[29] 29 Lessons

Well. That's it. Today is officially the last day I'm 29. Tomorrow is 30, and that's been the whole point of all of this. 

Can I be really honest with you? I, the girl who wrote this series because she could not wait to turn 30, have been having the teeniest bit of a freakout this week. For just a minute, 30 seemed like a very big, very adult sort of number; and the list of very big, very adult sort of things that I've done or have planned to do seemed too small by comparison.

But when I really started thinking about this whole series, all the things I learned in my twenties, and this last and final word that I'd purposefully saved for today, I remembered that a milestone is not a finish line, it's a marker.

It will all keep changing from here.

Here's why I think we freak out over 30: I think it seems like the end of youth. Maybe it is with certain youthful definitions; but nothing has to end as we grow older. We imagine that adulthood is a certain kind of finality, but we never arrive. Life keeps moving and so we keep growing. There will be joys and sorrows, lessons to learn and lessons to teach, more stories to share than we could imagine. 

It's easy to get so wrapped up in a numbers game, but really life is a very fluid thing. No two lives look too much the same. We all take our own time and our own way getting from one point to another. Some of us never see the same things as someone else. But it's still a life, moving by, and we have only ours to live. Maybe turning 30 is a mile marker I'll remember. Maybe it's a bend in the track and the landscape is going to change soon. (Or, I guess it has, large cross country move considered and all.) Or maybe this year will be like other years that haven't seemed monumental, but when I take the time to think of what I've learned, it's still been incredibly important. 

After all, 29 was the year I had to alter my book writing plans; the year my kids turned three and one, moving me totally out of baby status; the year I battled anxiety; the year I chopped off 11 inches of hair; the year that I contributed to a magazine launch; the year we sold our little bungalow; the year we road tripped 2,000 miles and moved to the city of my dreams.

Twenty-nine years, 29 lessons, and the point really is, nothing stays the same. And I will choose to make that uncertainty the exciting part and I can't wait to see what's past the mark. 

[28] 29 Lessons

Don't forget about self care.

I am not high-maintenance in the bathroom. I'm a lover of dry shampoo, hater of face make-up. Before children were my alarm clock, I would leave myself 15 minutes to roll out of bed and sort of work with whatever was going on that morning. And I suppose that's the luxury of being 16 or 18 or even 21. You can get away with it when you're creeping further into your twenties. Somewhere around 26, I think I decided that might not always cut it any more. 

Hmm. Let's see. 26. Did I have a major life event at 26?

Ah yes. Since becoming a mother, my once shirked bathroom time has become sacred and holy alone time, amen. Peeing on your own is a major accomplishment. But carving out some time in front of the mirror where you don't share your makeup? Or finishing a shower, even SHAVING YOUR LEGS all the way up? Those are celebratory events. And after children, as my face and body transformed and I tried to gracefully accept wearing life on my skin, I started to pay a little closer attention. 

But this post isn't about a beauty regimen. It's not about preserving your outward beauty or the look of youth. It is about self care, and how, as women age, we allow this practice to take the back seat to a million other things. We tell ourselves that it doesn't matter or that we're being sacrificial or that it's not worth it. 

It is worth it. It is worth it to do something that makes you feel beautiful. It is worth it to create boundaries of space and time, finding some of both that are yours and yours alone, where you can do something that's just for you. It is worth it to realize that when you are feeling your best, you respond to others with your best. Self care isn't vanity--it's the pursuit of excellence for yourself as much as it is for what the world sees.

I'm also not just talking about your face or your hair. To me, those things are important because I want to feel confident. I want to know that I've taken care of myself. I splurge on my favorite lotion because I love how it makes my skin feel. I run a bubble bath most Sunday nights to unwind and detox my body. But for me, self care also [greatly] includes the caring for my psyche. I'm an emotional mess sometimes, guys. Self care extends beyond the products I use or routines I adhere to, and it demands I also use some of that alone time to quiet my heart and sort through my head. 

It's weird to get older and have to think about things like how many times in a week you can reasonably eat ice cream; or that you need to remember to use toner after you wash your face; or that you can't keep going from thing to thing to thing without stopping. It's one of the hard parts about aging, one of the few things about thirty that I wasn't looking forward to. Still even though it's an adjustment, it's a good one. Strange as it seems, this one was one of my most valued 29 lessons. It's not any deep epiphany; it's really pretty basic. But it is the important realization that no matter what phase of life I'm in, I matter, in all aspects. I should care for myself so that I'm at my best for my family and friends, yes; but mostly, just because I'm me, and that's worth nurturing. 

[27] 29 Lessons

Find a balance.

You'll notice I didn't get this posted last week.

When Friday morning rolled around and I hadn't done it, I vowed to use my Sesame Street time to get it finished. But then I didn't, and so I promised I'd write it on Saturday. I didn't do that either. Squeaking in on Sunday night though! And okay, I get this is a blog and I can really just write or not write whenever I want and it doesn't change the course of fate or life or even your day. That's just an example.

That's an example to say, sometimes I have bad days. Sometimes the bad days are days when something actually really bad happens. But you know, most of the time a bad day is just more like a blah day. You wake up and you are so mad you can't keep sleeping and you run out of coffee cream and have to use regular milk and your kids are arguing and your body doesn't want to move and you're thinking "What on earth am I going to do today? Because I don't have the motivation to leave the house but if I don't leave the house I WILL LOSE IT!" Also, on those days, you write run-on sentences. 

When I first picked this topic for this week, I think I assumed I'd write some basic post on finding balance in all parts of life. And while we all need some perfecting in this area, when I really thought about it, I realized that this wasn't the lesson for me in my twenties. I didn't have to learn that it was important to balance my different roles and tastes and goals with each other and reality. I already knew that and the task was instead trying to put it into practice.

What I did have to learn (oh, and especially since kids), what I've had to learn to balance, is that some days I will fail miserably at this, and failing miserably isn't an excuse to spiral wildly out of control into imbalanced oblivion. I am a human--and at that, a female, mothering, married one--and so it goes to say that I'm going to have a bad day. They're allotted to us. Some days are just pajama days, and even when you don't feel great about it, it still feels so good to do it. 

