reflections of my thirties

In just four short days I will embark on a new decade of life on this planet: the forties.

When I was a child and the adults in my life turned 40, it seemed like all of the birthday cards joked about saggy boobs, wrinkles and being “over the hill” – the implication being that the best years of their lives were behind them. But these days, thanks to Hollywood, botox and boob jobs (check, check.), the physical degradation of turning 40 doesn’t feel quite so severe at least. Furthermore, my thirties were big. Too big, some might argue. I might agree. In some ways it feels like I’ve lived a whole lifetime in the last ten years.

I married the man I love. I bound myself to another human, for better or for worse, for as long as we both shall live. So many people make the choice to get married in our society that we often fail to acknowledge the courage that goes along with it, not just on “the” day, but every day thereafter. It takes an impossible amount of patience, resilience and love to keep making that choice each day, amid all of life’s stresses, but I feel our bond to each other growing stronger with each passing year. This man has been by my side throughout a very turbulent decade, indeed.

[Snapshot: September, 2009. Sean and I drove up to Wisconsin to spend the weekend with my parents. We had just returned from Colorado where we’d fallen in love with Manitou Springs and the future site of our home. We’d also recently learned about some infertility challenges we had to face. My mom had just been diagnosed with lung cancer a week earlier. She assured us that we would have children – she just knew it (we were pregnant a month later).  She offered us the additional money we needed to make an offer on the land in Colorado, though she made us promise we wouldn’t move within the next two years. That weekend with my mom and the tears that accompanied it were the end and the beginning of everything I love.]

My mom died. She died from Stage 4 lung cancer over the course of six or seven months, but really, she died in an instant. One minute she was there – my rock, my eternal source of wisdom and encouragement, the only one whose opinion ever really mattered to me. And then she wasn’t. All of a sudden there was a gaping hole in my heart and an indescribable brokenness that has haunted me ever since. All of a sudden I was 8 months pregnant giving my mother’s eulogy. Sean held my hand while I stood there and read from my paper. I didn’t look up once.

Kellan was born on her birthday – July 23, 2010. He was due on July 25th, but when I went into labor on the afternoon of the 22nd, I couldn’t help but hope. I wanted so desperately for the grandson that my mother had never met outside the womb to have a significant connection to her. At around 8pm on the 22nd, I said to the nurse: “I really can’t have this baby before midnight.” With decades of prenatal nursing experience behind her and my barely dilated cervix, she looked right at me and said, “Oh honey, there’s no way you’re having this baby before midnight.” I cried new tears of joy and old tears of grief when my little boy was born by C-section many, many hours later. On his grandma’s birthday.

Six months or so into Kellan’s little life, we thought to ourselves, “you know what we ought to do? We ought to add as much chaos to our existing chaos as possible and have another baby. We should simultaneously build a house 2,000 miles away in a town where we have no guarantee of employment.” So that’s exactly what we did. In the span of about nine months in 2011 and 2012 I gave birth to our darling daughter, Kathryn, we broke ground on our mountain home in Colorado, we negotiated the ability to keep our jobs at CDW and work from home, and we moved in June of 2012, approximately two years after my mom helped us with the purchase of the land. We kept our promise. Two weeks later we were evacuated for four days due to one of the most devastating forest fires in recent Colorado history.

This June will mark the 6 year anniversary of our cross-country move and we’ve never looked back, though I’ve certainly looked forward. We’ve been to Hawaii a number of times in the last decade, and I’m certain there is a part of my soul that lives there full-time. I feel full and whole-hearted in a way I can’t explain each time we arrive, and tearful when we leave. The whales are there, for one, and you know how I feel about whales. They are my people and I will share a life with them there one day.

Speaking of travel and whales, the latter half of my thirties has seen me on just about every part of the globe and several long-haul flights. As you may recall, the lust for travel in recent years was really born out of a need for self-discovery and a reclaiming of my identity. I am an Aries woman, and as one of the most independent signs of the zodiac, being “tied down” to a family isn’t always the easiest thing for me. I need to spread my wings and fly sometimes. I am blessed with a husband who knows, accepts and loves this about me, but I think it took losing my own mother to really see it for myself. You see, so much of my identity was wrapped up in my mom’s perception of me and whether or not she thought I was making good choices in life. Right or wrong, I looked to her for so much of my self-worth. But it turns out I really am the strong, capable woman she always knew me to be. The silver lining in losing her has been the opportunity to find this out for myself. With no real experience in traveling alone I have crossed oceans to: live in an ashram in Bali; get my open water scuba license in the Gili Islands; white water raft; bathe in holy water; kayak through karsts off of Cat Ba Island; survive street cars, water taxis and buses in Hanoi; drive on miles of questionable dirt roads through Costa Rica; witness the annual turtle nesting at Ostional Beach; swim side by side with humpback whales in Tonga; swim side by side with humpback whales in Tonga (this one bears repeating). Every one of these adventures has helped heal me in some way, little by little filling the gaping hole left by the absence of her. Then again, as anyone who’s lost a loved one knows, they’re never really absent. They are always there with you, guiding you from beyond.

As I approach the big 4-0, I do so with a sense of peace. I feel strong and beautiful in body and mind. I feel as though the chaos of my thirties has in some ways set the foundation for a more passive and enjoyable next phase of life, though we never really know, do we? As Brene Brown keeps encouraging me to do, I am daring greatly. I am showing up and being vulnerable. I look back on the last decade and I see it all – the pain, the struggles, and the loss, but also the resilience, hope and love. If my thirties have shown me anything, it’s that no matter what 43 or 47 throws at me, I will get up, show up and get on with it. I will take the lemons and make the vodka lemonades. Cheers to the next 10!

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