Recently, a celeb I shamefully follow on instagram got ridiculed for crying on her 40th birthday, tearfully exclaiming to her sister that she thought she would be further along at life, or something to that effect. Everyone rolled their eyes, and the girl took some major flack for it. Except that deep down, anyone who has ever set a goal and failed, or daydreamed about life's possibilities, or has actually turned 40 (or in my case, 39), can relate.
Homeschooling four children means there isn't a moment when they are not home, learning, creating, occupying this space with their whole hearts. This translates to varying degrees of mess-cycling Monday through Friday. Cluttered papers, art-work and books are shuffled into piles, growing in volume as the week goes on.
I can pretend we live fancy for two whole days because on Saturdays I deep clean. Some families do soccer. I prefer to make two pots of coffee in the span of 4 hours, and a to-do list for the kids. Toilets get scrubbed, floors get mopped, we start at the top floor and work our way down. When we lived in the city I had a house keeper. I remember justifying the expense, telling myself "My time is too valuable for me to spend it cleaning." That was nice: both the house keeper and the sentiment.
About a month ago my husband and I came up with the idea for me to produce a series of exercise videos for females based on their hormones. I told him I would be ready to film the first few videos once my face cleared up. The next day a massive under-ground 'blemish' appeared smack in the middle of my head between my eyebrows. Three weeks later, it's still there, a lump so impressive you can see it in my profile. I filmed anyway. Hormones-Shmormones.
I turned 39 on Thursday. The day before my birthday I woke up an hour later than my alarm, feeling stiff from the previous day's run. I'd missed my morning quiet time...again. The sky was gray and the house was 50 degrees inside. My 6 year old threw a tantrum and insisted he "Hates doing school, it's so dumb." My 3-year old didn't like the soup I had made (from scratch, using a slow simmered whole chicken and homemade broth, pl-eze!) for lunch.
By noon the house had warmed to a robust 57 and I was cold, irritable, and still wearing the shirt I slept in. I told my little's to go play, instructed my big kids to their reading, cleaned up the lunch mess and headed up to the bathroom to do the only thing that could make me feel like a human-wash my face and put on makeup.
Behind the closed door, which hardly muffled the sounds of my boys fighting, I plucked a gray hair, wiped the kids berry-flavored toothpaste off the counter then scrolled through Insta. I checked our bank account to see what had cleared. I shut of my phone. This wasn't helping. I took a deep breath.
Everything around me felt grubby and old, especially me.
By dinner I was in a full-on mood, which was out of character for me. When my daughter asked me what was wrong, I hesitated to answer because my burdens are not hers to carry, but responding untruthfully, or shrugging off emotion is not how I want to teach my kids to handle theirs, so I responded as honestly as I could.
"I am just...disappointed
Obviously this was a non-answer, but it was the closest thing to my experience in that moment. Realizing that this could be interpenetrated any which way, I had to clarify.
...not in you, just in...myself I guess."
And without knowing what on earth I was talking about, my family tried to cheer me up.
Between the wise cracks and the compliments, my husband ventured into dangerous territory by attempting to problem-solve. He made some statement (and because I can't recall it perfectly, I cannot in good conscience, put it in quotes), some life-coachy remark to the effect of being pro-active/disciplined/goal-oriented as ammunition against complacency and the feeling of hopelessness...
And while I have no doubt in my mind that what he said was 100% correct, and could have been immensely helpful in any other time and place, it crash-landed like a rock of condemnation into the front window of my pity-party house.
The sun went down on my 38th year presenting a bit of a cold front, where the disappointment I was experiencing within myself had expanded into perceived disappointment my husband had toward me. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just go to bed.
The next morning I woke up to the voice of my Noah telling me happy birthday as he crawled into my bed and snuggled up close. I ran my fingers through his thick hair and kissed his head. My husband was already downstairs and I could smell coffee. I ventured down. The house was filled with light. I took notice of the dust particles sparkling in the sunbeams, and my footsteps as they made the wooden floors creak underneath their weight.
Standing in the kitchen, while the kids thoughtfully colored up a birthday tee-shirt for me to wear that day, we sipped our coffees and said our 'I'm sorry's', which were wrapped tenderly around brave explanations for our defensiveness;15 years in and are getting better at this stuff. We hugged. I felt lighter. We decided to go out to breakfast.
Then, throughout that day I did some of those "Life-Coachy, Pro-Active/Disciplined/Goal-Oriented" things, and I highly recommend them:
After a breakfast out we stopped by Target and bought me a new planner, the kind with scheduling slots on the half-hour, and monthly goal tracking pages.
The kids cleaned up their school clutter. Instant mood boost.
I went for a brisk walk by myself-with no podcast in my ear, just my thoughts, the sunlight on my face, and the gift of solitude.
I wrote in my journal and practiced gratitude.
I called a dear friend, who listened to me intently, and gave me her perspective as someone who also struggles with both self-doubt and overwhelm as a homeschooling mom.
I made a cake with my daughter. There was music. We wore matching aprons.
I indulged, and spent my birthday money on an actual grown up persons skin care regimen
These things worked. Through integration of music, sunlight, breath, connection and gratitude, which all eased me out of anxiousness and into what was happening right in front of me, out of what wasn't and into what was.
I also knew what the first item on my new planner needed to say: Get back to your blog.
I started this blog over a year ago on a wave of incredible inspiration. I had wanted to write as a way to process, to make sense of my internal world, and if done well, help others make sense of theirs. I put myself into three "boxes" based on things that I am passionate about: Food-Hospitality, Intentional living and Personal Growth, then when I pushed "publish" I was instantly self-conscience. How can one be embarrassed when they haven't even done that embarrassing thing yet? I can't explain it. Everything I had written since then has gone straight into the trash.
Truly, I have never considered myself a writer, and this has been a perfect excuse to be shy of and intimidated by the very real possibilities of unpolished grammar, run-on sentences and clueless use of semicolons; it actually gives me relief to know that if my writing is that bad, no one will read it anyway.
I know that life is full of disappointments, many of which are not mine to control, but I no longer want to tolerate the ones that are.
To this end, I know that if I am ever going to being proficient at something, I have to suffer being sloppy first.
I also know that by saying yes to anything as a discipline, I'll need to be saying no to something of less importance. I can manage disappointment by actually being realistic, which is something our dream big, go big, say yes culture doesn't set us up well for.
I am also learning that my worth is not tied to any of these things, something I clearly still need reminded of from time to time. So here is to 39, to my new planner, my pretty face-wash, and a husband who lets me use his lap-top, and to pushing through a difficult day. Here is to NOT crying like a drama queen when I turn 40...and, best of all, to a shirt I can wear every day until then!
*per the title. Coming up with titles to blog posts is impossible. I thought this one was catchy, so I am going with it, but I must clarify. I received other wonderful gifts besides this shirt, from caring friends, who by now probably realize I am a sucker for home-made stuff and that they could have got away with making me a book marker out of a popsicle stick, but I thank them nonetheless.