I am officially 40.
No more (legitimately) checking the “35-39″ box.
Other than the “featured ads” for “mature dating” showing up in my Facebook feed, it has actually been a lot of fun.
Tiaras (yes, that’s plural- of course).
Confetti, balloons, flowers.
Designer- and I mean DESIGNER- shoes.
Boxes and boxes of books.
From Hawaii to Mississippi.
From people I have known my entire life to people I have never met.
Published from 1921 to 2013.
When I told my mom about the book drive, her first question was “what’s your goal?” (Does this give anyone a slight window into why I am a so… Type A/competitive? Shhh- don’t tell.)
In typical lawyer fashion, my answer was vague. “I don’t know- Do I need a goal?”
After much back and forth (i.e. she wasn’t going to let up), I settled on 40.
40 because I was turning 40. How original.
For whatever reason (…. laziness), I stored the books in my trunk.
And this led to example number 1,451 of God’s sense of humor….
“I just don’t know what else to do. I need some answers.” I was teary and panicked- and thankfully on the phone with my best friend who could handle me teary and panicked.
She understood that there were lots of uncertainties going on in this particular chapter of my life that were terrifying to “I hate change/ not feeling in control/not knowing what tomorrow holds” me.
After (yet another) soul saving pep talk (thanks Cath), I stopped by the UPS store to pick up the latest shipment of books as I knew it would be a bright spot in my day.
In the second box I opened, I came across The Little Engine that Could.
It made me smile in spite of my dark mood.
I slammed the trunk shut with “I think I can, I think I can” echoing in my head.
I can’t lie- it took me about 30 seconds (I am 40 after all- gimme a break), but then it hit me.
And all I could do was laugh- and then get out of the car and begin going through the books.
I cannot tell you how long I sat in that parking lot poring through the books that day.
These magical “answers” I had been so desperately seeking had been with me- literally and figuratively- all along.
They were buried deep in my soul- and in my trunk.
And just in case you forgot them too, here are the ones that stood out to me:
1. You are amazing.
“On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you- ever in the world.” -On the Night You Were Born
There never had been- and there never will be- another you.
Have you thought about that fact lately?
Really stopped and thought about it?
From preteen years through adulthood, we are bombarded by books and articles devoted to teaching us how to change- lose weight, get a boyfriend/girlfriend, make more money, be healthier, get a better job, etc.
When is the last time you read anything celebrating you- exactly the way you are?
Next time you walk outside and see the moon and the stars and feel the wind on your face, try to remember the moon smiling, the stars peeking in at you and the wind whispering about your greatness on the day you were born…. And know that you are still every bit as amazing- exactly the way you are.
2. You have to be brave.
“You just have to be brave, and BELIEVE you can do it.” – Bella the Bravery Fairy
As a child, we are constantly faced with opportunities to be brave- primarily because our lives at that time are filled with so many “firsts.”
The first time you tried to swim, the first day of kindergarten, the first time you spent the night away from home, the first time you road a bike.
Whether we knew it or not, all of those “firsts” required some true bravery on our parts (and the part of our parents).
There is something liberating about being naive I guess- about not being afraid to try and fail because you have not yet learned that failure is “unacceptable.”
Once you learn it, it is really hard to “unlearn” it.
But, it is also hard to deny the amazing experiences you have when you are brave. How good it feels when you take the leap and let go of the fear that weighs you down.
My mother texts me five words on an almost daily basis: “Every day is a gift.”
She is so right.
And I think failing to be brave and take chances is more or less choosing to leave the gift unopened. What a waste that would be.
3. The things that seem so scary usually aren’t so scary after all.
In The Monster at the End of This Book, Grover spends the entire book terrified of the monster who lives at the end of the book. With each page, he begs the reader to stop turning the pages because he is terrified of the monster that is waiting.
When you reach the end, you- and Grover- realize that the monster was in fact just Grover. Not so scary after all.
(Sorry to ruin the suspense for you all.)
It is appropriate that this was my favorite book as a child because I too- then and now- have a tendency to fear “boogy men” that really aren’t there.
It took me a long time to stop fearing the monster at the end of the book so to speak.