Life can't and shouldn't be a constant striving. I really do want to work hard toward things, to live with excellence, to be my best self; but sometimes it's important to get back in to life perspective and understand that it's just simply not roses all the time and that needs to be okay. Even when you've moved to the greatest city in the world, if you still want to take every Monday to laze about, maybe accomplish some laundry, but mostly just watch princess movies in yoga pants, I say, hey! That's fine. It's probably a better balance to allow those things than to push for perfection and accomplishment in every waking moment (and then some, because I actually have been trying to sleep better, which just sounds funny to say but I will admit to you is true). 

I guess my point is, finding a balance shouldn't be another item on the checklist. Finding a balance should be about identifying your crazy, and then allowing yourself to swing the other way now and again. Of course we all hope to fall somewhere in the middle, but we are a more interesting species than that, so I know you've all got crazy. Go with it. And then go with the other end. And then spend the days in between remembering what it feels like on both sides and finding those balanced vibes somewhere in the middle.

[26] 29 Lessons

Accept your quirks.

I have ridiculously stumpy toes, moderately stumpy fingers, and pretty stumpy legs that sort of turn out in a weird way.

I have a gap in my front teeth that didn't close even after braces.

Sometimes I snort when I laugh.

I make really stupid and completely not-funny jokes when I am nervous about being liked in front of people.

I straighten the books on our bookshelves at least once a day.

I have an immature aversion to squishy foods, but most especially peaches.

I can listen to the same song over and over and over again until I'm sick of it, and, in turn, I will sing one little part of it over and over and over again until everyone else is.

These are some things about me. They are things that have always bugged me about myself, but I can't or won't do much to change these things. Maybe other people have these traits and maybe they don't; but they certainly are an inherent part of what makes me me. These are my quirks.

I think one of the major reasons that I couldn't wait to turn thirty was because it's the magical age when you're at ease with yourself, apparently. Though I've acknowledged that these and [many, many] other things are a cohesive part of the "Sarah package," I've not really accepted all of it. My self-confidence moves in inconsistent waves, and I can't really seem to drum enough of it up when faced with these things about me, these quirks. 

Until recently? Is thirty really the magical mile-marker? I don't know. But suddenly, I'm just like, "Dude, it's a thousand outside and I'd really rather wear those shorts I bought than care about my knee fat, you know?" And Iris has the same front tooth gap and suddenly it's like this brilliant beautiful thing that we share; I love it now. 

I don't know if it's turning thirty or just making it through so many other things on the journey here, but I'm starting to see why women say they feel so at comfortable with themselves as they age. At times, the maturation process has struck me in a negative way and I start fearing the signs of age for a minute; but then I realize I'm only afraid of losing this person that I've become more confident living inside. I won't lose her. I'm going to continue to grow into her. 

It's like the things I started to think in my head five years ago--I'll wear what I like, I'll speak my mind, I'll seek the things that make me happy, I'll learn to love wholly--are finally making their way into my heart. They've moved from a thought to an action because they are becoming a part of me. I can dress myself in a way that makes me comfortable and be proud that I feel like me instead of worrying that I'm not trendy enough or the right body-type for skinny jeans and crop tops (because, seriously?). I can not only speak my mind but also admit to not knowing something or not liking something; and if a person thinks less of me? Well, that's on them. I have people who love me and I know who they are, just like they know me. I'm starting to trust that this adult life I envisioned is a good one and really ought to make it happen without questioning whether or not it's right or wrong. It's my happiness--not a selfish one; it's like destiny. I'm making life with people.

What I'm trying to say is, whether it's admitting that I will probably always struggle with biting my nails or really doing something, finally, without worrying about the opinions of others, I'm feeling able to accept myself. I don't know if it really does take age to accomplish this; I hope my girls find it sooner than thirty. But thirteen or thirty, accept your quirks. They are yours and that's amazing. 

[25] 29 Lessons

Have dreams and daydreams, and learn the difference.

So, I spent the first half of my twenties succumbing to the type-A-ness of my personality that demanded A PLAN for all things, all the time. I wanted to devise the clearest line to the most logical career choice in the most accommodating place, so that I could live-out all the other pieces of the life that was meant to result from that hard work and planning. Get it? And, of course, we all know that this blog is the record of how everything delineated from that plan and became completely wonderful anyway.

If the first half of my twenties was about convincing myself that my plans were my dreams, I think a large part of the second half of my twenties was about dreaming big, big, big to make up for that lost time. I became worried that I'd missed the mark somehow, like if I'd just felt differently about it all and therefore done things differently, I might have stumbled upon some big missed dreamy opportunity. (Ironically, both my plans and my dreams landed me in [sorta] the same place eventually, so trust your heart, you know?)

The problem with trying to force yourself to dream instead of just dreaming is that you might get lost in a dreamy haze. Are you following this here? I would move from thoughts like, "If I could do anything or go anywhere, what would I do and where would I go?" to literally constructing outrageous fantasies about a girl who was just simply not me. I suppose this isn't so far-fetched an exercise for a writer, and quite honestly, I think ridiculous daydreaming is a fun pastime for anyone. The problem was, such emphasis on a mental pursuit of my dreams coupled with an onslaught of free time to let my imagination run wild, and suddenly I couldn't tell the difference between my dreams and my daydreams.

By allowing the two to marry, I set myself up for a different kind of failure. I was trying to figure myself out and chase after the thing that would make me happiest; but then my brain lost that me-pursuit chasing unreal versions of myself down a million hypothetical life paths. I would lose sight of the dream and instead fall into deep remorse over who I was not instead of celebrating finding the pieces of the real me. 

