rainbows end

When you get there

12 January 2015

Across the finish line, I’m a little unsteady on my feet in the silence.

The youngest of my kids started kindergarten, and the oldest just entered his teens. Our endless house project is at last over, three and a half years after it began. I thought the decade of my 20s was the rat race – 100-hour workweeks, city apartments barely used. But it was just a training sprint for the real marathon of my 30s: four kids, two cross-country moves, two giant construction projects, two aching deaths.

I’m 42 years old, and the last time I had daytime quiet in my home, I was 29.

It’s not the a-ha moment I thought it might be. The tide of life will always flood in to fill the void. But I am breathing a little easier, and I marvel to see daylight at my desk instead of the lone glow of my computer screen in the dark.

I’m not young, but I don’t feel old either.

And I’m surprised to find I am much smarter at 42 than I was at 29. I’ve thought many times I was losing my mind – during pregnancies and amidst the demands and sleep torture of young children – but for all the times I’ve been on the brink of insanity, through it I’ve become a more perceptive, effective and understanding person than I was before. And, oddly, calmer.

Life has changed me, in unexpected ways.

I’ve turned philosophical.

Somewhere along the way, I gave up on control.

In Jon Muth’s brilliant children’s book, Zen Shorts, Muth relates the story of “The Farmer’s Luck”:

An old farmer has a horse. One day, his horse runs away.

“Bad luck,” say his neighbors. “Maybe,” says the farmer.

The horse returns the next day, with two wild horses.

“Good luck,” say his neighbors. “Maybe,” says the farmer.

The following day, the old man’s son tries to ride one of the wild horses and is thrown off, breaking his leg.

“Bad luck,” say his neighbors. “Maybe,” says the farmer.

The next day soldiers come, but because of his injury, the farmer’s son is saved from being drafted and taken away.

“Good luck,” say his neighbors. Even so, the farmer is philosophical. “Maybe.”

Plans served a directional purpose when I was younger. But now I don’t have the arrogance to think I know best. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve learned that it’s much more effective to work with the universe than fight it.

Youth felt like paddle boating on a still lake, a lot of pedaling slowly building momentum. The early years of parenthood were like hurtling down rapids – unexpected, terrifying, constantly changing.

Now it’s more like sailing on the open sea. Getting anywhere is less about frantic effort than it is about having the vigilance and preparedness to navigate when the wind allows. Other days the wind gusts the wrong way, or doesn’t blow at all, but I know the one thing we can count on is change.

I listen to what people mean more than what they say.

I thought I was a good listener before, but I used to listen in a very literal way. Now I realize that words are only a small part of what people say when they speak.

I try not to repeat myself with the kids too often – goodness knows they stop listening – but I say this one all the time, to them and to myself:

What people say, even if it’s directed at you, is about them, not you.

In other words, what people say is loaded with their own baggage. So there’s no need to go unloading yours on top.

When my mom texts three times to remind me about something, it means she’s anxious. When my youngest whines for a snack, then to read a book, then to draw a picture, then to make hot chocolate, she’s saying, “I’m tired and fighting to stay awake.”

When someone gets mad, or freaks out, I understand it comes from a place of anxiety or insecurity. Everyone has a backstory. I have lost the arrogance to judge. So now I try to dial the situation down instead of up.

Even on the nice side, someone’s compliment or enthusiasm may be more about their desire to please, or wanting attention, as it is about genuine emotion. It’s like the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”* You always have to consider the source.

There’s a great kids book, Simon’s Hook, in which Simon the fish learns not to bite the tempting hooks that people drop. I hope my kids learn, earlier than I did, that we all get to choose what we react to. Sidestepping land mines – problematic people, situations or decisions – is not hard once we know what to look for. Experience teaches us to spot trouble before we get there.

I tune out the noise.

A dad once walked by me at the Costco food court holding two wrapped hot dogs, trailed by two agitated kids clamoring: “I don’t want a hot dog!” “I want pizza!”

The dad headed for the condiment dispensers. “Ketchup? Mustard?”

Kids: “I don’t want a hot dog!” “I want pizza!”

The dad calmly unwrapped the hot dogs, squirted a line of ketchup on each and walked off to a table.

Knowing they were beat, the kids looked at each other for a moment before following the dad to the table, sitting down and starting to eat.

