Most of those conversations have turned into plans of action, one of which has led him to a retreat in India and me to the floor of my childhood bedroom writing a blog, obsessed with stats.
The hardest thing in life is to know what you want and I am no closer to knowing now at the end of this post than I was yesterday. However, ironically mum’s very private question has put me in a good mood.
It was as if I needed someone to ask me whether I even want children so that I could remind myself that in not having what I think I should at this age, I have actually stayed true to that side of me that whispered once in 2013, take a chance and just go; it’ll be an adventure.
(it was, it was, it was)
Of course maybe mum knew what she was doing when she asked. They do tend to have that kind of super power. I wouldn’t mind having that.