You know how I said that eventually my plans and my dreams sort of landed me in the same place? That you have to trust your heart? Well, that rigid, regimented Sarah may have had a stick stuck you-know-where, but there was some method to her madness too. Even then, I think I still felt heart-led. Maybe I didn't allow room for life to work its magic, but I was still learning to trust that pull you feel when your spirit is drawn to something. I'm glad that I have [kind of] learned to let go and let life reveal my dreams to me; but I also see the value in having learned to set goals and boundaries and execute a plan. Dreaming is a beautiful thing, just like life is a beautiful thing; and they both must reside in the this thing the world calls reality.

What I realized is, dreams can absolutely be reality. That happens every day. And daydreams, while they are wonderful and occasionally purposeful and fun, might not be a reality. They both have their functions, but also their places. I'm learning the difference between the two and understanding that we all have thoughts that cross our minds that are only that--they are things not meant for this lifetime. That doesn't make us uninspired or unambitious or fearful. Actually, it makes us wonderfully imaginative and creative. We're daydreaming up things beyond ourselves, and I think that's an important call upon any human heart. 

But don't let your daydream cause you to lose sight of your real dream, your calling. Carve out time for your fantasy to unfold; but don't let it consume the time meant for you to live out that dream that's really yours and completely and totally within your reach.

[24] 29 Lessons

You are not your own.

If you've ever held a toddler while pooping, nursed while dusting, or awoken to a foot directly in your face, then you know what I'm talking about: You are not your own.

If you've ever rolled your eyes at pants hanging on the wall hook, wanted the car armrest to yourself, or have longed to just watch that dang chick flick on Netflix, then you know what I'm talking about: You are not your own.

If you've ever wanted to pick the happy hour spot for once, wished you could be the star instead of the wingman, or hoped to learn the ending of a book by actually reading it, then you know what I'm talking about: You are not your own.

And how often do we just yearn for these moments where we have our own blocked out space--physically, emotionally, spiritually? As a self-proclaimed introvert, I have learned that the best way for me to recharge is to carve out the coveted "me time."

Yet.

If you've ever longed to be needed, hungered for human touch, or been excited to share your latest epiphany with someone who will listen and care, then you know what I'm talking about: You are not your own. 

We are beings designed for community and connectedness. If we were created to live in love, it stands to reason that we need something--someone--to love. While a healthy balance in all relationships (friendships, marriages, parenting) is essential for the sake of, not only both parties but the functionality of the relationship itself, the point is we need it to exist more than we need our space. And though you can find yourself irritated over the tiniest things living in close quarters with a guy for the rest of your life, don't forget how your heart so deeply craved that simultaneous romance and comfort before he came along. 

Then the kids. Oh, the kids. My kids and I have certainly had our fair-share of togetherness time in the past six weeks. We are attached at the hip all hours of the day while we adjust to this crazy new place. But come fall, it will be time to start talks and tours and interviews for sending Iris to school, and just last night I recounted to Trevor all the overwhelming emotions that brings with it. Can it really be time? Can't I just keep her here with me?

In the good times or the bad, it comes down to one simple fact: We are not our own. Even if we chose selfishness over love and skipped town leaving it all behind, the consequences of that decision would play out forever and ever, ripples effecting people we never dreamed might be touched. We try to live singularly and we cannot. 

So whenever you feel yourself desperate for alone time, take it, for sure. But also remember that to not be your own means you are not alone, and we shouldn't want to have to go it ourselves. 

[23] 29 Lessons

Fall in love again.

I had this thought the other day about Rapunzel. Like, of course she fell in love with the prince! She'd been trapped in a tower for most of her life and he was the first person she had ever met besides her kidnapper. I mean, the odds were pretty in his favor.

I dated a bit in high school and less in college. I always got bored, and once I realized I got bored, I just sort of...quit dating. What I'm saying is, I didn't acquire a lot of real serious relationship experience before I met the love of my life. Trev and I met and married quite young. Did you know I take flack for that sometimes? Like because I met the perfect man at 21 and we've been happy ever since I actually have nothing real to say about love and relationships? This accusation has been brought against me more than once.

The thing about Rapunzel and the prince is that you don't know anything of the story outside of the honeymoon phase. I mean, what happens when he rescues her out of that tower and suddenly she sees this big wide world out there? The prince was good when he was all she knew. Does he remain "the one"? 

I married a Prince Charming. And he has continued to be a Prince Charming all of the days that I've known him. And while he is a knight in shining armor (because I think you can be a prince and a knight? Can you? Well, he is.), I entered into this relationship on my own accord. He chose me and I chose him and I like that about our love story.

But whether or not he was the 100th man I loved or the first; whether or not I met him at 15 or 55; whether we stayed locked in a secluded tower or visited every city on earth, sooner or later there's going to be a time to choose. We choose to love. You might think that sounds unromantic, but I say it's the most lovey-dovey thing there is. I married a man who chooses me every day even though he knows that girls do poop and that I'm super cranky almost every morning. 

The point is, I realized, that when you make this choice, sometimes it comes easily and sometimes it is harder, even if you don't know why. But by realizing that loving is choosing, you grant yourself this wonderful opportunity to fall in love over and over again. Every time you do, every time you make the choice and then you are reminded of why, every time your heart goes soft again, your love grows stronger.

By the time I turn 30, I'll have spent just shy of ten years with a man that I love. I know that's just a fraction of the time that we'll have together on this earth, but already I have fallen in love with him multiple times. Settling down doesn't mean that you've experience that feeling of falling for the last time; it just means that you don't have to seek it out in strangers or unknown places any more. Instead you choose what you already know is good and right for you and you learn to love it more and more in new ways every day.

If you haven't found Mr. Right in your twenties or thirties, or heck, your forties and beyond, I think it still applies. We all have to keep our hearts soft. We all have to make choices. We all have to believe that love can happen again and again. So whether it's loving the one you're with or waiting to turn the corner into the man of your dreams, don't forget to fall in love again. 

[22] 29 Lessons

Be moved.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a writer is to encounter an emotional situation that cannot be captured with words. There are feelings so strong I only wish that they could be whittled down into sentences and paragraphs; I'd write pages upon pages if I could ensure to get it just right. But some things are simply felt and never explained. 

