30 things to do before I turn 31.

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Happy new decade to me! Here are some things I hope to live out in the year to come.

1. Consider what I actually need in terms of amount. Too often I find I don't think before I consume--whether that's clothes, dessert, or social media.

2. Continue building up strength/cardio. 15-pound weights, you're up next!

3. Get a dog. ALERT: THIS HAS HAPPENED! Sweet Lucy the 4-year-old black lab joined our family 2 weeks ago!

4. Drink a gallon of water per day. Because I want to see if I feel any different, and I know it will be good for me either way.

5. Feel free to say no. This isn't saying I'll shirk responsibilities, but I will consider what I take on as a responsibility in the first place.

6. Pray the hours again. I used Phyllis Tickle's Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours for my Lenten practice, and I'd like to do her prayers for Advent through Epiphany this winter.

7. Build authentic author platform. I created my own professional Facebook page back in the summer, and I've barely touched it since. Why? I think while some of it is legitimate forgetfulness or busy-doing-other-things, a lot of it is due to "imposter syndrome." Who am I to have a professional author page on Facebook? What do I have to say and share that people will want to hear? There are so many voices out there already. This year, I'd like to get past this and simply share what resonates with me--whether or not people end up reading it.

8. Meet more neighbors. We've already started doing this, but there are plenty of folks on our street that we still don't know. How to change that... cookies, perhaps? 

9. Live our own journey. The world we're in makes it so easy to compare our lives to others', and I want to strive to, well, ignore that, and appreciate where Sean and I are on our path.

10. Pay more attention to/ask more questions about/be more aware about money and finance. I am true to my English major self in that I really don't like or understand the intricacies here. I have a husband who does, so too often I lean on him for that support--not that I don't appreciate his strengths in that area, but I think that it would ultimately make me feel more confident in multiple aspects of life if I were more tuned in here.

11. Continue meditating and journaling. This has been an important part of my daily morning routine for almost 2 years now, and I'm proud of having kept it up. In 2017, I've added a third element: going through my Wendell Berry collection page by page and reading a poem aloud each day (now the dog gets to listen in).

12. Eat healthily (most of the time). Self-explanatory.

13. Seek out more writing continuing ed opportunities. I had the opportunity to attend a writing conference this summer, and did a 6-week writing workshop this fall--both inspired my words and gave me new writing communities to connect to. I'd really love to go back to the Collegeville Institute sooner rather than later.

14. Submit my writing to publications. This is something that I honestly forget about as a writer. I guess that partially means that I write first and foremost for myself, which feels positive--but I think that I also shy away ("forget") about submitting pieces because of (why else?) the fear of rejection. Plus, I write new pieces less frequently than I'd like. May all of this awareness spur me to put my voice out there more in my 31st year.

15. Run at least two 5Ks. Last year I successfully ran my first two 5Ks ever, finished both of them running, and had a great time. I'm already signed up for one in a couple of weeks. I haven't trained as much as a jogger, but I truly believe that walking up five flights of stairs at work and strength training on the regular have influenced my cardio capabilities more than anything else.

16. Quit using "nothing" as a response. You know how someone asks you "What's up?" and you say "Nothing"? Or "How are you?" and the word that blurts out of your mouth is simply, "Fine"? Sometimes that works, but most of the time I find those are covers for more complex emotions I'm experiencing. If I feel comfortable with the person asking, I want to be more honest about where I am in that moment.

17. Do yoga regularly. I'm excited that this has already begun to begin, thanks to a new class being held at my workplace. When I've tried to do yoga on my own in the past (or with a video instructor), I've felt impatient--it hasn't felt as "exercise-y" as strength training or cardio, it goes more slowly, it takes more concentration. But at this phase of life, with a great in-person instructor and friends in the class, I am really enjoying it and savoring how my body and mind feel during and after class. I'm even making it out of the house early one day a week, which tells you how much I want to be there!

18. Clean out my email inboxes. When do we ever have time for this? It feels so small and unnecessary because it's not visibly piling up on a desk. But mentally... that's another story.

