I turned 30 in December. I was actually really excited about it. I figured not much would change. Truthfully, we had been living beyond our years for quite a while, and I figured by turning 30 I was really just catching up with the 30-something lifestyle we had. And that has been true. Not much around me has changed since I turned 30. My life is largely the same as it was when I was 29. Lately, though, I’ve noticed small changes in myself. Little things that always make me stop and think, “Well, I AM 30…”
Superficially, I’ve noticed that I am 30 in my appearance. For the first time in my life, I am wearing my hair straight every single day. My whole life I have believed that because I had thick, naturally curly hair, it was impossible to do anything with it. Plus, I am pretty lazy. So, I just washed my hair and let it naturally dry. And get frizzy. And big. But a few months ago, my sister introduced me to Moroccan oil for my hair and my life has never been the same. I can now wash and straighten my hair every other day, rub a little Moroccan oil in it, and – voila! – it stays straight and smooth for days! I think it makes me look older, and bit more put together than my crazy curly hair did. I always looked a bit like a college kid who had slept past her alarm, and now I think it is a bit more polished. And that makes me feel 30 years old.
I am also noticing what other 30-something women are wearing around me and, for the first time in my life, I am not put off by it. My shorts have become a smidge longer. My shirts have become a tad looser. My shoes have become a bit more practical. Personally, I still think I look young and even cute on some days. It’s not that I have ever dressed inappropriately (except for that one time in college that I wore jeans to a meeting when everyone else was in a suit…), but I’m just not in my 20′s anymore. My clothing has a different purpose and different needs. I don’t need short shorts. I need shorts that I can get on the floor and play with my kids in. I don’t need a tank top that shows off my tan. I need a shirt that won’t bunch up or hang open when I bend over a stroller. I don’t need shoes that make my legs look longer. I need shoes that will hold up throughout a day of teaching, and afternoon of chasing my kids, and an evening of running around the neighborhood. I used to think to have those kinds of functional clothes, I had to give up the cuteness and instead had to look frumpy. But that’s not true. I can still look cute. It’s just in way more comfortable and age-appropriate clothes.
Another thing that turning 30 has done for me is opened up the “who the heck cares” side of my brain. I love to sing and dance, but I am equally as bad at both. But who the heck cares? I now sing and dance all day long in my classroom. I sing and dance while I run. I sing and dance when I’m driving my car. If I feel the need, I sing and dance no matter who’s around to see. Same goes for how often I blog. This one I have struggled with because I do loves me some blogging. But I’ve been blogging on almost a daily basis – often more than one post a night – for over five years. And who the heck cares if I don’t get a post up one night? Or two? Or even seven? The world isn’t going to end without my daily rantings. I was doing things like turning down plans with friends because I knew I hadn’t blogged the night before, so I needed to blog that night. Or I would spend almost every evening with my face in a computer screen while Chris sat by himself watching TV. Now, I sit with him and we read or talk or watch TV together. And who the heck cares? I blog and you all graciously keep coming back. And, oh how glad I am that you are here, imaginary friends! But I am willing to bet that the universe will continue if I slack up on my blogging.
Along the same lines, I am cutting myself some slack in areas where I have always been really hard on myself, and I’m learning to say no. The other day, I sat in a meeting where they were looking for a volunteer to do something really simple and I literally had to BITE MY TONGUE – for real – to keep from speaking out. But I didn’t, and I left that meeting feeling really good about that. I am learning that just because I CAN do something doesn’t always means I SHOULD do something. Taking on something new may seem easy and small, but when I take on 50 easy and small tasks, I am suddenly overwhelmed and I don’t do anything well. Same thing with birthday parties from Bean’s class at school. He gets a ton of invitations to birthday parties these days, and you would think, “Well, it’s just a birthday party…” But one birthday party means buying one present, figuring out which parent is going to stay home with Gracie and which is going to go with Bean, and then giving up at least the afternoon. And every once in a while that isn’t so terrible, but do it every weekend and it can become draining very quickly. So, now we only RSVP to parties of kids that Bean talks about at home a lot. And I don’t feel guilty about that. I mean, I AM 30, you know…
I don’t know if these things are tied to being in my 30′s now or not. Maybe it is just a shift in perspective I’ve had lately. Or maybe I’ve reach some kind of limit on my self expectations and so I’m finally giving myself permission to lower them. Whatever it is, it has given me some real peace of mind. I’m sleeping better, laughing more, and feeling good.