Though the phrasing escapes me, these moments are some of the most beautiful and vivid memories. They are the moments I hope for in a day. They are listening to a song and feeling the lyrics are simply your heart's poetry set to music. They are watching your baby sleep and sobbing at the sight of it. They are sitting on top of a mountain, far above the rest of the world where no sound or bad thing can reach you. They are memorizing your lover's face. They are finding yourself in a swarm of people and loving the rawness of humanity. 

What I love about beauty is that it can truly be found anywhere. To be moved isn't so much stumbling upon the right moments as it is softening your heart into the right position. To be moved, we must be vulnerable. We can't be too set in our ways or too keen on only one thing. To be moved we are open to the literal gorgeousness of life that swirls around in everything, every day. 

Once you realize what beauty is, you get addicted to it. You seek it out. See the world; taste its splendor; smell the air; listen--like, really listen--for the music and laughter and wisdom. When you are moved, maybe it's you and a million other people. Or maybe it's you and only you, like you're living a moment the was designed for just your very soul and that's it. Try describing that. 

Or don't. Learn to surrender to the pull and get swept up in it, and then store it away with the delicious knowledge that you lived those seconds or minutes or hours where you truly experienced something and you weren't distracted by trying to contain it. 

[21] 29 Lessons

Have a hobby.

Once you are done with school, you are instantly less exposed to variety unless you make a conscious decision to be. I attended a liberal arts university, and I didn't even realize at the time what a gift it was to study so many areas of interest. When I started working, I actually did get to use my degree; and it was about that time that I also started blogging and writing on my own, just for something to do. 

For a writer, it can be really hard to draw lines around "work" and "play," especially since I freelance now. More time obviously is dedicated to being a mother; but as much as it can be really hard work to be a mom, when I think of "work" I think of my writing. Yet when I have time to myself, even with no deadline looming, I eventually find myself in front of the computer, typing away or reading a blog or listing things I might want to write about. When I realized how much my work blurred into my play, I also noticed that I wasn't feeling relaxed. Just because you enjoy something honestly doesn't always mean that it's relaxing you. 

So, throughout the years, I've started cultivating other interests. I bought an old sewing machine, learned to use it a bit, made up some creations for my girls. I finally decided that I'd rather learn French over Italian and I started studying withDuoLingo. I forced myself, at least one nap time a week, to sit down and read rather than doing anything else. I started trying to make breads and even helped in the garden from time-to-time (though I have a grave fear of killing all green things). 

Some of that stuff I'm good at. Some of it is just a way to pass the time or a means for feeling more well-rounded. But that's really the point of a hobby, isn't it? You have to step away from work now and again, even if it's your passion. And when it comes down to it, I want to be a person of multiple interests. I want to feel interested and interesting. 

Our generation's culture is very focused on equal parts work and play. We thinks we've consciously chosen to avoid workaholism by selecting work that is fun and that fulfills us--by turning our interests into income. Though the method is a bit different, the mentality is quite the same in that we're actually working all the time, and I don't think that's healthy. I want to enjoy the art of resting and in doing something for the sole pleasure and purpose of doing it. And I'm trying to cultivate this skill now, not only to broaden myself, but so I'm more inclined to act this way as I grow older, teaching my kids to do the same. I don't want to resent my work because it's consumed me; and I don't want to resent myself for not learning things that "I always wanted to..." but never did. 

[20] 29 Lessons

Be content.

There's this Fray song I like. The gist of it is the quest for happiness and that we always expect to find it in the big moments. But one of the last lines of the song says, "Happiness is a little more like knocking on your door--you just let it in."

Why are we always trying to chase happiness? We act like happiness is some mythical, elusive feeling that we should be striving toward, or heck! Working toward. "Make your own happiness," or something like that. Isn't that what Pinterest says? And for awhile, I really bought into this idea, even if subconsciously. I just kept trying to move all the pieces into place to create what I assumed would be "happy." Newsflash! That's really unfulfilling.

Happiness is instead wherever we are. Happiness isn't a goal; it's a choice. We choose to be happy by accepting and loving what we're thrown into the middle of--even if it's not what we were planning or what we thought we hoped for or even if we don't believe it will make us happy. No matter where you are, if you let it, happiness will come. This iscontentment. Contentment is the happiness that comes from simply being and appreciating.

For me, the major thing has been disconnecting contentment from complacency. Since I was so set on working toward happiness, assuming it was something I built, I falsely believed that to really settle into a cozy, happy feeling was lazy? That's crazy! But contentment isn't settling for less and it doesn't mean we don't hope and dream and work. It's realizing that life moves in seasons and that we can find joy in all of them. It's keeping perspective--and not allowing your happiness to be conditional. 

Working for joy is an easy trap to fall into. I recognize I'm susceptible to it, and yet I still do it. But when I think about the most joyful moments of my life, they're always those times when I was content with myself and my life and my surroundings. They are the times I chose to appreciate and love all that I'd been given in that moment, without worry about whether or not it matched some vision or even happiness in the conventional sense. Those moments are so vivid, so profound because they are pure and unaffected by future or striving. I didn't have to do anything to get those moments, just answer a knock at the door.

[19] 29 Lessons

Be simple.

Clothes on a clothes line out back. Few ingredients slowly cooked on a stovetop. Picnics in the park for the day's big outing.

One of my bigger surprises in growing up has been the continued draw toward less. I don't think I'm alone in this. Many of my peers seem to be catering toward simple palettes, a return to whole living, minimalist spaces. The idea of simplifying is a constant topic of conversation. We crave fewer things of truer value. There is peacefulness in this material simplicity. I'd love to have few well- and ethically-made pieces hanging in my closet and splurge on the best quality foods and home goods to eliminate clutter and worry. 

But I think we all expect to have nicer things as we grow older. That's one of the perks, right? This growing up into a life. What I've noticed more is the shift in my thinking. Oh, but I used to be so complicated! Everything was a drama even when I liked to pretend that I wasn't "like that." Everything required noise and discussion and too much thought. Everything had a million jigsaw pieces I had to put into place.

