I love how, on social media, so many people are using the end of the decade to look at how their lives have changed in ten years. Comparing changes over time is a thing I am fascinated by and I like the way a designated span of time—here, the construct of a decade, but really, it can be anything—helps you see experiences in a different light.
But every time I thought about doing it for myself I felt a little bit frustrated. Here is the list I was making in my head about what has happened in the past ten years:
- The litany of Kendell’s surgeries. At the end of 2009 he was starting to feel recuperated from his first heart surgery; after that he had two more heart surgeries, cardiac arrest, gall bladder removed, deviated septum repaired, a knee replacement.
- All of our parents passed away.
- Kendell graduated from college.
- Haley, Jake, and Nathan all graduated from high school. Kaleb finished elementary school and started junior high.
- Haley graduated from college.
- Kaleb was diagnosed with his heart issue, a bicuspic aortic valve with an aortic bulge.
- Each of my Bigs had their first significant romantic relationships.
- I went to countless events for my kids. Soccer, basketball, and volleyball games. Choir concerts, orchestra concerts. Track meets.
- Also countless: how much we used our health insurance. Kids’ broken bones, trips to the doctor or ER for stitches, and different illnesses. Nathan had shingles, Jake was treated for depression and anxiety, and all of us were in a long-term relationship with our dermatologist.
- Jake, Haley, and Nathan all started wearing glasses. They also survived braces.
- We had some family vacations: Disneyland more than once, Yellowstone, California beaches, Hawaii, Florida.
As I thought about my list, what hit me was how I was framing myself: in the context of everyone else. The big things feel like the ways I have helped and been involved with the people I love, and I do love them. Helping them and taking care of them and cheering them on is a huge part of my identity and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. But I was frustrated—and, frankly, startled—by how my first instinct was to think more of the experiences in other people’s lives than the experiences that I had. This train of thought at first took me to a sort of dark place. Sometimes it feels like, when you’re deep into your midlife years, the only exciting things left in your life are things that happen to other people. Things you are proud of them for accomplishing, or joyful for them being blessed in that way, but it is all other people’s experiences.
That left me feeling fairly…well, probably there is a German or Swedish word for “the feeling you have when you realize all of your big life experiences are past and all you have to look forward to is aging” but I don’t know what it is.
But then I took a deep breath and tried to think: wait. I also had experiences over the past decade that were MY experiences. That happened to me. Maybe they are smaller experiences, but they are still valuable. And even though there is this voice in my head saying it’s selfish of me to want to highlight my experiences over my family members’ (because isn’t that what a woman and a mother is supposed to do? Define herself in the context of the people she loves and not think about who she is outside of those relationships?), I’m still going to list them. It’s still valuable to celebrate the experiences the Universe brought ME over the past decade:
- I got to visit Europe twice. Italy and then a whirlwind tour of England+Belgium+The Netherlands+Paris. It’s barely enough Europe but here’s a whole new decade that I hope includes much more travel.
- I got to see so much art. I stood in front of Van Gogh’s paintings and wept because beauty can still come from darkness. I stood in front of Michelangelo's Slaves and felt understood by the world. I fell in love with obscure paintings for entirely personal reasons. I have always loved art but in this decade I got to experience it rather than only seeing it in books.
- I went to New York City twice. For this person who is thoroughly From The West, New York was thrilling and exciting and enlightening and terrifying and like a whole different place.
- I went running on beaches on both the Pacific and the Atlantic. I ran in Niagara Falls, Amsterdam, and Paris. I did a half marathon in New York and one in Denver. So long as I can run and travel I will always pack my running shoes.
- I traveled to Mexico (Cabo San Lucas), Washington, Hawaii, California, Colorado, South and North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I am far from a world traveler but I got to see a lot this decade. San Francisco, Seattle, and Charleston are cities I got to walk around in and, as funny as it sounds, I can now say I can get around in a city if it has decent public transportation.
- I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite. This was a significant turning point for my hiking confidence.
- I got to be reunited with Elliot, the baby I placed for adoption in 1990.
- I ran two full marathons and 8-10 half marathons, and many, many miles. I actually started running at the turn of a decade, in 2000, so this year marks my 20th year of running. I’m not always as consistent as I should be, but I am always in love with running.
- I hiked. I hiked a lot. I fell in love with hiking and I found I have always loved the mountains but actually moving upon them has fulfilled me in so many ways. I’d hiked a little bit by the end of 2009, but 2010-2020 was a decade of hiking.
- I healed from several running injuries. The two worst were my ankle sprain at the 2012 Ragnar and my torn femoral condyle which led to a cascade of knee issues. I also worked through a nagging hamstring strain (which was tied not to nothing physical but to the emotional struggles I was having at the time; once some situations with my kids got better, the hamstring pain stopped) and years of sacroiliac back pain. I also broke my finger, which wasn’t a running injury.
- Both of my parents died. Yes, that happened to them, but it also happened to me. I’m an orphan and I’m also now the oldest generation. A co-matriarch with my two sisters.
- I had a very few pieces of my writing published. (This is the thing I want to change the most over the next decade.)
- I became a brand ambassador for Skirt Sports.
- I taught the teenage Sunday School classes at church; I also taught Relief Society (the women’s organization) and doctrine classes. I’m grateful for those opportunities I had to teach.
- My relationship with my church (I am a Mormon, if now far, far on the fringe) has changed utterly in the past decade. This has been painful; a time of mourning. But it has also freed my soul from some very unnecessary fetters of guilt. I am now trying to understand what my spirituality looks like. I think this will be a process I experience my whole life.
- I fell in love with national parks. I got to visit Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Congaree, and all of the Utah parks. I hope 2020-2030 will include many more fridge magnets.
- I have learned—am continuing to learn—what it means to be the mom of adult children. It is far different than I imagined, in both difficult and amazing ways. I am excited to see what their upcoming decade brings them, too.
- I worked at the library. I became a librarian, in fact. This is the longest job I’ve held in my life. It is sometimes frustrating (working with the public can be exhausting) and my small salary makes me feel a great deal of guilt and anxiety, but I love my job. It has brought me some of my closest adult friends and given me some amazing opportunities to interact with and learn from people. And of course brought me to so many books. I never imagined myself as a librarian but it really is perfect.
- I read books. I guess I could go back and count how many, but I'm not going to. I didn't write about every book I read, I didn't love every one. But so many of them have helped me in different ways.
- I made a lot of things. I wrote hundreds of blog posts and made even more scrapbook layouts. I cooked meals and baked cookies and pies and cakes. I made quilts for my kids and my house and for other people’s babies. I wrote poems and journal entries and essays. I planted and nurtured my flowers. I hope I also made my relationships stronger and nurtured the people I love.
Making this list makes me wonder, of course: what will the next decade bring? In ten years, what will my list look like? I have many hopes. Maybe I should write that list down, too. The things I hope 2020-2030 will bring me. But I’ve also learned that life is always throwing unexpected things at you, and so there will be many things that happen in the next decade I can’t even imagine now. Right now, I am trying to reach back in time to that Amy at the end of 2009 and tell her…tell her what? That things will be harder than she knows but there will also be so many good things, maybe. And I am also trying to reach forward to the Amy I will be in December of 2029 to hear what she can tell me.
But I bet it’s the same advice. Things will be hard. Things will be wonderful. And all I can do is savor and experience and act and create and love.