That guy is my hero, and not just in parenting. Life is full of distractions. I’m better now at sticking to my own agenda and tuning out the chatter.

Enough is enough.

We spend our lives building – careers, relationships, families – and after four decades of building, I know I have more to lose than I have to gain. I am so grateful for the abundance of amazing people in my life. Some I see very rarely, but I know the years won’t matter when we see each other again. They are stars in my sky – sparkly and comforting, even from a silent distance.

I am grateful for every day of good health, mine and my family’s. I know how quickly that can change.

I’m not counting down to any more milestones. I love watching my kids grow and change, but it still seems inconceivable that they are a few short years from driver’s licenses, college applications and – heaven help me – dating. I can’t even bear to think beyond that.

I’m not young. But this is dang close to as good as it gets. I wouldn’t want to go back to the awkwardness of the teen years or the career stress of my 20s. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through four pregnancies and childbirths again, or the years of sleep deprivation that followed.

I’ve made it here, and I’m not going to worry about what’s next. While the wind is still, I am glad just to breathe in the moment.

* My fact-checking tells me the original Emerson quote, from “Social Aims,” is actually this: “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” But the simplified version is pithier for internet reading.

* * *

In the eternity it took me to finish this post, I realized that I’m always in a meditative mood here in January, probably because I always need a break from food after the holidays. Here are past meditations if you want to catch up:

But I think I’m ready now to get back to food. Eating is a whole lot easier than thinking.

Oh, and I forgot to say, the winner of my giveaway was Lee, who is all the way in Costa Rica but is having a friend in Oregon bring her the cookbook when she visits. In a goofy twist, I found out it was going to cost me about the same to mail the free book than to order Lee a new one from Amazon with free shipping. So I Amazon-ed Lee a new book and gave the giveaway book to my sister-in-law. Silly. But I do love the cookbook, and it was a fun experiment.

Happy new year, kind friends! Wishing you a healthy, happy 2015.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Monsalve 12 January 2015 at 2:13 pm

Beautiful…and of course made me cry. Lots of xoxo.

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cg 14 January 2015 at 4:43 pm

dear kim – thank you and xoxoxoxo back. =)

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MelG 12 January 2015 at 3:41 pm

About to start the latter half of my 30s and I can often relate to everything you say – whether in the present or an insight as to what lies ahead. This is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing.

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cg 14 January 2015 at 4:43 pm

hi MelG – busy but good years, enjoy them! thank you so much for sharing back.

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cynthia 12 January 2015 at 4:44 pm

Your words always bring me so much inspiration and peace. Big hugs to you for reaching such a huge milestone! We’re just now thinking about kids and a little nervous, looking at the marathon ahead πŸ™‚ so I love reading your reflections about the journey. Your little ones are lucky to have you as a mom. Happy new year, Lilian! (And, from the post above — happy birthday?!)

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cg 14 January 2015 at 4:41 pm

cynthia – you are such a sweetie. you guys should come visit, for real! gotta get the travel in before kids. =) xoxo!

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Carol at Wild Goose Tea 12 January 2015 at 8:05 pm

A reflective insightful essay from the heart. I couldn’t agree with you
more on every topic that you touched. I have even more years down the path. From my distance I can see you are on track. I wasn’t as perspective as you at your age. So a couple of Woo Hoo’s to you.
Smiles—-and a hug, Carol

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cg 14 January 2015 at 4:40 pm

hi carol – thank you for the woo hoos, much appreciated!!

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debbie 13 January 2015 at 8:52 pm

I just told a co-worker today who was being yelled at by a client for no good reason not to take it to heart, it was his sadness and anger his was trying to make her feel…Your essay is beautiful and so heartfelt. Thank you for sharing it!

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cg 14 January 2015 at 4:39 pm

debbie – you are nice to help your co-worker! thank you so much for sharing back with me. =)

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morgan 14 January 2015 at 5:27 pm

Thank you Chinese Grandma! Everything you said rings so true for me, as well and reflects my thinking lately. The time of life, the plateau with the kids, the January relfective state. So many pieces of the kingdom I inhabit that are just a pile of blessings beyond me. I have have worked hard and chosen them to some extent, but they are still there by grace. I agree with you it is time to get down to savoring this life, pay it forward through our kis and braoder, and hallelujah to being mellower and hopefully kinder. We ARE a lot smarter from the trials of childraising. Homerun blog post, sister!

