"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Are 40

When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I think I might finally feel like an adult. 

I mean, it's been heading that way for some time, what, with my recently realized penchant for Tupperware, my enjoyment of school board meetings, and the realization that sometimes it actually is cold enough to wear a coat. But I've still been 39, still abiding in my yellow decade, bright with youth and promise. So even though I've matured and grown and become a better person, I could still say I was in my 30s. And that doesn't sound so old.

But 40? When I was a kid, 40-year-olds were grown-ups. They had investment portfolios and carried briefcases. They used big words and signed important documents. They wore nylons and dress suits with shoulder pads. Blazers. I've never been a grown-up before. At least, not like that.

But I've always been me. I've always been Joy. And as I cross that magic line tonight and step into a new decade, I'm choosing to accept it as a milestone -- as a celebration of the gift that I've been given -- of getting to be me for an even 40 years. My rate or depth of maturity is up to me. Not all old people are wise. Other people -- young people -- can be astoundingly wise beyond their years sometimes. The human experience has so much depth, regardless of age -- it's undefined by it. Of course, it would be ideal if one's maturity was reflective of their number of years on Earth, and it is in most cases. But people are just people. Just grown-up kids. They're just themselves, at their core, collecting and accumulating life experiences and translating them into some sort of meaning through their own one-of-a-kind filter. 

It's not fair to look at an elderly person and just see an "old fogey," not giving them credit for the person they are inside, for the life experiences they've accumulated. It's also not fair to look down on someone younger and think of oneself as better, more mature. I've thought a lot about this in the last six months. I work with a bunch of 20-somethings -- millennials -- kids that were born when I was in high school. I could have babysat them. I was considering colleges while they were learning to walk. But you know what? They're smart. They're fun. I genuinely like them as people. I recognize that they're smarter than me in a lot of ways, and just as I didn't want to be looked down on when I was their age, it only makes sense that I give them the benefit of the doubt -- get to know each of them for who they are -- their individual cores, their unique filters -- despite the fact that we're currently living in different stages of life.

So 40 isn't what I thought it would look like. It isn't what I thought it would feel like. 

So what does it feel like?

All my life, I've hated doing dishes. Like really hated them. Our kitchen has often showed it, too, and seen the brunt of it. And all my life, I've noticed that my mom, my dad, and my grandma don't necessarily mind doing the dishes. It's not like they like doing them. But when the dishes need to be done, they do them. And I've never understood it. I mean, my grandma is 88 years old; how is she not tired of doing dishes?

So what does 40 feel like? Surprise! It feels like doing the dishes. Like, actually feeling like doing the dishes. Not minding them. Finding a little bit of pleasure and peace in it. 

This is a new development for me, something that's been growing steadily over the last year. But it's true. I find peace in doing dishes, in taking care of what belongs to me, in properly utilizing my resources.  

40 also feels like having a real concept of how much I don't know, of admitting that I don't know it all and that I never will. I love writing and editing. I do it for a living and have often prided myself in being perfect. But am I always right? Absolutely not. Do I make mistakes? All the time. Do I miss things? I did today. I once heard it said that nobody knows more than a college sophomore, and I believe that to be true. The older I get, the more I come to terms with the fact that I don't know what I don't know. And I am absolutely fallible. I am far from perfect.

I'm also getting worse at parking, if that's possible. Every time I walk up to my vehicle after work, I think, "Nice parking job, Joy."

So, this is 40. An ex-know-it-all who enjoys doing dishes and packing my food into Tupperware containers that I then dutifully carry up the elevator with me in to work. A bad parker, yes. But still me. 

Still a word nerd. Still an amateur detective, always curious about the scoop. Still into colorful things. Still into weather and all the things it affects, like pinwheels and wind chimes. Still into good coffee and music. Still into things that smell amazing and taste delicious. Still indulgent, probably to a fault. ;-)

So this next decade will be "emerald" for my funnily wired brain -- not yellow. A bright, translucent, iridescent gem-green will serve as the backdrop for the next 10 years of my life. I think I could do a lot worse.

