**I received a complimentary copy of 29, by Adena Halpern, from my friends at From Left to Write and while this post was inspired by the book, I have received no compensation for it. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are all my own and are not necessarily endorsed by From Left to Write or the author of the book.**
I have often thought about what I would do differently over the course of my life, if I had a chance to go back and do it over again. Adena Halpern's heroine, Ellie, in 29 got just such a chance. I really enjoyed reading the book, but even more than that, I enjoyed a meander down memory lane and a mental do-over just to see how things might have gone had I made another choice at several crossroads in my life. And if I had that chance, would I get to have the benefit of knowing what I know now? THAT would make a big difference. What age would I go back to? Which choice would I get to undo? It really kind of opens up a whole bunch of other questions, doesn't it?
One of my big regrets that I often think about was my decision to quit the job that I loved when my first child was born. I was a cargo loadmaster in the AF Reserve, and I LOVED my job. I oversaw cargo loading and unloading on C141 jets, and flew (literally) around the world as part of my work. My crew and I would leave our base, fly somewhere and pick up a load of stuff bound for somewhere else, fly there and download it. Sometimes we'd stay there, or sometimes we'd go and pick up another planeload of stuff somewhere else. Sometimes we just flew passengers (usually troops or military family members) and sometimes we flew aeromedical evac missions. We worked hard and played hard. We stayed hotel rooms in beautiful places sometimes and we stayed in tents in scary places other times. I have been all over Europe, several Middle Eastern locations, Asia, Central and South America, the Pacific Rim. I have pictures of myself on horseback at the pyramids in Egypt, and outside of centuries-old German castles, and on the beach in Hawaii. My very first mission, my "dollar ride," went to the south of France. I have a collection of t-shirts and souvenirs from all over. We used to call them "MAC treasures," MAC meaning Military Airlift Command. MAC is no more; the name is gone, but the mission of military airlift moves on, just under a different acronym. There certain things everyone bought in certain countries. There was the black soap from Spain, the wooden chests from the Azores. There were Persian rugs from Kuwait and leather purses and jackets from Turkey. In Korea, you could buy an amazing array of embroidered things: what we used to call "morale patches" for your flight suit, helmet bags that were bigger than the AF issued ones with your name and your wings sewn right on. Bag tags with anything you wanted embroidered on them, in any color you wanted. I had blue ones with my name and my wings, and Snoopy the Flying Ace on mine. Most of my friends were flight crew members also, and so was my husband. My whole world was on that airplane, for the most part.
And then, there was Moe. Sweet little Moe, precious baby, forced me to re-evaluate what was really important to me. I believed, right up till the moment I said, "I can't," that I would take some time off to be with him, and then I'd pack my bag for a short 3 or 4 day trip once in awhile, keeping the best of both worlds. I'm a notorious fence sitter...my butt is perfectly made to get real comfortable up there. My boss, Chief H, was as patient and kind as he could be; his first grandchild was born close to the same time as Moe, so he got to live through his daughter's pregnancy and mine almost simultaneously. He said, "Take as much time as you need. Your job will be here." Until he couldn't anymore, and he called me at home and said, "It's time for you to make a decision. I need to get you into the training schedule." As I was talking to him, I was sitting in Moe's room, watching my four month old baby boy sleeping peacefully, and I just couldn't bring myself to say, "Put me in, Coach." Instead, I said, "I don't think I can, Chief."
I had made my back-up plan and lined up another job that did not require me to travel. And as much as I loved the folks in that office, the first day I set foot in there, my heart sank and I knew that I had chosen wrong. It was a no-win; I didn't want to leave my baby, but I wanted a job that made me feel good too. If I was going to leave him to go to work, even part time, hadn't it better be worth it? But I was stuck with the decision I made, and over the years, I think I have made the best of it. After Moe came Larry and Curly, and today, flying is certainly out of the question altogether. I'd have been able to fly for maybe another year or two, most, anyway. I have discovered other things I love doing and my military career marches on. To a different beat and at a different pace, to be sure, but still it marches on. I am still friends with some of the same people, and I am still married to the same guy, so I have done pretty well in keeping the best of both worlds.
But....given the chance, would I go back to being 29 and making that decision over again? I don't know that I would decide differently. I had parents who weren't there when I was growing up and as much as I loved my job, I don't think I could have done it with my whole heart anymore. The minute I left the local pattern, I'd have been itching to get back home and get my hands on Moe. Where I used to identify myself as an AF reservist, a loadmaster, a flyer....now I identify myself more as Moe, Larry and Curly's mom and Captain America's wife. I am still an AF reservist and proudly wear the uniform (although it's not a flight suit anymore) and I wear other hats too.
I talk to my friends who are still flying and tell them how I still miss it, 11 years later. They ask me, if you could go back and change it, would you?
No, I still don't think I would. I would be tempted, seriously tempted. But I'd have to say that I love my life and if I had continued to fly, who knows what it would look like? No, it was a really hard decision that had some long lasting ripple effects, and I often wonder, what if? Given the chance, I still feel sure I made the right decision for me and my family, no matter how hard it was at the time.
In the book 29, Ellie gets to do some similar soul-searching, but you'll have to read it to see where her heart lies :)