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7 lessons at 37

July 17, 2012

In honor of 7/17 and my 37th birthday, I’d like to share the 7 big lessons that I learned in my 37th year.  It’s one of those things.  Some birthdays come and go and all they leave in their wake is a mild hangover and a shaking head while you mutter, “I’m how old, again?”  And then there are other birthdays, the ones that seem to mark the end of a long journey that began who-knows-when and, as you look back and reflect, you realize that you’ve really covered a lot of ground since last year.  I think this is one of those birthdays for me.  Thirty-seven isn’t really a birthday that people wave sparklers over and send you big, elaborate balloon bouquets to celebrate.  But somehow, maybe it’s the alliteration of all the 7s, it feels like something more to me.  And so, without further ado, here’s what I have to show for my most recently completed orbit around the sun.

1.  If you know in your gut that something is not quite right, you are the only person in the world who can take Step One toward setting things on their course to being corrected.  You are your own best advocate and, while Step Two all the way through Step One Thousand might end up being completely out of your hands, Step One belongs only to you.  Every time.  (This lesson came to me courtesy of my thyroid condition, which I could have practically diagnosed for myself, even without the blood work, but I still suffered silently with it for months before seeing my doctor.)

2.  Being kind to others is important, but it is most important, first and foremost, to be kind to yourself.  This means keeping the promises you make to yourself.  However!  It also means that, should you break a certain promise to yourself on a certain day, you will forgive yourself and simply try to do better the next day.  (The thing I beat myself up about the most, every single day of my life, is my lack of interest in exercise.  And then I beat myself up for having beaten myself up.  And on, and on, and on.  I suppose this is one of those things that goes in the category of “knowing is half the battle.”  One hopes.)

3.  If you keep breaking the same promise to yourself again and again, then you might revisit the promise itself—its purpose, its meaning, its potential—and, if possible, consider revising it to better fit into your life, your heart, or, more to the point, your priority list.  (Again, the exercise.  I needed to find another place, another space, another approach to make it possible for me to insert exercise [movement of any kind, really!] into my life.  It’s still a work in progress for me; I’m still searching to find an internal well-spring of motivation for this part of my life.)

4.  Like it or not, becoming a mother changes you.  It changes your heart, your body, your dreams, your fears, your priorities, your budget, your relationships, your laundry habits, and your ability to sleep in.  But it is only total destruction followed by entirely new construction if you choose it to be.  There is no rule that you have to elevate “mother” to be your single-most-important defining characteristic.  And if you hold fast to all the other things you’ve got going on, all the things you loved most within yourself before motherhood, all of that will be there for you when the dust settles, and it will be even shinier for having weathered the storm.  (I was a wreck about this in the first few months after my son joined us here on this planet.  Things have since found their equilibrium.  I think more than anything, I just needed to take a deep breath and be patient for everything to shake out and land where it would.  But I’m not so good with the patience thing.)

5.  It’s one thing to have hope—to sit quietly and believe there’s something greater out there in the world for you.  It’s quite another to have the courage to go out into the world and actively search for the “something greater” that you believe awaits.  (For me this year, this was primarily about searching for a new organization through which I could comfortably express my faith.  Said another way, this was about finally admitting, out loud, to myself and others that I’m no longer truly Catholic and that I want to find something else to help me define my belief system.)

6.  You have to trust the people you love to accept you for who you are, even (especially) when you think who you are is the opposite of who you think they want you to be.  They will often surprise you.  They may even inspire you.  (This was about telling my mom about my departure from Catholicism and my search for a new religion, and being flabbergasted at her Amazingly Cool reaction.)

And last, but not least…

7.  Doing just about anything with a baby is about a million times easier than doing that same thing with a toddler.  Babies can’t walk; toddlers can.  Babies can’t speak; toddlers can.  Babies don’t have opinions or expectations; toddlers do.  And toddlers have no compunction against applying any of these new-found skills in the least convenient manner, at the least convenient time, and in the least convenient place.   (This lesson came through most loudly & clearly with regard to air travel, but I think it also applies to …well, everything.)

So I guess in my 37th year, in a nutshell, I learned that it is important to be kind, patient, and brave.  Or, more accurately, I’ve learned that I need to try my best to be as kind, patient, and brave as I can manage on any given day, and that sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and believe—with all my heart—that, quite simply, everything is going to be just fine.  It almost always is.

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