Dear Younger Me...
I flipped my calendar page over to March this month. My mind floods with thoughts of "wow my last month of being in my 30's... how did that all go by so fast"? In a moment, I flashed back to my early 20's, the age that it seems life took off at lightning-speed. That age was a simultaneous tug-of-war between states of being blissfully unaware and wading in confusion.. Having grown up in a small town in Montana, with the boy I would eventually marry, we said our vows in a tiny Lutheran Church and then headed to Arizona (a state I had never even visited). We rented a south-bound U-Haul with our wedding gifts, a jet-ski tied to the back and a stack of student loans to pay off. We were longing for sunshine, a fresh new life together and promising opportunity. Our early years of marriage were spent living in my husband's Grandmother's guest house, working our tails off and saving every penny we earned. We would drive 45 minutes to work together every day to work at a mattress store we managed. Located in a rough neighborhood in Phoenix, I would do sales and John would deliver the beds. I remember most of our friends still partying, living in our home state and enjoying comfortable familiarity that I longed for. I missed the gatherings with my big extended family and friends that we had grown up with. I would have a hard time staying centered and grateful for my mattress sales position while feeling isolated in our tiny casita. Thankfully my husband was focused and determined, regularly reminding me that all of this hard work would pay off and this money we were saving would eventually get us that down payment on a home. Having left my salon cosmetologist job back in Montana, selling mattresses in the ghetto was less than my dream. However, a couple years of "putting our heads down to work", we had indeed earned enough to put toward our new home; which was perfect timing as we were expecting our first baby. It was a...
"MOM- mom, why aren't you answering me"?
My thoughts are jolted back to 2018 and cut short as my son informs me that the stack of science camp permission forms are due back to his teacher. This morning. And I haven't even started on them. His brow is furrowed at me, he's both frustrated and sympathetic as he can read me like a book- and he knows I'm tired before our day has even started. I begin frantically filling them out, wondering how I'll complete all of them before 8 am, round up both dogs who ran loose again from the backyard, plus return home in time to shower before I run my next carpool of kids to junior high. Morning showers always have been overrated, I silently reassure myself. As I'm mindlessly filling out stacks of paperwork, my thoughts drift back. A crazy-full morning like this, twenty years ago, would have sent me into a tailspin. When we had our first baby, even simple tasks such as grocery shopping and keeping a schedule would cause stress and anxiety. Life moves on though, and I'm learning the delicate art of holding on while letting go. Now, here I am, turning 40 years old, and happy with this milestone birthday approaching soon. Not because I've done it all right or figured out some secret to happiness. I'm grateful for all the wrong choices and unhealthy patterns that used to trip me. I've grown into who I am from the lessons of my pain. And while I wouldn't want to go back twenty years in time, I do wish I knew then what I know now. As a naturally introspective person, I have been my own worst critic. No, I wouldn't ever want a "do-over" of my younger years but I would sure like a soft whisper of grace to cover the ear of the girl I once was. She would have a few thousand life lessons to share but could narrow them down to...
Dear younger me,
1-Life is going to pick up speed from here on out. It will quiet your racing heart when you become more of an observer to life's charm around you. You've got some gifts growing inside you for seeing beauty where others do not. You haven't cultivated them yet, but they're waiting for you to cultivate them.
2- Your current best friend at 21 years old is your husband's elderly grandmother. I know this feels discouraging at times, taking Grandma to doctor appointments and the highlight of your week being that hot dog from costco that you share. But embrace this time. She has so much wisdom and humor under that tough surface. You will learn so much from her and eventually, she shares that she's learning a lot from you too; you bring "life" back into her world. And you're learning that growing older can be done with a smile and a twinkle in your eye.
3- Call your parents. They know more than you think they do. And I know a few years back, you cringed when they'd say "just wait until you have a sixteen year old daughter, then you'll understand". And then you do. And then you will. Seriously, just call them.
4- Go on the trips. Just take them and figure out the details later. I know you want to save all of your money, but you also need to see some places. Gain experiences and not just finances. There's a balance of both and traveling is important too.
5- Don't take yourself so seriously. I know you feel super insecure right now under that confident exterior. But get used to not knowing all the answers. It will prep you for all the feels in motherhood. Be okay with the gradual process of which life reveals things to you. It's okay to just do the next right thing without seeing around every corner.
6- Take care of your body. I know it feels like you can go for days living on diet coke and licorice. But the truth is, the sooner you learn the relation of health/fitness to your emotional health, you will be happier and healthier.
7-Nurture your friendships. They're important. I know it feels like everyone is so busy but just pick up the phone and send that email. Soon texting will become available and girlfriend, that will rock your world in the best way possible.