19. Write paper letters more often. I just got some beautiful new stationary for my birthday, so this should not be hard.

20. Have a writing goal for each week. I'm not exactly sure what this looks like yet. I journal for myself everyday, so I'd like it to be different from that. A blog post? A shitty first draft of a new piece? Plugging along on my manuscript? I need to explore this further.

21. Advocate for myself at the doctor. This is something I'm not very good at doing, and I want to strengthen this "muscle" as it were. Too often, I feel like I'm at the mercy of the doctor's schedule, and that what they tell me is what it is. But then I get home and I have more questions, and I feel like an idiot for not thinking to ask in person, and I feel like an idiot for calling and asking them, and... why? Because I care what people think of me. But when it comes to my health, my well-being, I need to be the most important person in the room, and in my mind.

22. Keep home desk clean/organized. Check back with me on this at "40 things to do before I turn 41."

23. Be generous. In a myriad of ways.

24. Consider the source. Good advice for all of us these days.

25. Write down all passwords somewhere. Ick/ack/don't yell at me for not having done this yet in life.

26. Make a landscaping plan for our backyard and begin to implement it. Now, if only this didn't cost money...

27. When I'm riding the bus, no Internet; only reading, podcasts, or quiet. For reasons two-fold: stop using my phone as a tool for boredom, and save data.

28. Make actual photo albums. I haven't done this in years and it used to be one of my favorite pastimes. I think it's partially because now I have photos of such random daily life (thanks, Instagram) that it doesn't really feel like they fit anywhere... and yet I don't want my memories to disappear from view in the overcrowded cloud.

29. Apologize only when necessary. I'm one of countless women with the apology complex, saying "I'm sorry" more than I say most anything else. Sometimes it's meant as something different--I think of it more like "excuse me" at times--but in many moments I really do say it to bypass any discomfort at something I think I've done wrong (but often haven't really), or something I know I haven't done wrong but want to be told that it's okay anyway. It's almost a manipulation tool sometimes (I'm going to apologize even though I know I don't have to so I can be told how good I am!). And sometimes I just say it because it's habit. ("I'm sorry for saying I'm sorry" has come out of my mouth more than once.) But I want to be as mindful as possible about my apologies--are they deserved? Did I do something that warrants it? Am I using it to achieve something other than forgiveness? When I do need to apologize, may it be genuine, and may it be said only one time--with no need to lay it on in fear that the first didn't take.

30. Continue learning and listening--and acting--in the fight for racial justice and equity. I have felt really blessed to have opportunities to participate in dialogues with my sisters and brothers of color and with my fellow white siblings over this past year, and I pray that they keep going. I also pray that I have the courage and strength to bring more white people into these conversations and listening sessions. The key for me has been recognizing that I'm a strong human being and I am not being attacked personally--but I do want to help change things, and in order to do that I must acknowledge the realities of white privilege and that I benefit from it. White supremacy is real and today we are seeing that in forms extreme and moderate (both incredibly harmful) more than I can remember in my lifetime. If you want to talk with me more about this, please reach out. 

BONUS: I ended with a similar mantra last year, but here it is again, as we journey on in this divisive time: Approach all with compassion. Combat the fear of others, of the other, that has infiltrated our society. Do not propel those irrational fears forward into the world, but instead act as a vessel for kindness, listening, and understanding.

Cheers!

The Birthday Lists: An Archive

25 things to do before I turn 26

26 things to do before I turn 27

27 things to do before I turn 28

28 things to do before I turn 29

29 things to do before I turn 30

10(ish) lessons I've "learned" in my 20s.

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I turn 30 on Tuesday (heads up, pretty much all of my recent posts are going to say this). A new year is always something to celebrate, but this decade mark is the first time that I feel like I can look back and see specific experiences and moments in each of the last ten years that enriched my internal and external perspectives. While my first two decades certainly shaped the core of who I am, 20-30 watched me navigate the whole being-who-I-am thing in the midst of shifting contexts, AKA turning into an adult. And so, because I am an INFJ (and obviously the coolest person you know), I present 10(ish) lessons I've "learned" in my 20s.

