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Birthdays

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A wish, on my 35th birthday

November 3, 2017

This week I turn 35.

35.

What can I say about 35 … I’m halfway through my 30s and barreling toward 40 like a greasy sled in an avalanche. I call 20-somethings “kids” and they call me “ma’am”. My hairdresser (friend) found my first grays. I’ve decided to name them Salt, Peppa and Spinderella. My underwear is as big as my fitted sheet, but I have a few Stitch Fix pieces the young gals at work think are dope. I’m straddling the numerical divide, just a pant pleat away from middle age.

There’s something about birthdays, much like the turning of the calendar year, that tickles the reflective parts of my brain. I mean, more aggressively than they’re normally tickled, if you can imagine. I always come back to the romantic, unrealistic visions past. The ones where I imagined where I’d be by 35. I think about what this age looked like to me 20, 15, 10 or 5 years ago. Am I there? Am I even close to there?

I probably thought I’d be married at 35. And a mom, with three kids. CHECK.

I probably thought I’d be a moderately successful writer living in a semi-intimidating metropolis exposing all that’s beautiful and ugly and hilarious and ironic in the world. That I’d have a tailored capsule wardrobe curated by someone who knew how to hide these hips. That I would have something bound and boldly placed out into the universe for others to read and dissect at book clubs where expensive red wine flows like soda pop in the south.

I probably thought I’d be my best self physically. My child-bearing years behind me, I’d have a sculpted physique I chiseled in the wee hours of the morning when all the doers are already doing, while the want-to-doers are fast asleep.

That’s probably what I thought.

Now, I’m not mad at where I am. No sir. As I sit here listening to my baby chuckle at her dad in the next room, I declare myself a proud, card-carrying member of the suburban working mothers’ guild. I feel blessed that my most critical struggles are teetering on the high end of my recommended BMI and disciplining a 6-year-old who I’m certain is smarter than I am. That is God’s gift to me. A life rich in blessings and poor in complexities. A life where I can toil over the simple glory of being present and connected, rather than where I’ll put my babes to sleep at night or how I’ll fill their little tummies. I count my blessings every morning and twice each night, knowing none of this is guaranteed and nothing separates me from those heavy hearts but a little bad luck and a wrong turn or two.

Whether this stop was on my roadmap or not, it’s where I live. It’s where the branches on my tree first sprouted, and where they’ll continue to grow. This is exactly where I should be, and where you’ll likely find me at 40 … and 45. So, if I’m not planning on going anywhere, perhaps it’s time to form a new vision for my future. And I know exactly what it is.

Guys … I want to be a hero.

I had the chance to hear motivational speaker Kevin Brown a few weeks back, and he was phenomenal. I was buying everything he was selling. The masterful storyteller stood on the stage and reflected on many things, including the times he pretended to be Superman as a child. He started jumping off the couch. Then the table. Then, eventually, he decided to jump off the roof of his garage. He was young, invincible, and he believed he could soar. Of course, he didn’t. He got hurt. And that was likely the beginning of the end of such bold attempts. He says now, “I would love to go back and ask that little boy, ‘When did you forget you could fly?’”

When did I forget I could fly? When did you?

We’ve all heard people say that heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. But Kevin believes that heroes are the people who choose not to be ordinary at all. Ever. To never buy into it. The fact that we are here – that we swam faster than the others and our mother carried us for nine months and we made it into the world – is extraordinary. We’re created in an image of excellence, and we arrive with a unique set of talents and thoughts and gifts. But somewhere along the line, slowly, gradually, we start to believe that good enough is good enough. That if we do the bare minimum, we can coast along. We can blend and dissolve into the sea of other ordinary people doing ordinary things. We can fly under the radar, which isn’t really flying at all.

And in the end, if this is your choice, that’s all you get.

Kevin called it “terminally corporate”. We’re chained to a string of mundane tasks, mundane accomplishments, mundane days, leaving nothing of note to live on in others when we go. A lackluster job that doesn’t quite fit, or a loveless marriage, or the loss of something or someone becomes an excuse to go numb. And letting that mentality take over seeps out into every interaction. Every moment, every memory. It becomes the script you live by.

We think that the only choices are, we’re either backpacking across Ireland or we’re sitting on the couch eating Chili Cheese Fritos, bingeing the whole first season of Ozark. But what if there was something else you could use to measure?

Enter Kevin’s definition of heroism.

Heroes change lives. They seize every opportunity, big and small, to impact others. Heroes make every person feel seen and valued and important. They do things from a place of sincere respect and genuine compassion, two things they award to all people, who’v earned them by simply being human. Heroes recognize the value of the space they occupy while they occupy it. It’s not about dwelling on what happened yesterday, or dreaming about what may come and what you’ll do if and when it does. It’s about taking the moment you’re standing in, right now, and making it count, both for you and for the other people standing in that space with you.

Have you ever passed someone who looked disheartened and thought, “Man, I should have stopped. I should have said something”? Well, heroes do. Heroes are boldly and unapologetically empathetic. Heroes ask the tough questions with the hope they can impact the answers.

Being a hero means somebody else’s life is better because you showed up.