Of course it's not completely reasonable that life becomes black and white as we get older; but as I've come to admit that black and white are what I love to wear most, I've also learned it's how I like to think most?

Now hear me out. This particular post isn't about morality, and I'm certainly not enforcing my black-and-white on you. It's more about coming into my own enough to decide what my personal blacks and whites are, and not really being deterred from that no matter what. The reason this is simplifying is that I'm reducing the influencers. And I'm reducing numerous strivings. And I'm reducing the need to fill space all the time so that I can have it all/find it all/do it all/see it all/be it all.

For me, this process of reduction has been like discovering that fudge recipe. Four ingredients, all pure and whole and relatively healthy in their own rite. It takes a little work on the front end, but the end result is something so sweet and rich, it's better than that fake stuff loaded up with multiple forms of sugar and words I can't pronounce. Make sense?

And so as my mind has started working this way, it's been spilling into my lifestyle. It's choosing the white t-shirt even though I already have three (and my mom says "A girl can never have too many white t-shirts" anyway). It's loving the fact that I haven't had a microwave for years and that we prepare our food slowly. It's the real and true root behind all of my natural posts and making a journey back to the heart of things. It's a solid belief in the idea that God probably never intended for us to make things so, so hard and realizing that He gave us everything we need when He made this earth. It's a process I'll probably never perfect; but it is something much more fulfilling to work toward than to head for the other end.

I'm so thankful my heart was changed in this way before we left for New York. We're in a booming city where you decide from the beginning, "I won't even try to keep up with the Jonses," because you can't. And I realized before we arrived, that's not what I want anyway. I want to keep my eyes on what is pure and whole and simple. I want to be simple.

[18] 29 Lessons

Set goals.

What it is, is that most of my twenties have been learning about the necessity of "going with the flow." Life happens, guys. It's good to be surprised. It's good to be flexible. It is essential to survival to give into the rhythms of life and your surroundings and to find yourself in it rather than above it, or (worse yet) behind it trying to force it all somewhere.

But.

As an all or nothing sort of girl, there have been times in this decade where I've tripped and fallen into some pity party holes. Things don't go my way and so I resolve to surrender fully unto life, which is the fancy way of saying I decide to float aimlessly.  It's the dangerous side of flexibility--bending over backwards and, generally, away from what we always wanted.

Dreams are important. They exist in our heart for a reason, and it's good to remember that they were divinely granted us. They're our secret or not-so-secret reasons for living, for getting out of bed in the morning. Dreams are inherently human and worth pursuing. So in the midst of learning to let life just come at me, I had to train myself to not lose hold of goals in the onslaught.

Perhaps the important part for me has been the paring down of goals. As life happened and my attention and energies were divided, it became essential to pick and choose what I pursued. It was frustrating, at first--the realization that you just can't do everything. But then suddenly, it was freeing. My soul finally felt invested in what I had decided was most important to me. I wasn't flitting back and forth from interest to obligation; rather I was pouring myself into the things that I chose.

Now, when life happens, I let it. And since I've let go of the everything I was holding on to, it's easy to keep a tight grip on those one or two things I've decided make me most me. And it makes the steps more clear. "I'm here. I only want to accomplish this. With what I've been handed, this seems like the most logical way." 

The good news is, goals can be just as fluid as we should learn to be with life. I've been pleasantly surprised to feel like I've gotten somewhere with something that is maybe totally different from the place I pictured, but it's success all the same. The point for goals is direction and focus, elements that come from knowing ourselves and from making decisions to become something rather than everything. 

[17] 29 Lessons

Age gracefully.

I always imagined that by the time I reached 65 or so, I'd be this delightful older woman with the best outlook on life. I see the then-me as peaceful and at peace, content in my world view and settled with the way I'd lived my life. I considered [few] wrinkles and gray hairs as almost cute tokens of how well I'd lived and loved and learned.

To be honest, in the last five years or so, I've been brutally confronted by my own vanity. My body has stretched to absurd proportions to grow and birth two (large) humans, and as the count of nights with broken sleep rises, so does the purple underneath my eyes seem to darken. And while I'm not old by any means, when I look in the mirror, I can also tell how I'm not quite young any more either.

It struck me that to become this older woman living in my future brain, I might need to become her now. Her carriage is bolstered by her general life outlook, and I'm not certain I share that outlook right now. I think grace is something that develops with time; and so if we hope to be graceful about certain things in the future, it stands to reason that we must be graceful now. "Age gracefully" isn't merely something we advise middle-aged women to do so they don't attempt too much plastic surgery; it's a mindset we should all adopt. Why? Because we are all always aging.

It's easy to apply this concept in terms of physicality, yes. Eventually, even sooner than we might have imagined, we face changes in our appearances. Perhaps some are welcome--things we've been waiting for! Like the mom who finally has boobs once she's had a baby! (I was hoping to be the mom whose boobs went away after she had a baby, but alas.) More often, however, will be those tiny things, only noticeable to us, that suddenly really do feel like a clock running out. "Ack! A forehead wrinkle! Why didn't I listen to my mom about furrowing my brow?!"

The point is, aging began at birth, and the only way it stops is when we die. That's just a matter of fact. So if we want to be the kind of people who wear our age well later in life, we had better be the kind of people who wear our age well now. I'm really ready, with 30, to cast of this yearning to go back to youth. Go back where? I hated high school! And okay, college was great! But that time of life was also exhausting. I'm kind of feeling peachy right where I am. That's going to come with a forehead wrinkle or two, and definitely with some weird, stretched-out stomach skin that cannot be crunched into place. So be it. 

