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


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).

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.

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.


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.

Birthday thanks for my husband, who brings extra to the ordinary.

Today's your birthday, and you think it's pretty ordinary.

No hullabaloo here. You don't like surprises, you buy yourself the things you want, you're going to make your own dinner because that's better for both of us, and I couldn't even order a cake without checking with you to make sure we got the right flavor.

Yeah, it's a pretty ordinary Thursday.

And yet. You make ordinary best. You make ordinary more.

When I turn the corner, I praise the ordinary glory of your car in the driveway, food on the counter, Thirty Rock on the TV, and you with your glass of milk in your grandmother's chair. Or I give thanks for the sound of your engine cutting off, your door shutting, the key in the lock. I rejoice in our evening rituals, in our quiet talks in bed (even when you're trying to go to sleep for your early wake up call), one of my favorite joys of married life. The talks shot through with deep knowing, even on the surface, even though there's still so much to learn.

You make ordinary an exploration.

You take in my worries and walk them back, deescalate, calm. Strong arms, strong words, strong heart. You stand tall on the mound and play the game with all you've got, but losing doesn't defeat you. When you were knocked to the lowest of lows, you stood up again with even more courage.

You make ordinary a gift.

You say that you have the humor of a five-year-old (how old are you turning today...?), and yet you are one of the oldest souls I know. Typically, you waffle in between the two, which never ceases to make life interesting.

You make ordinary fascinating.

Speaking of waffling, when we wake up on Saturday mornings you ask me, "What do you want for breakfast?", then dart around the kitchen and set my tea water brewing as I'm still stirring in bed. Sometimes, you decide you're going to cook two full meals in one day, filling the house with smells from a true Cajun kitchen of which your grandmother and aunt would be proud. You are steeped in family, and all that it means and matters.

I never thought a Sunday morning grocery run would be one of the most enjoyable parts of the week, striding jauntily into your happy place long before most people are awake, as we team up to figure out meals and grab what have become our staples, greeting the cashiers and managers that we now know by name. In church, you take my hand for the Lord's Prayer, because it's what you did growing up.

You make ordinary my prayer.

On a long drive, you hold us steady, and when it's my turn to take the wheel, even your sacked-out presence by my side is a comfort. When we travel, you're organized yet flexible, seeking awe and beauty, branching out from beloved routine.

Even when we are away from our ordinary, you make it feel like home.

Maybe longtime married people are chuckling at this post and saying that my joy in our ordinariness will fade. Maybe one day, with children and dogs and a mortgage and the pieces of life we don't yet have, the ordinariness of the simple, single couple will sound like the most marvelous, extraordinary thing in the world. Maybe it will.

And yet, our ordinary has already changed in these nearly six years, shifting in place, career, daily schedule, knowledge of one another and the world. We've had challenges; of course there will be more. We've had gladness and sorrow; of course there will be more.  

But in every day with you, there's ordinary. And you transform ordinary into something extra.

Happy birthday, love.