There are some milestones in life that you look forward to, plan out in your head, and count down the days for: your first kiss, first high school dance, sweet sixteen, prom, and your eighteenth birthday.
If I'm being honest, I struggled staying up until midnight on my birthday – but I did it anyway, for the luxury of knowing the exact moment that I became an "adult."
Whatever that means.
It's weird, honestly, how fast years seem to go by when days go by so slowly. It feels like I could still wake up in the morning and be a freshman getting ready to go to English 9 first period. But instead, I'm now a legal adult who can do legal adult things, like buy lottery tickets and vote...
...and stay up all night watching Grey's Anatomy for the sixth time because my mom can't tell me no.
Whether I think I'm fortunate or not to have my birthday on Christmas, I can't deny that I like having my birthday close to New Year's – it's like two fresh starts in one. A chance to take a deep breath in, and breath out 365 days that now are part of a year you aren't.
2018 is a big year.
This is the year I graduate. The year I compete in my last speech meet. The year I choose where I go to college, and then actually go to college. The year I spend longer than a week away from my family. The year that I get to be a completely new person to a bunch of people who are simultaneously completely new to me.
If I'm being honest, the first 18 years of my life haven't been easy, but I don't know many people who could say that they have. There are a couple people I wish more than anything could have been there to see me turn 18, and to be here for the next year and all of the big moments that it has to bring.
Kenton, my grandma, and Auntie Stacey all three played their own roles in my life, and without them, I wouldn't be nearly the same person today.
There is no way to describe how you feel when you lose people you love forever; the only way I can think of is empty. And without. And wishing. Especially when there are moments like an eighteenth birthday, and the room doesn't quite seem full without the extra smiles and hugs.
And so, I'm almost a month into my eighteenth year, and I know a couple things. I know that I want this year to be full of new experiences. I know that I want to be surrounded by the people I love and who love me in return, but that I also want to meet new people that I can laugh with and understand. I know that I want to be kind and forgiving. I know that I want to become the kind of person I would look up to. I want this to be a year where I embrace being 100% me – lame jokes, awful dance moves, and reading addiction included.
One thing I've learned in the last couple of years is that you can't apologize or be ashamed of who you are, and the people who are meant to be in your life and who love you will accept and understand even the darkest parts of you.
They'll shine light in your deepest corners.
All of us are like seeds in a garden – we need a couple things to grow. Water, our friends and family nurture us and feed us with life. Soil, our home and "safe place," brings us comfort and keeps us grounded. But we are our own sunlight; we can't grow without loving ourselves, too.
And so, this year, I want my sunlight to burn brighter than ever before. So loud and so radiant that, if they need it, it can help the people around me grow, too. Our sunlight is a gift, and we can't forget it or let it grow dull.
It's weird to think of myself as an "adult." But it's exciting, too. And I'm interested and eager to see what this new year of life and experiences will bring to me.
One of the things I love so much about this blog is that we are not letting this year entirely pass us by. It is going fast, certainly. But I love, love, love that we are stopping to examine critical moments. Look at them from all angles.
Life goes so fast. I hate to even say that, because it sounds so trite. But it is the most true thing I know. Your first 18 years have absolutely flown. And yet, when I think back to your birth, and your first few years, they feel like eons ago. I kept journals for a while, but eventually fell off that wagon.
I’m desperate to remember everything about you—what you were like when you were little. I don’t remember much about myself as a kid before age 10. Just snippets. Do you remember? Is it easier because it wasn’t as long ago for you?
I start with a photograph. I look at the photo of you in my arms when we got home from the hospital. I stay in the shot long enough to remember what was happening. It was December 26, but over 40 degrees. You were still red-faced, but also a little jaundiced. We sat on the blue and white couch. Grandma Deb, Stacey, and Sean were there. We never dreamed that Grandma and Stacey wouldn’t still be here when you turned 18. I was equal parts exhausted and elated, but I admit to the elation fading fast.
If I stay in the shot long enough, I remember the pine entertainment center, the barrage of tchotchkes that were all the rage, the birdhouse wallpaper border (did you know I was SUPER into birdhouses back then?), your face scratched by those newborn talons, the smell of the ham with a pineapple glaze Sean cooked for supper, our German Shepherd, Archie, ever watchful of you.
And the look in your little baby eyes. That look that was so serious, and seemed to say,
“You think I just got here, but really, I’ve been here all along.”
You have grown up, changed in a million ways, but you grew around those eyes. Those eyes are the same.
Angelica Schuyler would say those eyes were looking for a mind at work.
I would say you are the mind at work.
I stay in shots long enough to remember conversations, laughing, wait-no-look-at-mommy's. And then, if I stay there long enough, I remember not just what was happening then—when you sat on the basketball and made the funny face. When you posed with a baseball bat before I pitched to you. When you snuggled against your reading pillow and peaked at me over a Betty Wren Wright book. The birthday party when we made the Cheetah Girl purses.
THE CHEETAH GIRLS!
All of these memories stack on top of each other...points match up...slide into place...and there it is—the thing I want to remember, and always will, because it is still there.
It is the essence of you. It is your unapologetic curiosity. Unselfconscious and persistent.
I may have mentioned these qualities before, and I might again. I want you to know how I saw you, see you.
And as you grew, so did your wonder. You didn’t want to be pacified by someone or something in order to find contentment. You wanted to find and create knowledge, explore worlds that weren’t present or accessible in our 100-year-old rental in rural North Dakota. You wanted to find palaces built out of paragraphs, as Lin-Manuel Miranda would say. Then you wanted to learn to build them.
And you did.
You lived in five towns, and ten houses growing up. That’s a lot of different backdrops for photographs. I hope in the next 18 years, you see as many different places, but maybe a little more exotic than North Dakota.
I hope you find a tribe of people who also have that unapologetic curiosity, that wonder, and that you all use it to create something incredible. Please never approach your life decisions asking the question, “How much money can I make doing this?” Create experiences for people. Leave things better than you found them.
You have certainly left me better than you found me. <3