So, that’s the vision for 35 … and 36. And all the days, weeks, months and years I’m gifted after that. To become a hero, by Kevin Brown’s definition, to the people I love and the people I will love but haven’t met yet. What I do is what I do. It’s not who I am. If I write something truly profound (Lord willing) and it catches fire, that’s great. But it’s not what will define me. The way I make people feel will be what defines me.

It will be my cape. It will help me soar.

If I can pour a little positivity into every person I pass each day, that’s the stuff of legacies. That’s the flame of the torch. Accomplishments matter, sure. I want to be healthy, fulfilled, successful. But I want to really see people, hear people, impact the people standing right in front of me much, much more than that.

I want to be a hero, and I want you to be one, too.

[blows out candles.]

Thoughts

Birthdays kinda blow

November 7, 2015

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On Tuesday I had a birthday. It was a day that marked the passing of 364 days since the last day I reflected intensely on and took inventory of where I was at in life.  Now, full disclosure, I don’t own a birthday foam finger. That is to say, I’m not a big fan of them. It’s not that I despise getting older (“It’s better than the alternative,” my dad, Big Rog, would say), it’s the expectation and, ultimately, letdown it induces.

Look no further than your facebook wall. “Happy National Holiday!” “You deserve the most special day ever!” “I hope it’s epic! Go do something amazing with your girls!” It’s the LeBron James of calendar occasions. No single day can live up to that hype. It’s just not possible to artificially impregnate a specific, designated 24 hours with all the joys and surprises and rewards you’ve been wishing for all year, or the well-meaning, completely unattainable dreams that cascade down from your social circle.

But we try, don’t we? It’s OK to admit it … I’ll go first so you don’t have to. The embarrassing truth is, as our grown-ass heads meet the pillow on our respective birthday eves, we entertain impossible possibilities that awaken a childlike exhilaration and anticipation, the likes of which rival only Christmas itself. Then we try to talk ourselves down from the high … “Oh my gosh, that’s crazy to think that my boss is going to just send me home for my special day.” “OK, Courtney, they are not going to name a burger after you at Brava’s just because you got older.” “A 20-day getaway to an all-inclusive hut with a window in the floor where you can see fish? He would never!”

For me, the downright preposterous delusions drown out practicality all the way through mid-afternoon of my actual birthday, when I realize that this year, much like last year, will be marked by thoughtful messages from friends of the past and present, a handful of funny cards about farts and drinking too much (my favorite things) and vanilla cupcakes from Kroger with the whipped cream frosting. They are humble, delightful traditions, and they are mine. The truth is, contradictory to what this post might imply, I relish every small, special nod I get on November 3. I do. They just aren’t on the My Super Sweet 16 scale that I uncontrollably harvest a desire for from some disgusting place in the depths of my selfish, greedy subconscious. It’s a gross internal battle and I blame the aforementioned MTV reality series.

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Perhaps most sobering, is the acceptance that there is no magic spell that befalls my home on that day. The girls still fight. The dishwasher still needs emptied. The laundry still needs put away. The workout still needs to get done. As hard as I silently send out wishes to my fairy godmother, the chores and the sibling conflicts just keep right on coming, like punches to a piñata at my mental fiesta. Again, the rational woman in me chuckles at the notion that anything would change just because of an event that took place 33 years ago. But the 7-year-old birthday girl cries a little bit.

I have friends who are great birthday people. They organize nice evenings out in celebration of their lives, and manage to mark the occasion year after year with the perfect marriage of merriment and modesty. But I shutter at the thought of planning an event in my own honor and instead choose to sit by and let it pass, all the while secretly pining for grand gestures. It’s not in my typical nature, I swear. It’s an annual internal display of obnoxious narcissism that I’ll never understand and can’t believe I’m owning right now. It’s not pretty and it’s not cute, but all of this ugliness is why I don’t care for my birthday. But I love everyone else’s.

(Editor’s note: Thank you so much to everyone who sent me a birthday message on facebook. It’s so thoughtful and truly one of the happiest highlights of the day.)

Now that we have that rant all neatly wrapped up, I’d like to take just a few bullet points to toast the things I actually managed to accomplish in my 32nd year of life. Some big, some small, all a hash mark to verify I was striving for something.

I dropped the butts. The mere fact that my smoking habit hung on as long as it did embarrasses me, but I won’t carry it on to 33. You’re welcome, lungs. And sorry about that.

Oh, did I mention I ran 13.1 miles? I might have already talked about the fact that I completed my first half marathon. I still can’t motha cluckin’ believe dat ish. Huge bucket list bullseye there.

I talked to you folks. The reality is, it’s not easy fitting this fun little writing project of mine into the gridlocked traffic jam that is our Monday through Sunday. But it’s a release. It’s a time capsule. It’s a priority because it proves I can still find myself at the crossroads of profession and passion. And I’ve kept it going for the past year, which was something I really wanted to prove to myself. I might only post once a week, but it’s still breathing.

Aluminum-free at 33. I put some persistent paranoia to bed and finally found an effective, healthy deodorant.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. I did the ballsiest thing I can remember myself doing in years, and switched jobs back in June. It’s been a road of small victories, lots of lessons and invaluable self discovery.

I fell for Emma. After years of Hank and I talking about the kind of parents we wanted to be and the corners of the world we wanted to take our kids, we finally took a step in that direction. We’re pulling our modest little popup around and putting pins in the map. It feels so good running alongside our adventures rather than just chasing them.