As an adult, that “monster” has taken on a lot of different forms through the years- failure, change, rejection, heart break.
But, just as Grover discovered long ago, it never really turns out to be as scary as you think it will.
4. Have some fun. Scratch that. Have A LOT of fun.
Of all the rules that the children’s books caused me to remember, I have to say this one is probably the easiest for me. I am really good at having fun… I could make it a full time job (If you hear of any such job, let me know!).
I think one of the reasons I loved Ramona Quimby so much was that she was always having fun. Whether she was at school or doing chores, she still managed to have fun.
What a lot of “grown ups” seem to forget is that having fun is really important. It isn’t something reserved for vacation or weekends or “someday.”
I think there should be a rule requiring everyone- young and old- to do something fun- something- every single day.
Whenever I see kids at the grocery store in their superhero costumes or their tiaras and rain boots with lots of jewelry on, my heart fills with joy. They are the living embodiment of FUN.
So dust off your rain boots and get out your tiara…. You will be glad you did.
5. Live YOUR “happily ever after.”
There are some books that I really wish had been around when I was a little girl. Princess Bubble is one of those books. After I read it, I immediately bought it for my friends’ girls and still buy it from time to time whenever I have a girlfriend who needs to be reminded that it is okay to choose your own path.
The long and short of it is that Princess Bubble is a happy, smart beautiful girl who loves her house, her friends, and her life. But, people keep telling Princess Bubble that something is wrong with her- because she has not found a prince and gotten married. After all, that is how every fairy tale ends….
Ultimately, Princess Bubble realizes that she is happy with her life as it is- and that is what really matters.
As her Fairy Godmother explains, “Living happily ever after is not about finding a prince. True happiness is found by loving God, being kind to others, and being comfortable with who you are already! Happy princesses are people who enjoy others and like themselves. Happy people give of their time to help others.”
And therein lies one of the most obvious- but hardest- lessons of all. Your “happily ever after” may not look like everyone else’s. It may not look like anyone else’s. After all, there is only one you (see number one if you have forgotten). Wouldn’t it make sense for your dreams to be as unique as you are?
Don’t substitute society’s expectations for what you heart wants. The only thing you get out of that trade is regret.
6. It takes time.
As I write this blog, I find myself feeling a little disappointed in myself in spite of my preaching that we are all amazing. I cannot help but wonder how I managed to forget so many important lessons from my childhood. And that brings me to what may be the most important lesson of all- it takes time.
When I went to see The Velveteen Rabbit a few months ago with my friend Jami and her children, I had no memory of the story. In fact, I kept giving Jami the “eye” over her children’s heads as we moved closer and closer to the rabbit being burned with the other toys because I was convinced it was going to scar them (okay- me) for life.
It is confirmation of her great parenting that she was able to sense my fear and respond with that silent reassuring “smile and nod” gesture that only parents seem to be able to pull off.
When someone donated that book for my birthday, I had to sit down and read it so I would never be caught so unprepared again.
And the passage I loved most offered more reassurance than even the “smile and nod” can:
“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Isn’t that the truth? It does hurt sometimes. And it sure does take a long time to “become.” But that’s okay. It’s worth it.
7. Dream BIG and believe you can.
It seemed appropriate that the final lesson should come from The Little Engine that Could .
When I started the book drive, I tried to have realistic expectations- hence my telling my mother that my goal was 40 books.
In my heart, however, in that part that is brave and that “thinks I can,” I hoped I would collect 400 books.
I did not reach my goal of collecting 40 books for the children at Kennedy Charter School.
Nor did I reach my “brave goal” of collecting 400 books.
Not even close….
WE collected 550 books for the Kennedy Charter School.
Can you believe it?
I open my trunk and just stare at the books, completely overwhelmed by the generosity and love of every person who donated.
And therein lies the final lesson I was reminded of by this entire exercise- dream big.
You never know what might happen.
550 books might happen.
When I came up with this idea, I thought that we would be giving the children who received the books the gift of hope.
I have come to realize that I received that gift as well.
And what a gift it is.
Thanks to each of you for that gift- and for your incredible kindness.