[OPINION] Married at 23, mother at 26: A look back at my chaotic 20s

I remember the time when my daughter was still learning to walk. She would wobble, lose her footing and then stumble onto the floor. It went on like this for a couple of months until she was old enough to walk unaided and independently.

I am turning 29 in a couple of weeks and somehow I feel like on most days, I am my 8-month-old daughter, still staggering through life, unsteady and unable to balance the weight of my own being.

I was 16 when I left Davao for college. It was my first time to leave home, live alone, and subject myself to teenage liberation.

A friend told me that we should take advantage of our youth, and that our days should be spent doing something new. Every day, we did just that – we drank beers on top of cars, smoked weed on a church’s steeple, spent our last P100 on helix piercings, presented our reports with hangover breath, and fell in love with boys who promised that we'd to be their forever. 

The taste of freedom was overwhelming like I was living in someplace magical. It felt like these moments of happiness would last forever. A part of us foresaw the inherent consequences of our actions but nobody prepared us for the weight of it.

At 18, a friend died from drug overdose; another suffered a punctured uterus and hemorrhage from going to a backdoor abortionist; some quit college midway; and many went back home and broke the news to their parents that they themselves were going to be parents too.

By the time I was 21, I rid myself of all addiction but realized that I wasted two years of my life investing in an unhealthy relationship – the kind of relationship so toxic and abusive that I swore off any possibility of romance in all forms. But it is hard to break off the habit especially when I treated love as a solution to make sense of an all-consuming void. A month after the breakup, I was again dating and two weeks after I turned 23, I got married.

I would like to think that I got married because I was in love but in all honesty, when you are 23 years old, sometimes what you think as lasting love is almost always a thinly veiled fleeting passion.

For marriages to last, it has to be bound to something long-lasting and not just tied to promises and zeal that would only burn for days.

The relationships we form in our 20s is crucial. It is where we get our sense of community, purpose, and identity. We lose pieces of ourselves in the relationships that we're tethered to and gain a new set of perspective from the people who surround us.

With youth comes the naivety of thinking that I only need one person in my life. When I got married, I thought my husband was a special snowflake in a field of cookie cutters. But later, I realized that him alone was no longer healthy. Like in all aspects of growth, I needed a community to challenge me; the ideas from family, opinions from friends, judgment from co-workers, goals from classmates, and even discourse from strangers helped me in terms of healthy mental and emotional development.

I moved to Japan at 25 and had a two-month-old daughter by the time I turned 26.

Becoming a parent was a big shift in my life. I was a mother 24/7 for 365 days; it was something I could not escape. It forced me to renounce certain personal goals and pleasure just to make sure that my daughter has stability and security. My life after having a child is a blur of playdates, first experiences, patience, affection, and parent-teacher meetings. 

Motherhood for me is cathartic. My daughter makes me want to evaluate my own life and inspect closely the demons that I have been hiding in the secret corners of my mind. It sounds cliché but she makes me want to be a better person, to analyze my self constantly, and to look through the kitsch and distinguish the quality in all aspects of my life. Most importantly, she is teaching me the value of impermanence – to love someone who you know will eventually leave you.

Next month, I will turn 29 and in all honesty, I thought by now I would have figured out what I want to do but on most days, I feel like I’m sleepwalking, just waiting for my own oblivion. 

The years just flew by and I forgot to look for myself in my 20s. I have many things I wish I figured out before having a husband and a kid. The responsibility of tethering myself to relationships requires a great chunk of me that I am still not prepared to let go. 

I think there is an inner 16-year-old in me who refuses to accept that I have succumbed to the humdrum noise of domesticity, to living in the city and actually planning for the future. Sometimes I still think about the comfort of chaos – quitting my job, blowing off our savings to travel the world, and leaving behind all obligations. The temptation for self-destruction can be appealing especially when happiness is not guaranteed and even when our lives are bound to virtue and morality. 

But life is always about choices. It does not matter what I think about but on which thoughts I act upon that will ultimately determine my life. I know I am not alone in being dazed, confused, and struggling at 29 but there is courage in every moment that I make the right decisions. 

I treat my birthday as a form of annual rebirth and allow myself to shed the skin of my past self.

In a few weeks, there will be a cake with my name on it. I will be 29. I don’t know who I am or what I want to achieve. I still haven’t accomplished the bulk of the things that I want to do and I don’t know if I’m ever going to.

At 29, what I only know is that I am a mother, a wife, and the rest, I only pray that I will live long enough to figure it out. – Rappler.com

Kala Gabriela Largo is a freelance ghostwriter currently based in Osaka, Japan.