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cg 15 January 2015 at 12:55 pm

hi morgan – thank you for the kind words! makes me so happy to know the post resonated with you. we are all different, but life is much the same for us all, isn’t it?

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Lingling 15 January 2015 at 2:48 am

Hello CG,
Great post. I am starting my journey as an early 30’s parent, just finished an early morning feeding of my chubby one month old, it’s nice to read reflections from the other side. Thank you for reminding me that this crazy insular whirlwind of new parenthood doesn’t last forever, and I should take a step back to enjoy the sleep deprived newness.
Happy and Healthy blogging in 2015!
Lingling

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cg 15 January 2015 at 12:57 pm

hi lingling – oh my, a one month old! i feel your fatigue, girlfriend. i know it’s a tired, tired time, but breathe in that sweet fuzzy baby head and know that sleep will be in your future again someday. =)

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Terese 17 January 2015 at 2:08 pm

Hi cg,
I just recently stumbled across your website as I was looking for NorthStar Cafe’s salad dressing recipe. I live in Grandview Heights, OH and love Norhtstar and Hollywood. It gets a little pricy with four kiddos of my own so I set out to find the recipe and found you! Your writings have nourished my soul. I’ve never read a blog I relate to on so many levels. You have me in tears and big smiles. I am so grateful that you take time to share inspiration that is simple, kind and perfectly palatable!
Thank you ~ Terese

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cg 27 January 2015 at 8:16 pm

hi terese – welcome! so glad to have you here. a buckeye with four kids – we have a lot in common! =)

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Alexa~FurnishMyWay 22 January 2015 at 1:05 pm

I’m currently a student in college and I’ve often been remarked on the surprising amount of “maturity” I have. In my own perspective, that comment really resonated with me until after I finished reading your thoughtful post and found myself relating to a lot of what you said (minus the pregnancies, marriage, and children bit). I often find myself very introspective as every year, month, week, and day passes. I loved reading your inspirational words. They sounded as if they came directly from your heart. Thanks for sharing!

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cg 28 January 2015 at 12:15 am

hi alexa – thank you, i am so glad that you can relate even at your lovely young age/stage! =) you are a sweetie for sharing back with me.

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Honey @HoneyUncharted 27 January 2015 at 3:48 am

such a beautiful post! definitely inspirational πŸ™‚ thanks for sharing!

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cg 28 January 2015 at 12:15 am

hi honey – thank you so much!

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Misscalimommy 1 February 2015 at 12:47 pm

Beautifully spoken. As a teen, I remember thinking how adults all had a certain posture, how maturity brings about a certain calm. Gone was the angst, the insecurity for the most part, but also some of the lofty hopes. As a 44-year old, I now understand and have that posture as well.

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cg 3 February 2015 at 9:56 am

hi misscalimommy – loved that, thank you so much for sharing!

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Rebecca @ Bring Back Delicious 3 February 2015 at 2:58 pm

I stumbled on your blog and I have to say that I find it refreshingly real and thoughtful. I have a 6 month old so I appreciate your wisdom here. I have to ask though, do you feel the need for another project? I’ve always been the one to have too much going on, so I wonder how it will be after she moves out…will I be lost?

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cg 6 February 2015 at 10:27 am

dear rebecca – you ask such good questions…i spent years worried about the same things (and wrote about that in one of my first posts here. i still don’t have any answers, but i will say that if you keep working on things that interest you, there will be new chapters ahead. now i just try to keep moving, with less worrying about direction. life is a windy path.

i hope that helps – thanks so much for taking time to share here. enjoy that adorable 6 month old – my favorite age! once they’re moving, it’s a whole different ball game. =P

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Anu 13 February 2015 at 2:43 pm

Thank you for this lovely perspective, it’s something that I needed to read, approaching mid-30’s with two young kids; especially the stuff about giving up control, tuning out the noise, side-stepping the land mines… I am still grappling with some of these, in time, I hope to reach a more balanced phase.

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mm 2 March 2015 at 6:45 am

A very insightful if melancholy piece, thank you cg. You are right, things can change at any moment, so enjoy what you have right now!

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cg 3 March 2015 at 4:40 pm

amen, mm!

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