I’m 8 years old. My hobbies include playing Barbies, listening to NKOTB on repeat, and pretending my best friend Cassie’s minivan is an airplane anytime we go anywhere. I’ve never been on a real airplane so this experience seems pretty accurate. My home is safe and I love my friends. School is easy and fun, I love being good and getting all the gold stars. I’m a star pupil, a theater star, a star violinist, a star daughter. At least I think so.
I’m 12 years old. Middle School. I probably don’t really need to say much more for you to know that means it’s rou-ough. I listen to Spin Doctors more than anyone really should. School is still easy, but the teachers aren’t as nice. Friendship is suddenly not such a secure place anymore. School dances have me terrified. And I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t make the cheer squad. I still like me, but why doesn’t anyone else?
I’m 15 years old. I’m dealing with anxiety for the first time, at least that I can remember. I’m experiencing loss in a new way, and along with my friend, I have lost my bearings. Even belting Toni Braxton doesn’t help anymore. I don’t know who I am or who I want to be. I’m experimenting with different versions of myself. Yet, I’m still a “good kid” for the most part. Can’t risk being too much of a disappointment.
I’m 19 years old. I found Jesus. Or He found me. My bearings are solid, and all signs point to achievement. I’m on track to graduate college early with honors, even after taking a semester off to take care of an ailing parent. I’m working full time in a way that allows me to serve others and get paid for it. And I continue to impress. I’m smart, capable, and juggling all the things. I don’t know yet that my pace is unsustainable.
I’m 22 years old. I’m married to the man of my dreams. Or he was. He’s struggling, and I’m lost. Again. I still don’t recognize that I rely too much on others to define me, to give my life value and meaning. I don’t have school anymore to give me the validation I need and work is getting harder and harder to earn a gold star. I don’t like myself anymore.
I’m 24 years old. I just moved 1,000 miles away from the only home I’ve ever known along with all the people I’ve ever called friends and most of my family. I’m uprooted and Fix You by Coldplay is playing in my earbuds nonstop. Life can be whatever I make it. But I’m rootless without a job or community to give me definition, so I hide away in the bonus room of my parent’s house and watch every episode of Friends. Twice.
I’m 28 years old. I’ve found myself again. I’ve learned that I can’t put such responsibility on my husband to define me, so I’m pouring myself into my new career as a teacher. Early mornings, late hours, and I still don’t see that I’m getting my identity from a job. I’m good at it. Like, really good. I’m named Teacher of the Year in my third year. I move schools and feel in demand. I get a Master’s degree. I’m one big shiny gold star. And then, all my dreams come true and I’m a Mom. And that’s all there is. Just like that, it’s the only role that matters to me.
I’m 32 years old. In Repair by John Mayer is my life’s theme song. I’m a Mom twice, and I’ve stepped away from career to stay home in that all important role. But I’m lost. Again. Because no one gives me the praise I so crave for making sure the kids are fed and the house is still standing (sort of) by the end of the day. Kids are screaming and playing and mess-making and eating and refusing to eat and pooping and not sleeping and snuggling and walking and falling down and writing on the walls and eating Tums and sucking on the fly swatter and pulling down curtains and pushing all the buttons. And not once do they stop to say how much they appreciate all I do for them on a daily basis. Probably because one has no idea how to say something like that and the other has no idea how to say anything at all.
I’m 37 years old. Actually, 37 years, 10 months, and 4 days old. In 62 days I’ll be 38. And I think I’m finally starting to understand what my friends who are a little further ahead of me in this journey have been saying– you reach an age where you care so much less about what others think and so much more about being you. This has not come to me easily. I’m a people pleaser. It’s what I do. And then… it’s not. Well, it is sometimes, but things have shifted. I’m home with my kids and I’ve learned how to do that without needing the nonstop praise. I have blank spots on my calendar by choice. I’m in a healthy marriage, we’ve both learned more about our responsibility to each other. I’ve stopped trying to fix and do all the things for all the people. I channel my inner Suzanne Stabile and constantly ask myself the question- “Is this mine to do?” Often, it’s not. I’ve failed more times than I care to recount, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with me. I like me again. And I believe other people like me too.
At 37, I’m discovering who I really am. Who I am when no one needs me. Who God created me to be. Who I’m called and destined to be. I’m a wife and a mom and a follower of Jesus and a teacher and a daughter, sister, friend, cousin. I’m a lot of things, but none more than one.
Who are you?