Photo Credit: Heaven is a boat with a fishing pole. While I’d prefer that the boat be in the middle of the beautiful and sacred Chesapeake Bay, I’ll settle for other places, too. This was in the harbor at Portland, Maine and it was pretty lovely. I’m having a bit of an affair with Portland…shhh…don’t tell Baltimore!
When I started my first semester at the Ed School, I took a class on exploratory learning that was taught in a way that forced us adults to explore our world through questions and observations. One of the major components of the class was keeping a moon journal, observing the moon every day, and wondering about it. We were expected to keep the journals with us all the time. Isn’t that what computers are for? Being 22, at my dream school, and thinking I was the shit, I hated the class. Loathed it! Sitting with grown adults in a classroom musing about how to tell if they were looking East or West drove me absolutely bonkers. “You do realize that the sun sets in the west, right?” I remember asking one day, having had enough.
“I mean, yes, but how do you know?” Someone answered.
I practically threw up my hands and walked out of the room.
But, being a good student, I kept the journal and “wondered” about the moon. The assignment was open-ended. We could look at the moon and draw it in our journals. We could write poetry. We could do whatever we wanted… I hated that, too. What a waste, I decided. While I did enjoy some aspects of the curriculum when applied to student learning, I never came around to its adult application. When I was 22.
I’m 29 today. I drew a picture of the moon in my Moleskine notebook on Wednesday. It was in a spot that I hadn’t expected it to be in and I wondered about it while I was driving to the park. When I got home, I drew it in my journal and wrote a little note: “Ursa Minor pointed at the moon 5 times today.” My Moleskine is always with me, for any and all notes. From stuff about the house, to my grocery list, to my writing task lists, to drawings of the moon. I feel naked if it isn’t with me. That is my 20s in a nut shell.
I’ve been very tongue-in-cheek about the idea of the ever-looming “3-0,” calling it “the new eighty” and telling everyone that I shall remain 29 forever. “I’ve never met a fun 30 year-old” I’ve told all of my 30-something friends. They roll their eyes and give an exasperated sigh in response while I guffaw in their general direction.
When I turned 20, I packed up the car and drove to my mother’s home in North Carolina. I told my boyfriend (who came with me) that I wanted to surprise my mother, but the truth of the matter was that this decade scared the hell out of me. The 20s are a race to responsibility. To shed the last bastions of childhood (read: graduate from college and take up financial responsibility) and step out into the world as a full adult and citizen (read: I can drink? I can pay insurance? I can start paying rent?). While I knew in my heart that I was ready, I wanted a weekend to get my head in line.
My mother wasn’t terribly pleased to see me. “Shouldn’t you be out partying or something?” She didn’t really need an invasion of college students in her home. I was messing up her groove.
“Is there anything you can tell me? About my 20s? Something that you wish you had known?” I asked her.
She took a sip of wine and thought about it. “It doesn’t really matter what I say to you. You have to come to your own realizations about what this time is. I’d just say don’t do anything that will wreck your career. You kids and that internet…I swear you guys don’t know what you’re doing to yourselves…”
That was only half helpful. I drove the 5 hours from North Carolina back to Maryland feeling a little bit disappointed. I felt like I was walking into my 20s unprepared. I was going to waste this precious time.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Under no circumstances can I call these years a waste. I feel like I’ve done most of the things I set out to do, I’ve set myself up for another productive decade, and I can walk away from my 20’s with very few regrets or embarrassing Facebook pictures.
I broke my first bone at 24 years old. It was April 2009. I was a second-year teacher. I was still a newlywed. I had buried my grandfather 2 months before.
It was 5am on a school morning. Having showered the night before, my morning bathroom routine was pretty simple. Quick evacuation, pick out the ‘fro, brush the teeth and wash the face, put on some moisturizer. Well, when I was sitting on the toilet that morning, someone decided to join me in the bathroom. A centipede. The biggest freaking centipede that I’ve ever seen in my life, before or since. It looked straight from the bowels of Hell. I don’t do bugs. I tried to kill it by spraying some Clorox on it, but that seemed only to piss it off. Not having anything else to do, I jumped up from the toilet and onto the bathtub. Not in the bathub… on the bathub…you know, the rim? I decided that I’d jump over the centipede and escape from the bathroom to fetch something to kill the hellspawn. I leaped with the grace of a gazelle. I landed on the bathroom rug with a little too much momentum and onto my left foot. As the rug came out from under me, I felt the pop of my left fifth metatarsal (baby toe) break. But as I slammed onto the floor (without slamming my head onto the bathtub, which I don’t know how I did, and I’m fairly sure that an angel was in there with me to protect me), the only thing I could think about was that horrible thing crawling on top of me. I leaped to my feet, ran out of the room, and brushed myself off. No centipede, thank God, but searing pain in my foot.