(Ish) because there's more than 10. "Learned" because, welp, I'm still learning most of them.

20: Being a "floater" is a positive thing. This was the year that I felt separate from what I had considered to be my closest group of friends--but in striking out on my own I realized that I was actually close with a number of different groups and individuals across campus. This was a gift in that it gave me a variety of people and friendships (still does!), and it also reminded me that the friend I can truly always count on is myself.

21: Home can mean many places. Building on those lessons of friendship, 21 took me to England for a semester, my first time truly away from places where I felt "at home"--and then Norwich and the University of East Anglia became home too. Would it have continued to feel that way if I'd been there longer for 3 months, or would homesickness have taken over? Who knows. But it taught me that I could get to know a place that was once completely unknown. "Wasn't it amazing? " people would ask when I returned to the States. And the answer was, no, it wasn't amazing--not in the way that they meant it. What amazed me was that I could find a church and a favorite cereal, not to mention friends, in a brand-new place, and that it became normal. That feeling returned when I interned at a church in Virginia the next summer, another city and people that by the end, I hated to leave.

22: Bite the bullet and share your feelings, even if rejection follows. Oof, 22 held a lot of lessons (including "Even when you graduate from college and it feels like the world is ending, you will survive"), but this is the one that feels most important. Having the reassuring schedule of academia ripped out from under me made me feel vulnerable in a myriad of ways, and that led me to reach out to a couple of guys I liked more directly than I ever had before. None of them ended how I would have liked at the time, but I felt (how many more times can I say "feel" in this paragraph, y'all?) a sense of power that came with being honest, coming to accept reality rather than clinging to the long-standing "what if?" purgatory that had been hounding my head/heart, and ultimately moving forward.

23: Keep meeting new people and trying new things. This was the year I traveled to Nigeria, met my future husband, landed my first full-time job, made "real world" friends, moved into my own place, got to know my new city, developed my own routine--became my own adult, really. 

24: Living by yourself is important. My mom always stressed to me the importance of living alone for at least a period of time in your life, and I plan to say the same to my own children someday. It was important for my personal growth to find and secure a place to live, pay my own rent and bills, decorate my home how I wanted, stay up late cooking dinner, host guests, feel the sense of quiet that took over at night when I was the only being inside the house.

25: Stay in touch with people who matter. In the midst of Phase I of friends-getting-married that began around this time, I was consistently reminded of how much it meant to me to be able to witness people that I had known for years now experiencing another milestone in their lives--and then dance like crazy afterwards. Nourishing these bonds even from a distance has made a difference.

26: Make the trip home for that final goodbye. Until I walked out the door to my car, the spontaneous trip felt difficult to justify--but of course some of that was denial that it was even happening or necessary at all. Thankfully, my gut (and my mother) was right. And I'll never regret it.

27: You do not have to be who you were as a child. This was the year we moved back home and got married and I started a new job. It was tough. I loved being back in beloved spaces, but sometimes it seemed like I had to "combat" the childhood perspective of me that old friends held, because that's how they still saw me. The best way to get over this, I determined, was to be myself as I am now, and to not apologize for being different than my child/teen self, or play into expectations. (The passage of time helped, too.)

For these two most recent years, 28 and 29, I'm moved to share two lessons each--one inward, one outward (some of both, really).

28:
A) Cultivate habits to lower stress. At the end of 27, I was feeling fraught about numerous things, mostly brought on by a dreaded doctor's appointment that wouldn't come for months. I felt panicky and anxious more than I ever had, in the car, at night, lots of places. The appointment came and went with no major revelation, which helped, but I still had this sense that I was now "conditioned" to experience stress and panic in ways that I hadn't before. And then a woman in my small group mentioned the Headspace app, which I actually made time for in the mornings to practice meditation. I returned to an old habit of journaling. I thought more consciously about breathing. It didn't all fix itself right away, but I slowly started to feel a difference.