8- Enjoy that fast metabolism. I'll just leave that one right there.
9- Continue to grow your faith in Christ. You're worried about going to churches that are too "religious" or finding the wrong fit of spirituality. Get over the titles and signs hanging at the door. You will find beautiful people at all of them. You'll also find some challenging messages to overcome. Embrace both and remember to keep moving toward that peace, the rest will work itself out.
10- Make your marriage a top priority. The world can be a divisive place. There are detours and roadblocks at every turn. Go over them or drive through them to keep your relationship intact. You're both doing the best you can with the roadmap in your hands. Thoroughly enjoy that season that it is just you and him, without children -it's a rare time in your lives that you won't ever see again.
11- The best is before you. I know it feels like you're adulting hard right now. And let's be real, selling mattresses isn't exactly your dream job. But working hard has a generous harvest when you plant good seeds.
12- Take time to get to know who you are. What makes you feel filled up and cared for? Do more of that. It's not selfish, it equips you to do what you need to in the world. No one will make time for you to nurture yourself, you will need to do that. Feel all the feels, emotions are meant to be recognized and not denied. Sooner rather than later, for best results.
13- Embrace your pregnancies! Throw out the "what to expect when you're expecting" books. It will just make you worry. And if your baby is 3 mm, rather than 5 mm, please don't google that. Or stay awake at night with impending doom at all the possible things that could go wrong in this pregnancy and with this baby. You're borrowing trouble from tomorrow. Today has enough.
14- Motherhood will wreck you in the best way possible. I quip that it's "the worst best thing to ever happen to my heart". It's true. You can't imagine you will love anyone that much. You have to experience it to understand.
15- Lack of sleep will not kill you. It will feel like it though, when marathon sleepless nights cause your very bones to hurt. You will look at a full night's sleep like a mirage of water in a desert. It doesn't last, you'll sleep again. And your husband will laugh about how "lack of sleep causes crazy". He's talking about you, and he's right. Laugh at yourself.
16- Those trips "back home" in the summer, embrace them. Don't daydream or wish you were somewhere else. At those family reunions, put your phone down. Notice how Uncle Eddy throws his head back when he laughs and Grandma Dorothy always swats her hand in the air when you tease her about things. Grandma Ginny's contagious cackling laugh is unduplicated. These are "the little things" that you will miss the most when they're gone. Paying attention will beautifully burn those into your memory, and bring you a lot of comfort when you need them.
17- Get outside more. You will feel more grounded and happier if you fight past that urge to stay indoors. Power down the TV, that was the best habit you ever made.
18- Learn the sacred art of making your house a home. That's different for everyone. For you, it means stockpiling extra food, heaps of kids entertainment, and developing your hostess (welcoming) skills. Creating an "open door policy" means that everyone is welcome, always. Sometimes you'll get tired of being the Kool-Aid house because it's messes and chaos. But the relationships and energy within your home become priceless memories.
19- Get those favorite recipes from your family. Grandmas, mom, aunts, all of them. They have so many traditional entrees they've prepared and someday you will want to cook them for your own kids and occasions. Also, embrace that you're not a world-renowned cook; or even really, a good one. It's okay, your kids and husband love you anyway and relish in teasing you about it. Just smile.
20- Soak up those (rare) seasons of ease along the way. You will fight with guilt because you seem to sail along for awhile without too many bumps. It's a good time to extend yourself to others and built up strength needed for the road when it winds or begins uphill.
21- Release that resentment of your husband working so much. I get it- 80 hours a week feels excessive when you're home with lots of babies and lack actual adult conversations or any personal space. You need to be each other cheerleaders and remember you're both playing for the same team.
22- Each of your children is different, in spite of how you raise them. God created each one of them, in His design. Your motherhood skills will not make or break them. When your family of two little girls is joined by your two baby boys, do not google their eye-raising tendencies. Do not compare any of them in milestones or personality. Peace is found by letting them be who they are. And that space gives them room to blossom in a beautiful way.
22- Find moms who inspire you and make time together a priority. You will have several friendships that will be your life-savers in this motherhood journey. You will laugh about the breast milk leaking through your shirts, the vomit on your jeans and be wondering which one of these kids bled on you. You're all in this together.
23- Stop comparing your life to someone who has a nanny or family helping them out. Embrace the beautiful chaos that is current life ...you had four kiddos in seven years. Life is gonna be crazy for awhile and you’re equipped to enjoy the ride, even on days that you don't.