But I had to go to work. I was limping, but I had to go to work. I pushed myself to get dressed and get ready for work. I had students who were depending on me, and more importantly, I was thinking about my grandfather. My grandfather worked two, sometimes three jobs to take care of his family. It didn’t matter if he was sick. It didn’t matter if he was tired. He freaking worked. And he didn’t complain. His death was still so raw for me…he had lived a full life, but I loved him and I wasn’t ready to let go of him. I had convinced myself that working my hardest every single day was the best way that I could honor his life and memory. So I pulled on my pants, then I put my sock on my right foot. I barely touched my toe with my sock when a pain I’d never experienced before (But still is nothing in the context of childbirth) jolted through me. I tried five times before waking up my husband.
My boss made fun of me later that week at staff meeting. I’d left her a voicemail on her cell phone that went something along the lines of “Hey, it’s Kyra, I think I broke my toe. It’s fine because it’s only 5:30, so I think I’ll be able to get in, get something on it and then come in. I’ll keep you posted, but I think I’ll be a little late.”
No one was in the ER. The nurses from the nighshift were a little loopy but happy to hang out with a teacher. They wheeled me down to X-Ray and the technician took the pictures.
“How does it look? Is it a broken toe?” I asked him, hopeful that I’d still be able to get on a train to Roxbury.
The guy snickered. “I can’t tell you, because I’m not a doctor, but I’ll tell you that it looks pretty painful.”
The pictures beat me back to the ER. The nurses greeted me with claps and congratulations. “You let a bug break your foot!” They laughed and then showed me the picture.
I’d really done a number on it.
“I guess I’m not going to make it to work today….”
“Yeah, no.” One of the nurses giggled. The bandaged me up and gave me some really good meds. I would require surgery to repair it.
I called my boss on the way home. “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry that I’m not going to make it in,” I told my boss.
She laughed so hard. “Why are you apologizing? What is wrong with you?” She chided. She moved heaven and earth so that for the 2 weeks before the surgery and the 5 weeks of healing afterward, I could teach in the morning and go home in the afternoon to take my heavy, heavy painkillers.
When I look at the long, ugly scar on my foot or feel the bone on cold high-pressure days, I think about those weeks. Teaching from a wheel-chair or on my crutches. I think about how much it meant to me, despite how hard it was, to make sure that I taught well and fully while I was healing. It wasn’t even about my grandfather at that point. I loved my students, I loved my job, and I realized that there was really nothing in the world that could keep me from giving them my best every single day.
And when I couldn’t go on the annual 8th grade Washington DC Field trip because I was still healing, I was only half disappointed, because I really hate field trips. But I missed my students. I wanted to be with them in the greatest city on Earth. I got an email from a colleague who was on the trip. “Went to the National Archive to see the Constitution. The park ranger couldn’t believe how well the kids knew the Articles and the Amendments. When he congratulated them on their knowledge, one of the kids screamed ‘THANKS MS [Last name]!’”
I couldn’t help but shed a few tears of joy.
That’s my 20s in a nutshell.
I started my 20s with this crazy stupid checklist. There were life events that I was just going to tick on through during these 10 years so that way I could keep it moving through life. Become a powerful and elite person by the age of 30. After 30, you’re old. You should be well established and on the fast track by 30. My checklist was a bit of a monster: Graduate from undergrad, attend graduate school, get a doctorate, become a professor… or teach and become a principal before the age of 30. Hells yeah, I can run a school. Any reasonably smart and passionate person can do that! I’m going to make an impact, I told myself.
Every person of a certain age used to look at me, tsk, and tell me that life laughs at checklists like that. “Life starts happening in your twenties,” my mother told me at some point, “and you really learn that you are not in control.”