B) Accomplishing difficult goals is possible (and rewarding). It took me four years after college to finally decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing. And then it took an arduous two years of reading, writing, and even teaching (all while holding down a full-time job) to reach graduation with a completed manuscript. Sometimes, looking back, I can barely believe that I actually did it. I'm not really sure how I did. But I know it took work, encouragement, days of inspiration, days of flatness, reading on the bus and writing on weekends, and the ever-strong influence of deadlines and people counting on me. I look back at that achievement because it wasn't something that I necessarily expected of myself--it wasn't a required step like other schooling had been. It was a step I chose, a step I chose to stick with and complete.

29:
A) It's okay to say no. I've always been a people-pleaser, which I used to think translated into pleasing myself (if no one's mad at me, if everyone likes me, I'm pretty easy to please). But I've reached a point in the past 12 months where there were some extracurriculars on my plate that I wanted to be doing in theory, but not in actuality. I had to acknowledge the difference there. The only reason I was still doing them was because I didn't want to let down people who I care about. That might come off sounding a little selfish, and in this case, I think it's okay. These days, I'm keeping my personal priorities in mind: self, family, health, friends, writing, reading, things that strengthen my mind and my soul (and sometimes a good old-fashioned 21st century binge-watch).

B) The ongoing fight for justice and equality in this country requires white people to actively acknowledge the evils of white supremacy and white privilege and push against them. Seek justice using the strengths of your own personality. Listen and learn without feeling defensive or accused. White guilt is unnecessary and useless. Self-awareness is key. This is a post in itself, to be sure, but all of these lessons have risen to the surface for me this year, and I'm looking forward to continuing to explore and act on them as my 30s get underway.  

That last bold bit of 29B strikes me: Self-awareness is key. If I could sum up my 20s in one phrase (ha), I think that would be it.

Bring on the next decade!

P.S. Not gonna lie, the collage was fun to make.

Notes from a someday mother.

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This Mother's Day, something happened for the first time: I got wished a Happy Mother's Day.

On three separate occasions. At two grocery stores (before 9 a.m., with my husband, no children in sight) and at our lunch spot (at noon, with my husband, no children in sight).

(Seems strange to me that a mother around my age celebrating Mother's Day would not have her children with her. Might mean that she's not a mother, eh? Context clues: they really can help in social situations.)

No hesitation from those who wished it, until I gave a brittle chuckle and said faux-brightly, "Not yet!"

**

My husband and I don't have kids, but we want them someday, and what someday means is up to us—except, you know, not entirely.

Now that it's September, I can officially say that I'm turning 30 next month, and I'm excited about it. (Get pumped, readers: I've already been working on my 30 things to do before I turn 31 list.) I'm not feeling the need to say, "It's my second 29th birthday!" I'm genuinely looking forward to a new decade.

As I finish up my twenties a married woman, and women my age are starting to have children, it feels more and more like maternal instincts are expected of me. Instincts that are (evidently) supposed to be "natural." That bothers me a lot more than the idea of turning 30.

**

This spring at small group, one member brought her beautiful new baby for us to meet. Apart from me, most of the others are already mothers. They passed the infant around the circle easily, cooing and giving her a bottle, giving the new mom some time to breathe and vent.

When it was my turn, I took the baby somewhat awkwardly from the person next to me, and paused. I wasn't sure how to position her. Should I tuck her head in the crook of my arm, or try and lift her up to my shoulder? She had just eaten; was she going to spit up on me? I don't know how to burp an infant. I loved reading The Baby-Sitters Club but I always hated actual baby-sitting. I don't know what to do.

In that moment, it felt like every woman in the room was watching me.

It felt like they were expecting me to feel something I very much didn't.

It felt like I didn't even want to try and hold the baby the right way (sorry, baby, I'm horrible), so that I wouldn't satisfy (what I interpreted to be) their expectation.