24- Take the financial risks you need to. It's scary, right? When you have to re-mortgage the house to buy equipment needed for that start-up business. Talk through what you need to, pray for guidance and then trust. When it's feast or famine, you still have each other. Some decisions will be good ones and other ones will fall flat; it's all part of the game. And it will always work out for you both, even when it doesn't.
25- All the time that you invest in your family is worth it. The long days, longer nights, and having the same talk 204 times about kindness and love; it's getting deep down into them. Give them more hugs. Kiss and hug them every morning and every night, like clockwork. When they're at less loveable stages, you will be glad you’ve developed that habit.
26- The way you speak to your children will become their inner voice. You will make mistakes and have to apologize. Do it quickly and without thinking twice. They will appreciate the human side to you and realize that motherhood is a hard job that you love to do.
27- Challenge your personal mindsets often. Why do you feel the way you do about certain issues? Listen to your inner voice and don't be above reproach. There will be a lot of social changes to your world. And you will want to be paying attention. Stand up for those whose voice may not be as loud as yours. You’re not built for backing down but stay humble.
28- Make date night a priority with your husband. As your kids start to grow up and get busy, it can feel like you have less time together than when they were little. Make time once a week to go out together sans kids. Just do it, you'll never regret that investment into your marriage.
29- Call your grandparents often. Ask them questions about when they raised their kids. Write it down. Record it somewhere that you won't lose it. Hindsight perspective can be more precious than jewels. You will cling to their wisdom when they're no longer beside you to audibly hear.
30- Forgive quickly. I know you think forgiveness is a feeling but you'll learn it's actually a decision. You won't forgive people because they're deserving or what they did was okay but you'll do it because it's how you stay in peace. There isn't another way despite your stubbornness to try all of them.
31- Stop trying to please everyone. You're not pizza. There will be people in your life that you desperately wish would be happy with you. Get over that and stay true to who you are. Your intentions will always be scrutinized even when they're from a good place. Judgement= people projecting the feelings they have of themselves, directly onto others. It will hurt, but eventually, you will arrive at a place that you no longer feel that need to explain who you are. It will feel good and empowering and peaceful. Stay in that place where you don't feel the need to dim your light.
32- Find a mentor or a person(s) with whom you can receive genuine feedback. You'll initially feel intimidated to reach out for help, but your perspective will greatly change with a life coach. It will feel like someone peeled the film off your eyes. Just roll with the changes you're making within, it's hard but it's good. Open up to the rest and recovery that happens in your heart when you're willing to reflect the truth.
33- Maturity is realizing how many things don't require your comment. You struggle with this but it will come with time. You don't have to show up for every argument and negative thought that someone shares. Know who you are and what is worth your energy. You are learning and growing from every experience.
34- You can't stay committed to your self-deprecating habits and your growth at the same time. Figure out your anxiety triggers and the people who are conduits; work on releasing both. Embrace your past, pain, and struggle and it will transform into wisdom and success.
35- Pick up your camera and take all the photos. Keep pursuing what sets your heart on fire. Listen to that small voice that tells you to pause, take notice and savor. It's a gift and having those moments in your portraits will be some of your greatest treasures in life.
36- Your sweet babies will eventually become beautiful teenagers. They will start to roll their eyes at you, just like you did to your parents. They will tell you that you don't understand what they're going through, you're older and out of touch...can you believe it? Ouch. This season hurts a little and it feels surreal to watch them becoming so independent. You will remind yourself not to fear the wind when their roots go deep (smile & refer to #25)
37- You have permission to rest. You are not responsible for fixing everything that is broken. The quieter you become, the more you can hear and see.
38- Encourage all the moms. Be a cheerleader for other women and stay out of the competitions. See the value behind every woman, even (especially) if we don't agree or understand her choices. The women you surround yourself with become the role models for your girls, choose quality over quantity in friendships.
39- Nobody but you is responsible for your life. You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself and the energy that you bring to others. If you dive into learning more about all of this, you will never stop learning and growing.
40- Don't be a conformist. The world has enough of them. That goes for raising them as well. It's tempting to try to mold your children- resist that. The world's fluctuating praise and criticism of them shouldn't blur the filter through which you love your children. You'll wade through a plethora of it and learn how little any of it matters.
I pause thinking about how my younger self would have received a letter like this. Forty years old seemed almost elderly when I was half my age. Now, as I enjoy my last few weeks of being in my 30's, I feel like I'm only just getting started. Gulping the last of my (now) cold coffee, I sift through the stack of school papers/bills to find my keys for carpool. And I smile, understanding what a blessing it is to see my present reality as “the good ‘ole days” that they are. Even on days they’re not.