There is a truth and a lie in there. It is true that life is life by the time you hit the late 20s. I never knew how damn rich we were when I was making $46,000 a year, paying rent, not paying a car note and not having any kids. My husband and I ate sushi every Friday like we were kings. I won’t tell you how much my husband makes now, but it’s more than that, and I’ve never felt so poor. The car note, the house stuff, the diapers, the preschool tuition… I really should have gone on more shopping sprees when I had the chance! The lie was about control, though. I do have control over my life. I have control over my good and bad decisions. I may not have control over all of their subsequent consequences (seen and unseen), but I have control over my choices. 29 means that I can better assess the fullness of my actions and then better anticipate the consequences of them. I might not get it right every time, but at least I can’t be surprised.
But there are so many important things in there that I simply cannot ignore. I chose to love beyond myself in my 20s. Choosing a great man who loves me for everything I am and everything I can be. I have had the honor and privilege of giving him two beautiful sons. I taught some 200 or so children. I left my home to find another one 8 hours away, but never ever lost an ounce of my home training. I chose, time and again, to put my home and family before my ambitions. While it is true that my ladder climb may be significantly side-tracked or even over, I have not a single regret about those major choices. I only have to watch Ursa Major and Ursa Minor sing their ABCs or watch Ursa Major begin identifying sight-words in his favorite books to know that I made the right decisions. My checklist was a good starting point. I wouldn’t be where I am without it. But I’m beyond happy that I didn’t check all of the boxes on it. Yet?
And that “yet” is the best part. I have so much time to do the things that I want to do. Many of the doors that I wanted to go through simply were not open for me when I wanted them to be. Indeed, some of those opportunities that I wanted I simply didn’t deserve, didn’t have the experience for, or hadn’t done the work to earn. And if they were, I would probably have sucked at whatever tasks were given to me. I wasn’t ready for all of the responsibility that I was seeking. I needed to step away, stop talking, start learning, and grow into the fullness of myself. I wasn’t a full person at 22, or 24, or even 26. I was awesome at 22, but I wasn’t fully awesome at 22. I’m a little less awesome at 29, but I’m pretty full at 29. Maybe not totally full, but certainly more so than I was before.
I don’t necessarily know if I have totally figured out what this decade was supposed to be about. What I can tell you is that I feel like I’ve realized my “full” self in these precious years. I know what I value and why. I know what my limitations are and why. I know what I want for myself and my family and I even think that I have a glimmer of a notion of how to get there. I know that, on most days, I look at myself in the mirror and feel good about who I’ve become and who I have the potential to be if I choose to work hard and seek it. And that is why I’m not going to spend this victory lap going too crazy over what I haven’t accomplished. I want to enter my 30s feeling accomplished, powerful and relaxed. I want to share it but not in some “look at me!” kind of way. I want to turn 30 simply. Gracefully. Graciously.
But I will write a book. And I will publish it on my 30th birthday. 365 days from now. Not because it’s on some crazy check list. I’m doing it because I really love a great challenge. I’m also doing it because other people have taken the time to encourage me to write, to check in on my progress, and to maybe even dream on my behalf. I can’t give up when I know others are dreaming alongside me. I might very well fail at this goal, and I’m prepared for that, but I can think of no other way to honor at kind of trust and friendship than to give it my best efforts.
Today is my 29th birthday. I’m going to start it by baking pumpkin muffins and brewing the first pot of coffee of the weekend. I’m going to take my sons to the farm today. I’m going to give them hugs and kisses. I’m going to teach them something about something. I’m going to chase them and laugh with them. I’m going to wonder with them as we look at the crystal blue sky and the clouds going by. I might even gasp in awe at the sight of the moon in the daytime with them. I’m going to console them when they fall. I’m going to discipline them when they are naughty. I’m going to feed them sandwiches. I’m going to pray that they nap. I’m going to give them a great dinner. I’m going to make sure their home is clean and warm. I’m going to kiss their foreheads and wish them sweet dreams. I’m going to laugh at inside jokes with my husband and probably watch some television with him. I’ll leave him early so that I can curl up in bed with a book that I’m really enjoying but can’t make time to read. I’ll fall asleep reading it, and my husband will remove my glasses, move my Kindle to the nightstand and turn off our lights. I’ll sleep, satisfied with my day. Excited to start another wonderful year. Elated, even, to share more of my life, times, and stories with you and the people who I hold most dear. Most importantly, I’ll be comforted with a newly learned and slowly owned fact: I’ve only just begun to realize my full potential.
That’s my birthday in a nutshell. That’s my roaring 20’s victory lap.