Saturday, July 24, 2010

High School Reunion: Past Meets Present

Dear Friends,

What is it about reunions that brings up so many mixed emotions?

I just found out that my high school is having a multi-class reunion (Classes of 1980-1990), to be held in merely two weeks.

For some reason, I would like to have had this news several months ago, in order to adjust to the idea. Why? What is the mental adjustment I need to make in order to feel entirely comfortable and joyous about the occasion? What would a few months buy me?

I have to admit that part of it is physical appearance. I'd love to slip into the perfect little black dress I wore to my 20-year reunion, but after bearing and nursing two children within the past five years, that just ain't gonna happen. For the record, the shoes don't fit, either. And, when was the last time I wore heels? (I actually do know the answer to this: it was for an audition two weeks ago. But before that...?) Can my usually barefooted or sandaled feet still balance in heels? Anyway, I doubt I could have successfully whipped this tired, mothering body into some svelte, pre-mommy, size 4 form in time for the reunion. Isn't "curvy" the new black?

But why does that matter anyway? High school is such a depressing breeding ground for judging people on appearances. Brands matter. Perfectly feathered hair (in the 80's) mattered. Designer jeans, tasteful rainbows (might that not be an oxymoron now?), the cool car, the unblemished skin, all of these physical, superficial things seemed to matter a great deal. In what? The high school pecking order?

Thinking of a reunion brings up all kinds of insecurities. Am I attractive enough? Am I cool enough? Am I athletic enough? Am I funny enough? Am I talented enough? And add to that now as an adult: Am I successful enough?

And the social aspect: Will people talk to me? Find me interesting? Will the cool kids still hang out together, or will boundaries have been loosened between old cliques? Will I be able to drop my former ideas of who my classmates were, and embrace you they've become? Or, is it better and more realistic to merely add information via this fresh reunion experience to what we already know about each other?

Here is the really cool thing at the bottom of it all: There is a freedom in reconnecting and nurturing those "old" high school friendships. These people know me. I mean, we were together many hours every day for years. Believe me, these friends have seen me at my worst and best. Silly, crabby, moody, funny, hurt, in love, out of love, rejected, admired, thrilled, defeated, triumphant--they've seen it all. There really is nothing to hide from these people. I couldn't possibly, because they know my roots. We know each other's roots. And through it all, we had each other's backs. And actually, we still do.

One undeniable bond was sheer survival of our institutionalized education. Now, pretty much all of us survived high school, and some of us even thrived. But there is a unique bonding that occurs when people are thrown together in such challenging circumstances.

Part of the challenge is facing who I was at 17, and who I am now. Have I fulfilled my dreams of my youth? Am I proud of where I am in my life right now? Does my adult self live up to the expectations I had over 20 years ago? Could I have pictured myself as the adult I am now, when I was only 17?

A major discovery I've made in the past several days since finding out about my reunion surprises me: I am excited to go. Despite the insecurities, the musings, the uncertainties, the anxieties, I am really looking forward to being there. I love my friends. I love myself, both the teenager and the woman I am today. I love the memory I have of the freedom I felt at 17 with my whole adult life ahead of me. I had none of the kinds worries I have today (oh, a couple of examples: Will the kids get sick again if I take them to the Hands-On Museum? How will I ever get the entire house cleaned at one shot? Will my husband and I return to weekly date-nights at some point? Will I remember to introduce myself as "Carrie," or will I slip and say, "I'm Mommy.")

Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly had plenty of worries at 17 (college, moving, grades, deadlines, performances, major life changes, graduation). But there was a feeling of optimism, invincibility and energy that I'd like to introduce back into my life now as a middle-aged adult. Reunions are a good reminder for self-reflection: particularly seeing yourself through your classmates' eyes. And as adults, I believe that is a good thing. I am filled with goodwill toward my friends, both their teenage selves and their current adult versions, whom I can't wait to see.

So, if I had more time to prepare for the reunion, it would be for emotional rather than physical reasons. Now the anticipated anxieties seem rather trifling: How do I encapsulate 20 or so years of life past high school into palatable sound bites for cocktail conversation at the reunion? Eh, I know how to cover the highlights. Those who are also parents will have common ground for relating. I'll be armed with photos of my family on my iPhone.

Speaking of photos: May I just add how helpful Facebook is at times like these? Now we can browse each other's walls, photos, and information, which really lessens potential shocks of what we all look like now vs. our 17-year-old selves, and covers a lot of ground about kids, cities, partners, business ventures, etc. Facebook provides a foundation for conversation, actually, as long as you do your homework.

With Facebook lessening the chance of those embarrassing, "I don't recognize you!" moments, it also affords an opportunity for a little pre-wiring. We can message each other, maybe lay the groundwork to skip small talk by establishing an online connection, and you can even ask your friends what they plan to wear.

I'll be proudly wearing an updated Little Black Dress, celebrating my current Mommy curves, rocking sensible heels, and having a marvelous time re-connecting with these dear old friends who know me intimately from my formative years. I trust we will have no trouble quickly and easily catching up, laughing over old times, reinforcing old bonds and forming new ones. This will of course lay the groundwork for the next reunion 10 years down the road. I should have plenty of time to get ready for that one.