My Grandma is in her 80′s and is still a world traveling, charity volunteering, card playing, department store shopping, cake baking machine. We all have a hard time keeping up with her pace, and she is forever telling us, “You’re only as old as you feel.” If she is right (and she usually is), then I am loving the feeling of 30.
This morning, Chris sent me an email that said one of our best friends had been suddenly laid off from his job. I was shocked because our friend had just moved here to Orlando from New York for this job. He relocated about four months ago, had just settled into his home, had just met a nice girl, was just starting to get his feet under him. And then he walked into the office this morning, and walked back out about an hour later with a crappy severance package. He came up tonight so we could wallow with him. He ate dinner at our kitchen table, is currently drowning his sorrows with Chris in our beer fridge, and will probably crash in our guest bedroom. And in the morning, he will sit at the kitchen table again with our kids and eat Cheerios and talk superheroes with Bean and princesses with Gracie. Gary is about as much our family as you can get without being born into it, and we hurt for him as any family would.
But tonight, as I sit in my living room after a fulfilling day at my job, which I am fortunate enough to get to go back to tomorrow, I am reminded of a student who amazed me last week.
You aren’t supposed to have favorites as a teacher. I love all my students. Really. I love them. But there are some that I just connect with more than others. Students that I understand, and even some that I admire. Like Adrian. Adrian is a smaller Hispanic kid. Funny, smart, quick as anything, and still humble and respectful. He’s one of those kids who knows just how far he can push a teacher until that’s enough, and then he reins it in and gives me a break. I love kids like Adrian.
So, last week, Adrian comes up to me in the hallway before class started.
“Mrs. Brown,” he said, smiling so much that I thought he might hurt himself. “I need your help.”
“Sure. Whatcha need?” I replied.
“I need you to stop Meghan when she comes into class so I can ask her to the 8th grade dance.”
I tried not to get overly excited here because the key to staying cool to a middle schooler is to act like nothing impresses you. So, I laughed and coolly said, “Meghan, huh?”
“Yeah,” he said blushing.
“That’s cool,” I said, yawning just to prove that I was cool enough to not care too much. “I like Meghan.”
“Yeah,” he said blushing a little more. “I do, too.”
About that time, Meghan starts getting close to my classroom, and Adrian started giggling this silly, stupid, middle-school girl giggle.
“Dude,” I whispered. “Pull it together!”
“Oh, right,” he said, wiping the smile off his face and instantly looking calmer and happy-go-lucky like his normal self.
“Hey, Meghan, ” I said as she neared my door. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Meghan (a super fun, confident girl herself) got that panicked look all students get when a teacher asks to talk to them. But before she could get too nervous, Adrian jumped in.
“No!” he shouted, taking Meghan by the shoulders and turning her so that she faced him. “You have to face me. I’m the one whose talking.” And then he started that silly giggle again, and I shot him a warning look with my eyes that said, “Get it together, man!” He pulled himself up tall…well, as tall as short Adrian could muster… and he said, “Meghan, will you go to the 8th grade dance with me?”
I sat in my chair by the door pretending not to watch, but smiling like a big fool myself. This is the stuff childhood memories are made of, and I was witnessing one right this minute.
Meghan nervously turned to see if I was watching, and I continued picking my fingernails and being very interested in my cuticles. Finally, she turned back to Adrian and said, “Ummm… No?”
It really was more of a question than a statement. You could tell she didn’t want to say no, but that her middle school girl brain just calculated Adrian’s coolness factor against every other person ever in existence in the Universe, and made a snap judgment. “Not cool enough. Must say no.”
Meghan hightailed it into the classroom, where you could hear the entire class buzzing with the excitement of a fresh rejection. Middle schoolers smell blood and congregate faster than any other species on earth, if you didn’t know.
Adrian stood there next to me for a minute.
“Sorry, buddy,” I said, kind of laughing, pushing on his shoulder good-naturedly. “She was probably just nervous.”
He stood there for a split second longer, and then did the most amazing act of bravery I may have ever seen. He threw open my classroom door, walked into the room with his arms stretched out above his head, and announced, “WELL, GUYS! SHE SAID NO! NOW, WHO WANTS TO BE MY DATE?”
Resilience. I’m surrounded by people with inspirational amount of resilience. My mom, being chief among them. And Adrian coming in a mighty close second. People who take a minute to say, “Gosh, that really SUCKED.” And then, without fail, in the most horrific situations, pick themselves up and move forward. It’s the reason my mom is leaving for a month in Europe this week for a vacation just because she can. It’s the reason Adrian has gone on to find SEVERAL dates for the 8th grade dance. And it’s the reason my friend, Gary, went home this morning and instantly began sending out resumes.