Because aside from the startling physical stuff, there is some aging that's taken place inside, and I like it. I like being an old soul grown older. I like what it's done for me in terms of perspective and opinion and simply how I live my days. When I think about my mom, I always think of her as graceful. (Don't roll your eyes, Mom!) Everything she does is with a soft touch, even the way she holds a pen or how she puts on her shoes. It always seemed to be so real and considered. I want to be that way. I want to be that for my girls. I like that life has slowed down enough, in my age, to recognize the importance of this. Maybe the only thing I do all day is make macaroni and cheese, but I'm going to do it well, with intention, with grace. Twenty-year-old Sarah might have dropped her jaw at that sentence; thirty-year-old Sarah is proud to have written it. 

These are my real goals in aging gracefully: To come to terms with the physical changes (as I've written about before); but more importantly to allow this place in life to define how I move forward and how I think about who I want to be.

[16] 29 Lessons

You're not 45 yet.

Well, I'm super excited to write this one today, because it is now officially six days before I pack into a U-Haul with my husband and two toddlers and move to Brooklyn. And though it's been a very calculated decision and there have been grown-up matters to discuss, there's still this exciting element of suddenness to it. It's been a whirlwind, guys! We are here and in a week we are going to be there

I think one of the reasons I loved imagining being 30 when I was younger was that it seemed very adult. Like once 30 was reached, I'd feel established and mature. Then the closer I got to 30, the scarier that thought became. Partly, I was getting the sense that maybe I didn't want to let go of youth. And also, I was nowhere close to that picture I had in my head--I was worried I wasn't going to make it to where I was supposed to be.

I'm sure everyone has an "adult picture" in their heads. In fact, I know we all do because we're all sitting around talking about the tangible steps we're taking to get there. And I'd be sitting there too, listening to these conversations thinking, "I'm just treading water here!" Was I doing that because I wanted to slow things down or because I just had no other choice but to wait? I don't know. Probably a little of both.

It's been lately that I realize how incredibly young 30 is. We have so much ahead of us still, and I'm glad that I recognize that so that I can enjoy it. The twenties have graced me, thank God, with the wisdom of presentness. Maybe 30 doesn't have it all together like I imagined it might; but what does it have instead? Why it still screams of youth! And if I don't have that I thought I'd have by now, well, that's something that I still get to look forward to! Looking forward to things means I don't have to worry about living the same mundane life from now until I die. We're going to keep growing, keep building. 

I used to think that I would find the most satisfaction in imagining a goal and then seeing it come to fruition. I won't lie; I still take pleasure in that. But I'm learning to also love that life is mostly out of our control. That's terrifying and sometimes so frustrating; but it's also scintillating! There could be any number of surprises waiting for you just around the corner. I love that, right now, I'm still young enough to be surprised and be able to move quickly into something new. Sure, we were bedding down some roots here; but they weren't impossible for us to untangle. They didn't immobilize us. And so off we go on an adventure!

Eventually, I suppose there's a point in life, especially with kids, where the rooting will become more inevitable and more necessary. But we are young. We don't have to be there yet if we don't want to. I assigned a new arbitrary number to when that happens, and I guess it's 45. I'm not 45 yet. Hopefully, when I am 45, I'll be changing my tune again and singing praises still unto the surprises of life. And as for the surprises leading up to 30, they just keep getting bigger and better.

[15] 29 Lessons

Don't get a tattoo.

Now. Before you get all defensive, this is not actual commentary on tattoos, rather more poking fun at myself for the time I thought I was going to get a tattoo and why I was going to get a tattoo and when I realized what all the tattoo-getting-talk was about.

However, I should note my general thoughts on tattoos on the larger female population, which is not that they are wrong or gross; but that lots of women get tattooed as part of a trend. Read: the nickname "Tramp Stamp." Or more importantly, at one point in history, women thought it was cool to get dolphins tattooed above their ankles. Wait. Is that cool again? All this to say, I'm just an outsider to the world of tattooing (which, writing that made me think of Star Wars? Any other nerds?), but these are my basic observations of the female tattoo. 

On the flip side, I have plenty of female friends with some gorgeous ink, and I'm thinking in particular of one of my dearest, Rebecca, who has brightly colored tattoos with all the best meanings. And I think they look perfect on her, probably especially because I know the stories, but also because her arms rock. 

I actually had no story I wished to have permanently injected on my body during the time period when I thought about getting a tattoo. Now, from the beginning, this was an irrational train of thought because I am terrified of needles. But early in my twenties, I decided to disregard that fear and convince myself I needed some crazy cool tattoos. (Mom, I'm sorry if this is shocking you.) Likely it had something to do with living in Capitol Hill, among the tattooed; and, from my perspective at the time, having just signed myself into full adulthood by getting married. So I thought I needed to do something reckless while I was *still young*.

Oh, I toyed with different designs and ideas. For awhile I thought, well, my anniversary will always be important to me, so I should have the date scribed along my rib cage. But: Ouch. And also: Would that look like I had been barcoded?

ANYWAY.

The point was not really that I wanted a tattoo. I have seen some beautiful ones, but from the broad perspective, I don't exactly have the inked personality. And the bigger point was that I was trying to be impulsive. Which is funny. Because, semantics.

For whatever reason, I connected impulsivity to youth, and my youth was something I felt had suddenly slipped away. Or I felt I'd robbed myself of it by being so forward-thinking all the time. At 25, I'd really moved through life's traditional steps, and suddenly I feared that I might regret not having a rebellion. I needed to act fast and be permanently marked with "that time I did something young and carefree."

But, guys, I processed this. I even wore permanent marker on my rib cage for like a week to research if I liked seeing something on my body every time I got out of the shower. I had long conversations about it with Trevor (who does have a tattoo) and ignored all the times he rolled his eyes at me. Even though I wanted something to be a symbol of my youthful and blissful ignorance, I recognized the permanence of it. I couldn't get past that. I couldn't think about what it would have been like to have a tattoo then; I could only worry about how I'd feel about a tattoo later.

It's simple, duh. I am not an impulsive person. 