Hello, 40. I'm still me.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Happy High Schooling

Have I told you about my daughter? The newly-turned 14-year-old? The high school freshman? The math-loving Anglophile? The champion of refrigerated foods' expiration dates and (to my great pride) user of the Oxford comma?

I haven't written in way too long, and I feel somewhat guilty for that. But life has been so busy. I meant to write all summer long; I meant to write around her birthday a couple weeks ago -- a lengthy tribute to 14 years of Ryleyness. But we were just too busy traipsing around Chicago seeing the sights and living.

I suppose now is as good of a time as any. Because tomorrow -- yes, tomorrow -- she starts high school. My sweet little baby girl.

She's a good kid, our Ryley. Much different than I ever could have imagined she'd be when I laid eyes on her for the first time -- she's just completely and totally herself.

We re-did her bedroom this summer. We just painted the purple walls a pretty shade of gray and added teal accents here and there, boxed up all her stuffed animals and gave her an airy space in which to breathe and stretch and grow. As we sorted through all 14 years of her packrat-ness, we basked in the glory that is "Ryley," finding countless little notebooks wherein her six-year-old self had scrawled titles like "Ryley's Memories," or "Things I Love about Mom," followed by blank pages -- no other words -- as she no doubt had become distracted and ended up moving on to the next thing in the way she always has. It was like a tiny little window into the chaotic, beautiful mind of my little girl. We laughed and laughed. We filled an entire storage bin with just costumes -- Halloween, Comic Con, dress-up stuff -- because she's always had a flair for the dramatic.

Summer has always been her season -- the time when she spreads and fills whatever space is around her with her larger-than-life personality and hilarious sense of humor. But she's starting to feel more comfortable in her own skin -- becoming more at home with who she is -- just like we knew she always would, even though it seemed at times like it would never happen. She's witty and funny and quick, and she keeps us gloriously entertained.

Have I told you about her tiny bottle collection? That in itself is everything you need to know about her. Nothing makes her giddier with excitement than finding tiny bottles.

In most of her travels this year -- from her class trip to Washington, D.C. this spring, to her trip with my mom to South Dakota and the Black Hills in June, or on our family trips to northeast Ohio and Chicago, she was always on a quest for tiny bottles to commemorate her experiences.

She scours gift shops and antique shops wherever she goes, always on the prowl. There are 87 now that have made the final cut -- that are worth being on display and considered part of the elite.

It is a great privilege being her mom -- being here for every moment as she becomes such an interesting and beautiful young woman. The freckles that once clearly peppered her nose have now faded, and the ones that haven't faded are often covered by make-up that she applies oh-so-carefully via YouTube instruction. Her hair is bleached (we've learned a lot about hair this summer, she and I), and shopping for clothes isn't nearly as painful as it was a year ago.

It's so much fun to introduce her to our favorite shows, our favorite things, our humor -- now that she's old enough to appreciate it all. We marathoned "Downton Abbey" in the last few weeks, and then somehow found ourselves watching the "Twilight" movies, punctuated by her and Ryan's bantering quips. All three of us have practically memorized the soundtrack to "Hamilton," and it is now the soundtrack to our lives.

If I text her while I'm at work and ask her what she's up to, she'll send a cheeky response: "Just living the good life, man." Because she knows it makes me laugh.

I know she's nervous about high school, about making new friends, about making the right choices, about her dad being her English teacher (!!!). But she's only nervous because she understands the weight of it all -- she knows how much it matters. She's always loved math because there's always a right answer; there's nothing ambiguous, no gray areas. She likes things to be black and white, everything to be very clear. And we know that as she navigates these next four years, God is with her -- and with us, just as He always has been. He'll guide each and every step.

Happy High Schooling, Ryley! We can't wait to see what God has in store for you! :-)