Then someone said something. Exasperated, short.

"Come on, Claire, you know how to do it!"

Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm basically the opposite of a rebel, in the traditional sense. No curfew issues, no groundings as a teenager. But I've learned that one of my biggest sources of rebellion as an adult is to be passive aggressive. To not try.

I didn't want to try and hold the baby the right way, especially after that comment. Even though many of these women are my close friends and role models (and people I’d want to emulate as a mom), this moment spurred an internal and external rebellion against showing the mothering tendency that it's assumed I even have. Because if I show that I do have it, then I'm conforming to what women are supposed to be in the eyes of our world, what has been seen for millennia as a woman's highest calling.

**

I don't love that I'm a passive aggressive rebel. But I do recognize it. It happens in other scenarios, too. And I'm working on it. Slowly.

Granted, there are some ways that I "rebel" against what society thinks a woman should be by just...being...me. I don't like makeup, the idea of a having a wedding hashtag made me cringe, and it took me forever to understand the appeal of skinny jeans (finally got there on that one, though). Most of that is because I'm incredibly low-maintenance, always have been (what's this hairdryer contraption you speak of?). But a bit of it is that proactive sense of... wanting to be different. Not wanting to be told how meaning should come into my life.  

**

How meaning should come into my life.

Because that's what it's really about, right? Children equal meaning, the greatest meaning there is, at least according to our "family values" society (remind me how that works again, no-paid-family-leave, anti-insurance-for-all, I-could-go-on U.S. government?). Raising a human to be, well, human (or their particular brand of it), and to see how they grow and learn and start to find meaning in their own lives. I certainly agree—that whole journey is chock full of meaning.

But that doesn't mean that's all there is. And I think my fear is that I will narrow myself down in meaning and purpose. To sound like the incredibly selfish almost 30-year-old that I sound like right now, I don't want all of my meaning to be wrapped up in someone else's. I want who I am as a person, not just a mother, to still matter when I'm breastfeeding and running after toddlers and picking up middle schoolers. And I don't want to lose value now, when I'm not a mother.

I didn't want that group of women to look at me cradling that baby and think, "Wow, someday Claire is going to be even more valuable to the world than she is right now—when she becomes a mom."

Reality check: They love me. They most likely didn’t think that. I am probably projecting that thinking onto them. Why take the time to think that about me when there’s a cute baby to focus on?

I'm going to be getting lots of concerned looks at church next week because of this blog post, aren’t I?

**

Maybe not concerned looks, but I do imagine that mothers are reading this and shaking their heads at my limited view. I promise: I know I can't even understand a fraction of motherhood right now. That’s probably why I’m coming off defensive and passive aggressive—because I do hold some fear and apprehension about the whole concept.

While I'm happy with my current life, if I look forward down the road and see us without kids, I feel deep regret. As a child of two amazing people, I have a taste of the joys and rewards that a positive parent/child relationship can bring. I want to see my husband be the fantastic father that I know he’ll be. I want that next adventure with him.

But I don't want it to be assumed or expected of me, just because I'm a married woman about to turn 30. Or a woman, period.

Does that make me a walking, talking, writing contradiction? To announce that I want something, but then demand that it not be assumed of me? This is getting complicated.

(I should also note strongly and with much gratitude that my parents and in-laws are wonderful, non-nosy and supportive human beings when it comes to someday grandchildren, not to mention in all other aspects of life. Any pressure I feel comes from the outside—society, or people who don't know me very well.)

**

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of me holding my new niece. She'd had trouble settling down, but she was on her way to a nap when I took her, and I knew my sister-in-law was snapping photos, so I smiled. I posted one of the photos on social media and got the comment, "You look like a natural with that baby!"

Full disclosure: I adore my new niece, and I love the person who made this comment very much. But I wondered:

Why do I look like a natural? Because I'm a woman, holding a fairly calm baby, and smiling? Is that all it takes? And I felt the rigidity of my internal rebellion flare up again. What if I don't want to be a natural?

