Monday, July 28, 2014

31 and counting


a decade ago on my 21st birthday


Today Neil came home and gave me some (unexpected & not good) news about work that affected my plans for this week. I was feeling pretty upset about it to the point where I knew I needed to just get out of the house and defuse, so Neil & the kids had dinner while I laced up my shoes and went for a run.

I headed to my favorite trail through a nearby forest a couple of miles from my home. Towering oaks, maples, and sycamores are laced through with a winding wood-chip path that runs about 1.5 miles one way, and it has just enough hills, mud, and roots to keep it interesting. I have spent so many hours of our years here running the trails in those woods--with running partners, with Neil, and a hundred times over with myself in long, endless loops. I know every foot of them so well that I can (and have) run them in total darkness, but I love them best as the sun is rising over the nearby bog and the herons fly up to meet the clouds.

Those trails have seen me through four pregnancies, who knows how many pairs of shoes, a gazillion mosquito bites, and have been the primary training ground for every race I've ever run. I've run those trails in the blazing sun of a Midwestern summer, the crackly-leafed glories of fall, the icy slip-n-slide of deep winter, and the sucking mud of spring. I have crawled--literally--over roots and downed trees when I thought I was miscarrying with both Luke and Nathan. I have laughed and wept and prayed more there than I have anywhere else in my life; it has been the battleground for many fights with my inner demons, and the place where I have communed most directly with God.

I've been thinking a lot about this past year and what the next year is bringing to my life. I'm hoping so much that it is a year of change--that by my birthday next year we will be done with graduate school. We're drawing to a close with some other chapters in our lives and for some reason this birthday feels so much more momentous to me than turning 30 did. It's been a hard year, this last one; I think I can safely say that it is the hardest one I've lived through yet with the most soul-stretching and wrenching growth. I've thought so much about how things that once seemed immutable to me are now very fluid or even completely gone, and how much my perspective, goals, viewpoints, and values have altered or solidified in the last decade. Life has given me the opportunity and experience to decide what things are truly worthwhile to me and what is more transient. I hope I don't sound too pretentious here, as I (hopefully!) have many more decades of living to do and experience to acquire, but I've been thinking about things that used to matter to me and don't now, or things that I used to disregard that are now of tremendous importance. And so...

1) Sleep is so vital and so important--for everyone, not just children. It's impossible to be good-natured, productive, and likeable without a good night's sleep.

2) You are your own worst critic. Nobody else is judging you as harshly as you judge yourself, so ease up. Learn to focus on the things you love about yourself and record them so you can remind yourself of those good qualities when you're feeling low.

3) Drink more water.

4) And green smoothies.

5) Get outside every day. Even if it's miserably hot or bone-shatteringly cold, just go to the mailbox. This especially holds true if you have small children. It's so easy to go an entire week without ever leaving your house, but it's not good for your mental state.

6) Conversely, it's also good to have "home days" where you do nothing all day other than sit in your yoga pants and play Legos with your kids. Those are some of the best days, and they will pass all too soon.

7) Set out to create magic deliberately. Occasionally it happens on its own, but more often it is the product of studied effort. If you want to enjoy your family, create opportunities where you will enjoy them--it's much more likely that you will feel blissfully happy when you are hiking together than when you are folding laundry.

8) Those Go-Go squeeze pouches are the best thing ever. Ever, ever, ever. Speaking as someone who made her own organic baby foods, just buy the squeeze pouches and celebrate their existence.

9) Even if you don't feel like it, spend time with your friends. Yes, it's a pain to put on makeup at the end of a long day. Yes, you're exhausted. Yes, your kitchen floor may be sticky. Yes, the kids may kick up a fuss if you're not there to put them to bed, but your friendships with other women are so vital to your happiness. 

10) Learn the beauties of selective multi-tasking. Kids can splash happily in the tub while you wipe down the bathroom, dinner prep can be started while the last slowpoke is talking to his lunch, and you can sneak in amazing amounts of other activities while reading stories aloud to children. (I have knit entire blankets, painted woodwork and walls, nursed babies, cut out innumerable laminating pages sent home from school, etc. The key is to have someone else hold the book and turn the pages--and for things like painting it really helps if you have the story mostly memorized!)

11) Create. Something about the act of physical creation is immensely satisfying, whether it's a painting, a scarf, or a loaf of bread.

12) Fresh flowers, natural light, and beautiful music are instant mood-lifters. Bonus points for a delightful scent (I, for instance, am happily shelling out for Method's pink grapefruit spray because it actually makes me WANT to clean).

