Having a child affected my ability to travel back in time, and not for the jokey “time traveling with a child is difficult” reasons like “hahaha if we go back too far dinosaurs will eat him!” or “who likes traveling to before disposable diapers???” or “I HATE CARRYING TWO SUITCASES AND A BREAST PUMP THROUGH THE RENAISSANCE.”
I am talking about the actual type of time travel people do all the time. Here is a true story:
Recently someone told me about how years ago she and some theater friends went to see the musical In the Heights and afterward met Lin Manuel Miranda (who, if you live under a rock/are my dad) is now the creator of the popular musical Hamilton. And Miranda and the cast were super friendly and said, “Hey, come out and do Karaoke with us!” And the woman and her friends said, “Oh wow, that would be so much fun, but we can’t because we have to get up really early for work.”
“We’d love to do Karaoke with you, Lin Manuel Miranda, but we have to get up early for work.”
And when I heard this story I dug my fingernails into the wood of the table and asked, “WAIT, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? WHY WOULDN’T YOU JUST QUIT YOUR JOB???” and she said, “WELL YES, OBVIOUSLY I KNOW THAT NOW.”
That is the sort of time travel I am talking about and I used to do it all the time. Some of my favorite things to go back and change were:
1.) Any time between the years 1990 and 2005 when I’d go back in time and make myself get a flattering hair cut because yikes.
2.) To my junior year of High School when I avoided applying to certain colleges in which I was interested because I was certain I wouldn’t get in. (PLEASE PLEASE NOBODY ELSE DO THIS)
3.) To the time in college I should have applied to the semester abroad program but went, “Yeah, but it’s sort of expensive and I’m sure I won’t totally regret not going for the rest of my life, so I won’t go,” and didn’t go.
I had been traveling to these places for years. And when I went back I always, always, changed things for the better. I made it through high school without being ridiculed (OMG, your hair looks great and totally not like an electrocuted pile of computer wires!) I apply to tons of great colleges and they all accept me despite my grades because my essay is so fantastic. (Insider tip: I also go back and make my essay fantastic). I go to Europe with my friends and have an amazing time and never once regret spending the money.
And then I had a kid.
And your children, in case you have never sat through a 7th grade health class, are created in a very specific freak instant. The moment this one specific sperm meets this one specific egg. So if you go back in time and change anything—your haircuts or college applications or (should you be given the opportunity) your Lin Manuel Miranda friendship status—the odds that you will still create the exact child you created is infinitesimally small.
It is almost nonexistent.
And so each time you go back in time and think about changing something, you are accepting that in this new fake future you create for yourself, your child does not exist.
And so I have stopped doing it.
It didn’t happen overnight. For a while I would still find myself drifting back in time and wishing I had ended some relationship earlier or started doing stand-up when I was younger or fixing one of the millions of other things in my life I wish I had the chance to re-do. But as I’d stand there in 1999 or 2003, telling the hairdresser, “Ok, so this time around make me look less like Princess Bride-era Mandy Patinkin and more like someone who isn’t laughed away at job interviews,” I’d realize that whatever change I was making wasn’t worth wishing my child out of existence. So I stopped.
And spoiler alert, it’s wonderful.
Not that there aren’t still things I wish I had done differently, because of course there are. But because having kids leaves me with so little free time, it’s silly to waste what little I have mulling over the past when I have the future to think about.
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Breastpump photo credit: cherrysweetdeal
In case you were considering buying the book but hate when your links are too straightforward, here’s one additional link to buy the book disguised as instructions on how to fix my printer: HEWLITT PACKARD TROUBLESHOOTING/HP ENVY 7640
Best of luck moving forward in the new year