Monday, November 9, 2015

What A Decade Can Do

There's a lot of mixed emotion when you turn 30. For me, it's an official leave of my youth. I don't feel comfortable referring to myself as a 'little blonde girl' anymore. Not that I'm not young at heart and free of spirit--30 isn't a reason to become a fuddy-duddy, by any means.

Yet, there is a difference in being a woman versus being a girl. Being a young adult versus being an adult. A world of difference.

For instance, ten years ago, on my 20th birthday, I was getting drunk at a bar because they wrongly assumed I was celebrating my 21st birthday. Now, I wonder now where I ever found the nerve. Today, I' d be wary of being caught. More conscious of the consequences.

You could say I've learned to put thought into my actions. I've learned to consider what might come next. Who else I might affect--it never crossed my mind that the bar manager might get in trouble, or the waitress who served me might lose her job. I've learned there's a time and a place to take advantage, and it shouldn't be at the expense of someone else.

I've learned some tough decisions, you'll make alone. Sometimes, our choices aren't understood by others. And that's okay. I don't answer to others, at the end of the day. The only person, besides myself, that I will ever owe an explanation to is my husband. If he understands and supports me, that punches the card, folks. Because another thing I've learned is that a marriage is a tag-team fight, the two of you versus life. No one else is in the ring with me the way my husband is, and no one can possibly understand my personal struggles as a person, a spouse, or a parent the way he can. If he has my back, I'm good. If he doesn't, it's enough to make me reconsider.

Just because I owe my life partner an explanation doesn't mean he'll like what I've got to say. The hardest thing I've ever done, he disagreed with. He supported me despite it, which I think is at the heart of a good marriage.

I've learned, also, the importance of making those hard decisions with a clear head and heart. Take your time. Think it through. Understand the consequences, and if you're willing to suffer them. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and in the last decade I've done both. Sometimes, your decisions will hurt people you love. Sometimes, you have to make them anyway, for your own sake.

Because I've learned I'm important, too. My happiness matters. And I will pursue it. But I've learned to do so without causing needless damage. I'm lucky to have been forgiven for the times when this was not so. I've also learned forgiveness can't be assumed.

In youth, we take much for granted. Not everyone can look past your transgressions. Not everyone can see when you've changed. I'm a different person than I used to be, but I've also accepted that some people will always see me as they once knew me. It's not in my power to change how others feel about me. I've learned to let things go when I don't have any control over them. I've learned some battles aren't mine. Move along.

In the last decade, I've lost both my parents and experienced my child being diagnosed with a life-long illness. I've learned loss, the kind of deep grief that doesn't heal, and empathy on its deepest level. My biggest fear is no longer that I'll wake up with a monster zit between my eyes or a cold sore on my lip. Or that I might be getting a little thick in the thighs. Fuck those little things. I just don't want to have to say goodbye to anyone else I love too soon. The rest is magic. The rest is beautiful. It's all a gift, from the zits to the cellulite, to the asshole who double-parked in the last two available spaces at the mall.

I've learned I can stand on my own. I gave up security for the unknown. I gave up steady income for a retail gig. This isn't a regret of mine. It's one of the most important things I've ever done. We're told to be grateful for what we have. And I never pretended that I lacked for a thing. But while you should always understand what you have, you should also understand the needs of your heart. Recognize and accept when those needs aren't being met. You can't bury a malcontent that goes that deep. That's your heart trying to tell you something. Be brave enough to follow it. I felt all my choices had been taken from me, so I took what couldn't be given. I didn't like my place in the game, so I reset the pieces.

I walk around with that knowledge in my back pocket. I have the power to reset my course if I don't like where I'm headed. Right now, I'm exactly where I want to be. I'm not here out of obligation or blind circumstance. My life is mine by choice. My place in it, my choice. I've learned what I'm made of, and I've learned the power of taking my future into my own hands.

But I've also learned how to steer--you don't have to upset the game if you take the time to scout ahead. Know where you're going before you get there. If you don't like it, it's much easier to gradually change course than to rip yourself from a rut once it's dug.

I've learned to step away from the role of victim. I refuse to spend my life living somewhere I don't want to live, or falling prey to impulses that bring me down, and bemoaning my inability to change any of it. I can change anything. I've learned what it means to dedicate myself to a cause, whether it's moving to raise my kids in a better place or quitting smoking so I can set an example. I've learned to take responsibility. A world of excuses, and there isn't one strong enough to justify being mediocre when I can try to be awesome.

I'm not perfect. I'm not a sitcom mom, with all my shit perfectly together. I yell when I'm angry. I use bad words. I'm impatient. I'm strict. I have high expectations. But I am the best version of myself that I can be for my kids, in spite of my flaws--flaws I openly acknowledge. When I overreact, I apologize. When I'm angry, I try to explain why. If they fall short, I tell them why I care so much. I'm open about my fears; the addiction that runs in our family, the pitfalls of making the wrong friends. Just like my choices are mine, their choices will be theirs. When the time comes, I won't be there to choose their actions for them. My job comes down to preparing them to make the right ones. To me, it's important they understand their own power. Ultimately, their futures are theirs to determine.

I've learned that sometimes life is like driving, and it's not so much what you might do, as much as what some other idiot on the road might do. Shit happens to you as often as it's your own doing. Disease happens. Marriages fall apart. People move. I've learned to accept that there isn't always a choice. Sometimes, you just have to deal.

I know someone older than me will read this and think, "Got life all figured out at thirty, do ya?" By no means of my vivid, over-active imagination do I believe I have figured out life. But I've made some forward progress in figuring out me, and knowing yourself is at least half the battle. Knowing yourself means avoiding the snags that always tend to trip you up, or even the company that always seems to spell trouble. I've learned what I'm capable of, and also what I suck at. I firmly believe it's a strength to know your weaknesses.

There's been much joking around about my turning 30. The middle child, the babies of the family aren't far behind me. And it's a weird thing, getting old. Becoming the adults, when just yesterday we were still 'the kids.' But I've seen what a decade can do. I've scouted ahead, and I like the path I'm on. When I turn around to see the road behind me, it's rutted and broken, with lots of dead ends and roundabouts. I'm not sad to leave it behind. I'm armed with experience, a self-assuredness I lacked at twenty, and the road ahead seems much smoother and easier to travel.

But then, I've seen what a decade can do.