Next June it will be 20 years since I graduated from high school.
This seems impossible because I clearly remember my mom attending her 20th reunion and thinking that she was incredibly old. I, on the other hand, am not incredibly old. I’m not sure how the math works out, but even though we’ll be the same age at our high school reunions, she was much “older” at hers than I’ll be at mine. And yet the numbers don’t lie. I might not be “old”, but I’m definitely older. There’s a difference.
20 years ago, when I was 17, I had it all planned out. When given the assignment of writing myself a letter for 10 years ahead, telling myself where I’d be and what I’d be doing with my life I said this:
Right now you’re in high school, getting ready to start college. You’re going to attend Seattle Pacific University and become a news anchor. By the time you’re reading this you’ll be married and have two kids and be enjoying your life and career. Bye!
Okay, so here’s the thing with being 17: You’re filled with optimism and the world is in the palm of your hands AND you’re the center of the universe. Everyone is watching you (at least that’s what you think).
At 27 years old I opened the letter to myself just before my 10-year reunion and had a good laugh. Most of what I had hoped for myself had indeed happened: I attended and graduated from SPU, worked in the news industry (as a writer, not an anchor) and had 2 kids. But my 17-year-old self never thought beyond her 27-year-old self. I guess I thought that when I hit 27 life would continue just as I planned. HA! Sweet 17-year-old self, how little you knew!
17-year-old self thought I’d work forever and become a famous news anchor, on par with Leslie Stahl or Barbara Walters. Because I could and that’s what I wanted. But when I had the kids, I left the workforce and joined the ranks of other stay-at-home mommies and worked SO hard at doing that job “right”. You know, because there’s a “right” way to parent all the different kinds of kids in the world.
At 27 I was bound and determined to be that mom whose kids were the best behaved, cutest, kindest and smartest. If I couldn’t be an anchor, I knew I COULD be the perfect wife to my husband and that our little home was inviting to our friends and family.
If something didn’t go “just right” (like that time when my 5-year-old through the biggest tantrum ever seen before in Safeway) or I was caught off guard and unprepared (backed-up baby blow out on my blouse at Barnes and Noble with no diaper or clean shirt in sight), I felt like a total failure. I’d take it out on my husband and kids, yelling, crying and begging God to fix them (obviously they were the problem since none of this was going according to plan). What did I do to deserve such difficult people? (I’m asking you for grace here. I know full well that tantrums aren’t really hardships in comparison to the tragedies and pain others may suffer, but I was a bit dramatic and my heart really hurt and was tired from trying to please everyone).
And then I had #3. And #4. Then SURPRISE! #5 came along.
Somewhere in the chaos of us procreating, God was busy at work. But counter to what I had asked, He wasn’t working on my husband and kids as I had expected, He was working on and in me.
Looking back at all I was trying to do by controlling my people, trying to make each of them fit into the box I had preassigned for them (and failing miserably), I was missing the point.
Life is not about me.
God did not give me my husband and children as arm/stroller candy to make me look good; as jewels on my self-righteous crown that caused others to “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” at my remarkable ability to do my job. No, God gave me my family and all the personalities and characteristics that each member comes with the intention of using them to transform me. Of course He didn’t create my kids just so I could be transformed, but He has chosen to use them as flesh-covered refining vessels. And I am SO thankful.
I often joke that God surprised me with #5 because I just wasn’t getting it with 4 kids. I was still self-absorbed. I just couldn’t let go of control OR my desire to be affirmed by others. No matter how hard my family tried to assert themselves independent of my will, I had better plans for them. But when #5 came along… *BAM!* All control went out the window.
I tried and tried to sleep train that boy. Nope. According to him, sleep is only for the faint of heart. I tried to stay on top of my household duties. Still not happening and it’s been nearly 3 years. If anyone stops by now there WILL be underwear on the floor somewhere in a public part of the house. And toothpaste dried in and around the sink. And day-old coffee left in the microwave. (What, it still tastes good when you heat it up!)
Contrary to what I thought I knew, it has been the most surprising and awesome blessing to lose control; to have all my expectations get thrown out the window and be forced to slow down and enjoy the moments each new day brings.
I still have some people-pleasing, control-freaking tendencies (I still won’t go to the store without mascara… it’s a blonde lash thing), but my whole household is happier, better behaved and more relaxed since I’ve loosened up. And I’m far more comfortable in my own skin without the need for others to tell me how awesome I am (it’s okay if no one thinks I’m awesome). I am okay if someone disagrees with how we parent. I am okay if someone stops by unannounced and there are syrup streaks on the table. I am okay if someone doesn’t like me. Because I like me. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone… and I never did, though it’s taken me 37 years to realize it.
In our hyper-competitive world where we judge others on their decisions regarding vaccinations, schooling, and work (to name a few) we’re creating such a hostile, merciless environment for one another. Isn’t the reason we argue about those things because we’re seeking validation for those choices? Really and truly?
As a new mom all I wanted was to know I was “doing it right”. I depended on others to tell me so (the kids sure don’t tell me!). But now I’ve got a few more years of life under my belt and what I need to know now is that it doesn’t matter what others think. Really, they’re all busy thinking about themselves anyway! (I’m not saying that everyone is selfish. What I’m pointing out is that no one has the time to sit and dissect my life and all its pros and cons).
I’ve learned is that life is a gift. It is my job to live it fully and without regret and to teach my children to do the same.
When I go back to my high school reunion next summer I am confident in this: I am not 17. I am not 27. I AM older. I am wiser. And I am me… and I’m good with that.