13) Don't wait to live your life. If you're not happy, identify the things that are making you unhappy and see if you can resolve them. If you're looking forward to something as the point when you *will* be happy, are you working every day to actively bring that thing closer? What can you do NOW to enjoy your life? The grass is always greener, so stop wasting your time and live in the now.

14) Take time away from daily life, whether it is on your own or with someone else. It may be financially costly, but it is an investment in your happiness, your relationships, and your life.

15) Be true to yourself and quit worrying about the things that you "feel like" you should like. If you really like reading Hemingway in your down time, go for it! (Okay, I love Hemingway, but when I have a rare moment of free time, I would much rather read something like this or this. I would rather listen to John Denver or Vivaldi than anything else, I always order the exact same thing at restaurants, and I don't care about current events (too depressing and ignorance is bliss, amiright?)

16) Learn new things or improve existing talents. There is something so satisfying about having a project or hobby that you're doing because you really love it and not because someone else is paying you to do it, but you're working diligently enough that you can see measurable improvement (my thing is bread--right now I have a sourdough starter that I am lavishing the kind of love and thought upon that most people reserve for a newborn baby).

17) When your kids want to talk to you, listen. Give them your full attention and respond to what they're feeling as well as what they're saying. I really, really, really love this book and it has made me a much more perceptive, sympathetic, and effective mother.

18) If a friend offers a meal or to babysit your kids, take them up on it. Don't be a martyr. Reciprocate when you can.

19) Take care of yourself. It's good not just for your own health and well-being, but for your children to see that you are worth that time, effort, and investment.

20) Look around for what your community has to offer--local festivals, library programs, museums, etc. Get involved wherever you can.

21) A clean house is so, so, so important to me. We've gone through so many iterations of chore charts, assignments, etc., and guess what? My version of clean is not the same as my children's. Mutual happiness has been achieved by implementing a "stuff basket," wherein I throw everything that is still floating around after clean-up time is finished. If someone is missing something, they know where to find it and meanwhile I'm rejoicing in a visually clean house that can be dusted & vacuumed without an hour of nagging people to put things in their proper places.

22) Don't beat yourself up over your inadequacies. On Monday nights we (theoretically) have family home evening. I am not good at planning family home evenings with a lesson (I'm more the "let's have a discussion during dinner and then go on a bike ride afterwards" type) but I AM good at making sure that we have daily scripture study and family prayer. I'm choosing to focus on those.

23) Kids will do anything much longer if they are aurally distracted. When we're hiking, we can cover many many miles if we tell them stories about our childhoods or their childhoods. When we're eating lunch, they are all completely entranced and eat pleasantly (rather than jumping up and down on chairs and complaining about the food) if we listen to Classical Kids or the Chronicles of Narnia (please note that the current list price is $200 and that's completely insane. Mine was $25 for all 19 CDs, also from Amazon. Look for the BBC Radio Theatre Focus on the Family production).

24) Take photographs.

25) I've said this a thousand times, but read with your children. It is so important and does so much for your relationship & their mental development. See my favorite books for children here.

26) Exercise. I really hate this word--let's say instead, "find a method of physical movement that brings you joy and renewal" (okay, that's very wordy). Making this enjoyable is different for everyone, so don't feel like you should do something just because your friend does (be true to yourself, remember?!)

27) People are innately good. Give them the opportunity to be so.

28) Say the nice things out loud that you're thinking in your mind, even (and especially) if you don't know the person you're complimenting. I can vividly recall many instances when a complete stranger said something so kind to me and it completely changed my outlook on myself and my attitude towards the day.

29) Spend out on things that are important to you. If you can't afford it, don't buy the "acceptable" option; save up until you can get the one that you really and truly love. This same rule goes for just about anything in life--if you're doing something, it's worth the time and effort to do it right (Neil was laughing at me the other day for rewriting bin storage labels three or four times, but I knew I would be looking at them for years and the extra minute of rewriting was 100% worth avoiding the mental eye roll I would be giving myself in the future).

30) Reach out to others. It's so easy to become isolated. Sometimes it sounds overwhelming to invite friends over for dinner, or plan a party, or even just make a phone call; sometimes it's the effort and sometimes it's the worry of rejection. But connections are so important, and chances are, everyone else is wishing that someone would make an overture of friendship towards them.

31) God's love is often so manifest to us through the love, actions, and service of those who surround us. One of the greatest gifts we have in life is the opportunity to literally be His hands and bless the lives of others.





3 comments:

Neil said...

I love this post. I need to read it often.

Katie Townsley said...

Thank you for this post, Rachael! I loved it so much I wrote the entire list in my journal so I can keep it for the future.
Much love,
Kate

Jen Bosen said...

Yes and yes and yes. So many good things.

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