From Our Readers
Updated July 20, 2015 5:04 am

As I was driving away from a friend’s house last night, I saw in the distance a familiar looking playground, attached to the school where I attended Kindergarten through third grade. Something in me told me to stop and take a look around.

The nostalgia filled me the instant I pulled into the parking lot. All at once, I was nine again and could see the boys running in the field playing tag and football. I saw the little table topped with orange slices that we would have during field day. I remembered staring at my untied shoes under the covered picnic table the day I got a time out because someone was talking to me in the recess line. I heard the cheers coming from our made-up band on the grassy area behind the building.

It seemed so foreign, yet so familiar. The last time I was here, I was 16 and made it to the parking lot. I didn’t even get out. Maybe I was scared of what the memories could bring back, or maybe I just didn’t really care about the memory. But on this warm, spring night, with a snow cone in hand and a golden sun setting in the distance, something felt right. Something felt magical.

The first thing I noticed was how small everything seemed. Back then, I swear the field was a mile long, and the playground was eight feet above my head. But yesterday, the field was merely a little square of grass, and I towered over the purple, above-ground tunnel in the playground.

The gravel crunched under my feet as I slowly made my way toward the monkey bars that sent me to hospital when I was seven. My teachers were so scared that I had a concussion because I hit the back of my head pretty hard against the wooden platform. (I didn’t have one.) I placed my foot on the same unsteady step that I had traveled upon 18 years prior. I had to duck to go onto certain areas, and the wooden planks of the playground creaked under my worn sandals. I couldn’t help but be overtaken with pure gratitude as I sat down near the slide. I let the warm breeze brush against my skin, and I breathed in my surroundings.

When I attended school there, I had many dreams of my future. This was the age of Britney Spears, Lisa Frank, and scrunchies. I made it a personal mission to become Britney-famous by 15. I received my first real journal at the age of seven and wrote in it daily. I’d write songs (you know, for my Britney days), rhymes, and my feelings. I had a major crush on a boy named Cliff and dreamed of being married to him forever. I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a lawyer, and a singer. I wanted to be a cheerleader with a football-playing boyfriend. I wanted a little apartment in Manhattan where I had my own fashion line and a little teacup Maltese named Bella. I wanted to be famous, appreciated, and loved. I wanted to feel special.

I didn’t think about the fact that things don’t always go exactly as you imagine them. I never realized that Cliff one day would move away. I didn’t know that I’d stop having those dreams of being a teacher, vet, and lawyer. My cheerleader dreams were over when I fractured my wrists at 12. No football-playing boyfriend materialized.

But sitting in the playground, I was so grateful for the fact that nothing went according to my plan. As painful as some of my experiences have been, they have all defined me and molded me into exactly who I am today. Just like the playground, every place and experience has built me into this person.

The dreams I had when I was in elementary school probably won’t be a real part of my future, and I’m glad. I have new dreams. I have experiences that changed the way I think about life, I don’t think I was supposed to become any of those things. I think I was supposed to fall, time and time again, so I could pick myself back up and become exactly the person I am today. Tomorrow could be a completely different playground teaching me a completely different story. That’s okay. That’s life, and that’s the beauty of it. We’re always allowed to adjust our dreams.

Erin Hinkle is a 25-year-old Texas girl, born and raised. She loves glitter, anything bright, cheerful, and yellow, and is queen of awkward. She is currently in the process of writing her memoir and is the author of the blog,

[photo via iStock]