One thing I've learned as a mother of young children is that personalities show themselves so incredibly early. And sure, we all grow and experience personal change and shifting tastes; but there are some things at our core that seem to sort of just always exist there. As long as we have been, they are there. For me, that's been a lifetime of always thinking ahead and trying to make a responsible (and therefore sometimes conservative) decision. 

Since that time, I have learned to stretch beyond my personal limitations in many areas, but I don't think getting a tattoo was necessary for that growth. Honestly, after two kids before 30, I'm thinking it's a good thing I didn't do the rib cage tattoo, yes? But the bigger lesson for me was that I needed to stop defining myself by others' standards. Impulsivity isn't really in me, and that doesn't matter. It's not a character flaw--in some ways it is a strength. I learned to find adventure in the things that suited me and where life was taking me. And that's really the point. We have no idea what is coming up ahead--there is always room for a surprise, and certainly the best page turns are not forced. Heck, if you had told me in January I'd be moving to New York in May, I'd never have believed you. But here we are. 

Even if I had gotten the tattoo, maybe I wouldn't have regretted it. It might have been painful and silly, but I probably would have gotten round to this same realization. And then I'd have that reminder always with me to love myself as I am. I suppose if I ever get the itch again, I can always pull my permanent marker back out.

[14] 29 Lessons

Revel in someone's awe of you.

We spend so much time trying to impress the world, you know? I once heard a statistic that the majority of people, at least in the United States, assume that they will at some point experience a high level of fame. We are all putting on a show, performing for the masses--and we've all felt what it's like for those efforts to go unnoticed. 

You've felt under-appreciated, right? And you've thought, "Well, I could certainly do what she is doing. I could do it better even!" We shame ourselves with feelings of failure, simply because we didn't get the recognition we thought we should, or at least that we were striving for.

But good gracious, I know we've all seen that look of awe in someone's eye--attention on us! We are the awe-inspiring thing. 

I thought this the other day, teaching Iris some ballet. Let the record show that ballet was simply never in the cards for me, being short and curvy and a natural-born klutz. BUT I read about some positions online once and this is what I was demonstrating for Iris. And wouldn't you know it was as if I was delivering to her the perfect gospel truth, Ballerina 101--and expertly. She looked up at me with her green-blue eyes, simply absorbing my instruction with a huge smile on her face. 

It's the same look that Edi gives me when I sing a little song she's never heard--and she likes it. She stares on and on like she never wants me to stop, and like if that's the only thing she ever heard in life, she'd be happy. (It looks a lot like that look she's giving Big Sister in that photo up there, which melts my heart.)

Some day, my kids will look beyond their mama, and they will find a great big world to awe them. I'm glad for that. As scary as it can be as a parent, I can't wait for them to see everything. But for me, to see that awe first directed toward me, that's one of those hushed, beautiful secrets that I soak up into my heart, that boosts my very being and my faith in everything. They're in awe of me.

And we will find this, if we are looking for it, in other places. Certainly I've seen that look on my mother's and father's faces. I've felt it locking eyes with my husband across a room. I've felt it from the cheers of a team or the praise of a teacher. These little moments, they seem so small; but what you do is you take them and you ride them. Keep your eyes on the eyes of those about you. You'll know it when it washes over their face, when you've done something sparkly that's caught their attention. You'll know when you've made a difference in someone's life. Then you revel in that, not because you need to feel good or approved-of, but because to be awe-inspiring is a powerful, spiritual, satisfying feeling that connects us and uplifts us.

We are not meant to touch the whole world all at once. We are meant to move from moment to moment, and if you break it down that way, you'll truly share and feel the love, let me tell you.

[13] 29 Lessons

Life moves in seasons.

What are lessons if not learning of the seasonality of life? Sometimes they are welcome, like the change from a brutal winter to blossoming spring. I've certainly experienced that in life--the eagerness to cast off something old for the promise of something brighter and new. It's frustrating when life doesn't move fast enough--like that brutal winter lingering well past Christmas. When times are hard, it's difficult to remember that it's just a season. It's finite. 

But sometimes we are unwilling to move to the next season: Saying farewell to a beautiful, colorful autumn, knowing that it means yielding to colder, shorter days ahead. Despite the inevitability, we hang on to fall's rustic warmth, thinking we can will it, live longer. 

You can't.

One of the biggest disservices we can pay ourselves is to refuse to identify the seasons in our lives and cling to something irrationally. Perhaps we don't want to move on because we are so happy. Perhaps we are too afraid of what's coming instead. Maybe we just feel the need to stay, worried about what it means to let go and move on. 

It's funny to write this and think how it applies to my life now, on the edge of a new season, feeling bittersweet about this small space in between. I think, though, most often, I've seen this seasonality in my relationships. People move in and out of our lives for all sorts of reasons, sometimes reasons we'll never know. I have dear friends who have been in my life for a decade. Other friends come and go and come and go, and I imagine I'll have them weaving in and out of the fabric of my life for the next forever. Sometimes a relationship is fleeting. Sometimes it feels very purposeful, almost like an angel sent to be near me during a certain struggle or period of life. 

Whether it be an actual season, a life season, a relationship, or just a feeling, I think the biggest part of this lesson for me is to acknowledge what I cannot control and force. "Don't force things to happen, don't prevent things from happening," my mom once said to me, certainly not suggesting we float through life aimlessly, rather that there is beauty and importance in surrendering to the inevitabilities of life. We will be much happier if we can move through the seasons gracefully--with fond farewells to what is passing and a clear-headed excitement for what lies ahead.

[12] 29 Lessons


Give yourself space.

 

This wasn't what I had scheduled for this week. In fact, this little lesson didn't even make the cut according to my editorial calendar.

But as I struggled to sit down and write--about anything, much less the next post for this series--I just felt suffocated. I didn't have it in me to tend to my blog this week, and so I took a step back. (I didn't use to do this, and I would obsess over it, which seems, frankly, insane now.)