Well, that's where my passive aggressiveness gets a bit absurd if it hadn’t already; of course I want to be a natural. That makes child-rearing sound simple, right? But just like the truth behind the photo, I know that's not the case (I replied to the comment, "Looks can be deceiving!").

I imagine every mother wants to be a natural, and doesn't get that wish. Or is a "natural" in some ways, but not in others. Either way, what gave me the qualifications to even look like a natural to begin with? I certainly don't feel like a natural now, and I'm guessing that feeling will go even farther south as soon as we bring our first child home from the hospital. With that, I'm not declaring that I'll be a terrible mother—I'm just not expecting, from all firsthand reports, for it to be easy. 

**

I haven't even broached the fact that this takes on a whole new level if you struggle to have children or have lost children. The irrational, overly-sensitive part of me who takes far too much lucky/unlucky stock in "be careful what you wish for" fears that even writing these emotions out to process them will make my uterus reluctant. Another absurdity I pray I won't hold too close, blame I pray I won’t assign. But I can only imagine the heartstrings it tears to hear a carefree "Happy Mother's Day!" (at the grocery check out, of all mundane places) and not be annoyed, but devastated, because you so desperately wish that it were true.

**

I wrote this post over a week ago, and have sat with it since. I'm not sure my wordiness has captured what I'm trying to say. I'm certain that I’ve missed other perspectives that are just as valid. But all I can authentically share is my own—and what else is writing for but to process these moments so that they yield not regret, but growth?

Part of me feels like I should keep this tucked away in my private journal. That’s because it’s perhaps the most fraught piece I’ve ever considered delivering into the world—and I deeply don’t want it to be taken the wrong way, especially by the people I care most about. My best friends are starting to have kids, and I’m thrilled for them. I do, indeed, adore my new niece, and already relish seeing her grow. My husband will be a wonderful dad and I’m excited to be a parent with him. And yet here I am, writing this.

Who cares what I think, anyway? It’s just adding another voice to the din. 

But then there are the other women that I’ve talked to who nod their heads, eyes full of understanding.

**

When I talked to my non-Facebook mother about what I had written (after a baby shower, of all things), we discussed how social media comes into play in terms of how I view parenthood. It’s overwhelming, I said, as I tried to describe to her the bombardment of information, stories, photos, opinions, videos, articles—and I’m not even a parent yet. It made me think about how much social media plays into my response to potential parenthood more than I realize. And maybe I need to remember that while I can’t fully control whether or not I’m a “natural” at parenting, I can control how much or how little I want to be a part of the bombardment.

(Maybe it’s easier to say that as a non-parent. That’s a possibility, too.)  

**

Dear someday children,

If you stumble upon this long-ago post after we give you your first smartphone (so you're at least 18, right?), please know that you were and always have been so deeply loved. This piece is not about not wanting you. This piece is about unpacking thoughts that I need to unpack before you come along, about figuring out how I can be, probably not a natural, but a true-to-myself parent in a world that has a lot of expectations and opinions on the subject. I'm sure there will be plenty more to process once you get here, and knowing me, I should start now.

Because I'm not just going to be your mother. In fact, that’s going to be the newest thing that I am, though I’m sure we’ll get the hang of it together. But first I am Claire, the writer (and thus over-thinker), the introvert, the people person, the alto, the Hufflepuff, the Wildcat, the reader, the traveler, the homebody, the photographer, the God seeker, the daughter, the wife, the sister, the coworker, the friend.

**

On Father's Day, we went through our normal morning grocery store routine again. "Happy Father's Day!" the cashier wished my husband, then added, "If you're a dad."

I had been granted no "if" on Mother's Day.

World, all I want is that "if." That "I recognize that there's more to you than simply your physical ability to produce offspring and keep them alive!"

Because I'm so much more than that.

And yes: my so much more will feed into my chosen motherhood. It will contribute to whatever element of “natural” parent that I someday grow into.

But, most importantly, that so much more already feeds me now. And I am truly grateful.