Resilience. The ability to face the unfaceable, embrace the unimaginable, and regroup the unplanned. Of all the superpowers, that’s a pretty damn good one to have.
In this corner of the internet, I try to keep things real. I try to tell the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Sometimes, that means I tell people about temper tantrums and 3 hour meals and time outs and meltdowns because those things are just part of being a parent. I try my best not to omit those instances because if I only showed the high-resolution pictures with perfect lighting where everyone is looking at the camera…well, quite frankly, this would be a very short blog.
There are bloggers out there who choose to only show the high-gloss pictures. They tell the good stories. The ones where children obey and use their manners and make funny little jokes. The ones where husbands bring flowers home, hard wood floors always look shiny and clean, and toys don’t liter the floor in every room of the house. We all blog for different reasons. I blog to feel connected to people, and to remind myself that I’m not alone in this suburban life I lead. But others sometimes blog to remember the good in their lives and their families. They don’t want to look back and remember the temper tantrums and runny noses. And that’s okay. I don’t knock those blogs. In fact, I love those blogs, too. I read them to remind myself to keep striving and to, you know, bathe myself every couple of days.
For the past week or so, though, I have gotten to experience the “good only” in my household. It seems like lately, every time I turn around, I’m having more fun with my family. Chris and I are back in each others good graces, and we are working really hard to make each other and our marriage a priority again. And we are reaping the benefits of that. Our conversations have been full and satisfying, we’re joking around together again, and we are seeking out times to be together – both with the kids and without.
And the kids are only making things seem even sweeter. Lately, they have been playing together so good. They hold hands when they walk somewhere, they share their toys, they play pretend, they help each other find their shoes. It seems like every little thing they could do to get along, they are doing. I wish I could tell you there has been some big secret is making that happen, but Chris and I haven’t done anything. It’s been all them. The first words out of their mouths when they wake up is, “Where’s Beanie?” or “Where’s Gracie?” and the last thing they say at night is, “Night night, Beanie” or “Night night, Gracie.” When they are getting along like this, life is so much easier.
I would describe myself as a no nonsense type of person. I’m going to call things like I see them, and sometimes that means you may not always see the best side of my family. But even on the days when tempers flare and I’m tired, disheveled, and slightly overwhelmed, I still love my family. I love every hair on their heads. Every tear that they cry. Every temper tantrum they throw. I love them through it all. We love each other despite our imperfections. In fact, we love each other so much that when we have those rare weeks of no time outs and clean hardwood floors (…okay, so the clean floors thing will, like, NEVER happen in our house…), we aren’t so much surprised by the good we have in our family. We are just thankful that every once in a while it comes through in photos, too.
Sadly, I don’t think my mom is as excited about this milestone as the rest of us are for her. A year ago, retirement was the golden finish line and she couldn’t wait to have free time filled with crafting, golfing, her grandkids, and my dad. But like in a million other ways, my dad’s passing has left her to figure out a new normal. And I am sure that retirement without him just doesn’t seem as sweet.
So, that’s where daughters and son-in-laws and grandchildren come in…
We are so proud of you, Mom. We know that retirement isn’t going to be what you were expecting. We all miss dad, and everything without him is a little less bright. But, as much as we love him, this isn’t about Dad. This is about you. And we don’t want this incredible celebration to pass in the shadow of grief.
For our entire lives, you have shown us how to be a working mom. You’ve flawlessly balanced your work life with your home life, never seeming to confuse your priorities and always making time for what was truly important. You’ve taught Ginny and me how to be strong women who provide for our families. You’ve taught us to stand up for ourselves, both at home and in our professional lives. You’ve taught us the joy of success and the strength that comes with failure. What better role model could two women ask for?
Your retirement is going to be a change for our entire family, and we can’t wait! We are so excited that we’ll get to see more of you! I, personally, am so excited about having my breaks from school to spend more time with you now! Spring Break! Thanksgiving week! Christmas break! And SUMMER!!!! We’re going to live at the beach this year, so pack your beach bag! The kids are so excited at the chance to spend a random Tuesday night at Nana’s house, and having more chances to play hookey from school. And I know Ginny, John Michael, and Tillman can’t wait for you to have some travel time to head up to Atlanta and hang out with them.
So, you see, your retirement is going to change all our lives for the better. And we know that it is going to do the same for you, too.
We are so happy for you and excited to see what this next phase in life brings your way. Know that for each step of it, your family is by your side.
All our love and pride,
Katie, Ginny, Chris, John Michael, Michael, Gracie, and Tillman