Space isn't just necessary in blog writing. It's not just necessary in careers. It's not only a need of introverts, like me. Space is the break you give yourself when you need to relax. Space is the time to evaluate an emotion, a decision, or even yourself. Sometimes I need this space from work. Sometimes I need it from my kiddos--can I get an amen, mamas? I will even take some space from Trevor now and again, not insinuating that there's a problem, just because it's good to feel independent once in awhile. And if I'm feeling really crazy (which happens sometimes), I take space from myself! I'll turn on a movie or do something physical that removes the opportunity to sit in my own thoughts too long. 

I used to feel guilty about space. I used to think that it was a shortcoming of mine, to not be able to sustain continual interaction. But then I realized how good I feel when I come back. Space unclogs writer's block! It rejuvenates maternal instincts! It reignites a fire in your relationship! And space helps you put things in perspective.

This week, I needed space so I took it. But I felt it deserved to make this list since it's a thing I've matured into doing. It's really one of the most empowering lessons I've learned. 

[11] 29 Lessons

Let go.

They say it is an art. I suppose that's why only a few are gifted with mastery and the rest of us feign recreation. I wish I let things roll off my back. I wish I brushed my shoulders off. I wish I could live and let live. But in fact, for a prodigious over-thinker-feeler, things (all natures of things) bed themselves down in my heart and head and I sit with them until practically the end of time if I'm not conscious about it.

I think it's a natural thing to advance in years, and hopefully maturity, and to continue to realize with more and more clarity that life can be unjust, people can be unfair, and that things can be hurtful. These are hard and painful truths, ones we don't like to put into the light simply because it's the opposite of letting go, giving them a face or place in our lives. If we don't speak about it, it's less weighty, is perhaps the inclination. But I think first we must acknowledge that those things are there. Life is not roses (but this post is chock-full of cliches, don't you worry). 

This one is a lesson I share knowing I do not really put it into practice. Not only does it not come naturally to me, I sort of like the vindication I feel in holding on to something. If I didn't see justice yet, well, maybe I will. And so the hurt or frustration must remain fresh. More often than not, this leaves me in the dust, the world moved on--especially the offender; and I'm aging with cynicism and bitterness over something no one else remembers or cares happened. I could give instances where I did feel vengeance was mine, but the fact I could list them off to you proves I've not let those things go either. So the human version of justice isn't even really a fix anyway.

Sometimes it's not a hurt we can't let go of, but a happiness. As we get older, there's a finer and increasingly dangerous line between "memories of good times" and an unhealthy desire to go back to a moment in time. A rich life is built upon the blocks of experiences and special memories. We must hold them close to our hearts in a way that propels us into the happinesses ahead. If we consider the happinesses already had our peak, what joyous events will we miss now and later?

I like to think of it as a certain lightness in life. We are not unattached. We are not free from pain. We are not flaky or unsentimental. But as we let things go, to open our hearts to where we are in our present moments. We allow the things that have happened, the hopes we have for the future to effect who we are and who we want to be; but we do not allow them to define us. No one else can define us for us if we let things go. 

[10] 29 Lessons

Your parents want you to be happy.

One of the last lines of Mindy Kaling's acknowledgments in her book says, "I guess I'm just one of those weird kids who likes their parents too much." 

I relate to this, being weird, but also in that I just genuinely like my parents so, so much. I have nothing but fond memories of growing up--feeling loved, supported, cared for, believed in. There is mutual respect and pride between us. There's not ever been a time in my life when my relationships with both my mom and my dad ever fell off course. We just have always been close and I imagine we always will be. 

Because I never went through the "I HATE MY STUPID PARENTS" phase, it was sort of weird for me to, just, be married one day and suddenly my parents are my extended family and I'm on my way to making a new life and family with another. This is not Trevor's fault or problem: I absolutely loved and love him and love the life we are building together. This is not my parents' fault or problem: They set me up for successful adulthood and were nothing but welcoming and supportive in my marriage.

The problem was me. It was my fault because I think I was seeking a hard and fast line where actually lines only blur. Your parents are always your parents and you are always their child. Marriage doesn't change this. No stage of adulthood changes this. Maybe I thought it would feel different, like I'd grow up and start a life and then I'd think of my parents differently.

It doesn't really happen like that. I think it probably doesn't happen like that even if you come from the "I HATE MY STUPID PARENTS" tribe. We have to ease our way into adulthood, sometimes in awkward steps and stages, sometimes even moving backwards before going forward again. And because this relationship always exists, and if you're lucky like me, remains sturdy and good, sometimes our interactions remain the same. Me? I felt very aware of every life choice I made, like that if it was wrong I was going to let down my parents. 

I assume that parents will always have thoughts on our courses of action, just like we instinctively judge the ways our friends and peers and kids do things--heck, just like we have thoughts on our parents' courses of action and what we might choose to do differently. But my mom let me in on an important little secret one night, after I confessed to her how torn I felt. She said, "I may not always agree with you, but more than anything, I just want you to be happy. So you do what makes you happy."

This was super life-changing for me, even as an almost-30-year-old. Mostly, it gave me perspective. My first thought was, "Naturally. That's how I feel about my girls." Right now, it's small instances. But I don't care that Iris always wants her hair down and crazy, even though the perfectionist in me wants to pull it back into cute braid crowns. That perfectionist in me is replaced by the Mom of Iris who loves that her little girl knows what she wants and is free-spirited about things. I realized that this is what my mom was saying about me. Her disagreement isn't disapproval; it's only a natural inclination toward something else because of who she is. And what she loves more for me than the things she loves herself is that I be bold enough to see something I want and go for it. As a mother, it's more fulfilling to enable your child to be the best, happiest version of herself than to hold her back by the choices you would make for her.

That is why my parents are the greatest parents--to not only recognize this in our relationship and to do it the right way, but also to afford me this wisdom so I might exercise it in parenting my daughters. Hopefully my girls will find themselves in the "I LIKE MY AWESOME PARENTS" camp like me, feeling loved, supported, cared for, believed in. And most importantly, that they'll find themselves happy too. Then they will feel free, like I feel free, living in a life that is tailor-made for me and makes my parents proud for that very reason.