Sunday, July 16, 2017

The 28 Things I Know For Sure

Last week, I celebrated my sixth straight birthday in Rwanda. I woke up at 5:15, a little bit earlier than usual since D'Assise had exams that day (one of the things that's utterly bewildering to me: on his exam days, his school starts at 6 am instead of the normal 7 am), we biked to school together, had a pretty normal work day, and then celebrated with friends that evening. Side note: I'm pretty sure D'Assise is the only person on the planet I'd wake up at 5:15 am for on my birthday.
How could I ever say no to that face? 
I'm always a bit reflective near my birthdays, evaluating how the year has gone so far, what lessons life has taught me (for better or worse), and what else I want to accomplish this year. 27 was full of change for me (adopting a kid, maternity leave in the U.S, which was the longest I've been back on American soil in 5 years, moving to a new home, the end of some relationships and the beginnings of others). I'm now officially in my late rather than mid-twenties. I'm also a big fan of Oprah's "The Things I Know For Sure" lists, so for my 28th year, here are the things I know for sure:

In no particular order:
1. A good friend is worth more than just about anything on the planet.

2. The true test of friendship is what I like to call "The Trash Heap Test." If you could spend a day perched on a giant trash heap with someone and still have a great time, they're probably someone you should keep around. It's not where you are, it's the people you're with.

ok, even for friends that pass the Trash Heap Test, stunning Rwandan rainforests never hurt ;)
3. I work best with deadlines, in work and in my personal life. If I give myself a deadline for when something needs to be done, I do it. If it can be done anytime, it's always at the bottom of my to-do list. That yoga app I have on my phone? Almost never used. Yoga class I signed up for? I'm there.

4. Just because someone is attracted to you, doesn't mean they care about or respect you.

5. I'm an introvert that enjoys being around people, and that's ok. For a long, long time, I thought there was something wrong with me for not wanting to be around people 24/7. I now realize there's nothing crazy about needing a little me time every day. It doesn't mean that I don't love being around people, just that if I'm around people for long periods of time I get worn out and need some alone time to recharge.

6. Cooking a meal for friends and enjoying it together (optional: good drinks and nice views) is one thing that never fails to make me happy.

7. Books and art and music make life worth living. Discovering an awesome new song makes my day (and I will play it every day until I get sick of it. Literally, D'Assise's nanny asked me if my computer was broken because I had this song on repeat for weeks on end at my house).

8. Sunscreen errrrryyy day. Especially when you live near the equator and your ancestors are of the Irish variety.

9. People sometimes change in incredibly beautiful and strange ways, and I shouldn't hold people to my image of what they were like in junior high or high school (to the people who knew me in junior sincere apologies).

10. I am a crazy, miserable person when I'm sleep deprived. I would do crazy things to get more sleep. If I were ever a spy and got caught and someone sleep deprived me, I would 100% reveal every secret that I knew.

11. I have a daily "wonder" quota, and adventure makes me feel alive. This often comes in the form of nature (Rwanda has no shortage of stunning scenery and beautiful sunsets), or just trying something new.

12. The two worst feelings in the world, to me, are unrequited love and feeling alone in a crowd.

13. Never take your health, or access to good, affordable healthcare for granted. This has been a lesson I wish I didn't have to learn the hard way. When I was trying to find out what was causing D'Assise's brain lesions two years ago, we saw several neurologists in Rwanda (there are only a handful in a country of 11 million people) and they told us to come back in 6-8 months if things were worse. When I took him to doctors in Kenya and in Rwanda about his walking problems, they told us he would never walk normally. Then in December, D'Assise had life-changing surgery on his achilles tendons that will enable him to walk normally, but because my insurance didn't cover pre-existing conditions, it costed over $27,000 for the treatment. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I will never stop being grateful for having him with me, in good health.

14. As an INFJ personality type, I'm driven by meaning and connection in my life. It's probably one of the reasons I've stayed in Rwanda so long (and love the work that I do)--I find a lot of meaning and purpose both in my work and my daily life here that I felt I often lacked in the U.S.

15. Goofiness is one thing I really value in my relationships, and it's probably one reason that D'Assise and I get along so well. When you're being goofy, you're being your most real, ridiculous self. It's hard to take someone too seriously when you're making fart jokes.

16. Don't compare other people's outsides to my insides. This has been a tough lesson for me to learn this year. No one ever has a bad day on Instagram. Other people's lives/bodies/ relationships/kids can look perfect from the outside, but you'll never know what they might be struggling with, how awful their relationship actually is on the inside, or what kind of parent they are.

17. Being grateful goes a long way. This year, each night before we go to bed, D'Assise and I tell each other what we're grateful for. It's often little things (that dope pasta my friend made, a cool swim in Lake Kivu, the kid who loaned me a pen at school when mine broke), but it's such a wonderful way to end the day.

18. Indulging in schadenfreude is like eating a ton of junk food. It feels good at first, but you regret it afterwards. It can feel good when bad shit happens to that kid who made you miserable in sixth grade or you hear some juicy gossip about your ex, but it doesn't make you feel great about yourself later.

19. You find out, for better or worse, who your friends are when you have a kid, and doubly so when you're a single Mom.

20. Travel is one of the best teachers and I'd rather spend my money on travel than just about anything else (ok...maybe cheese). Traveling has taught me that there's more than one way of doing things, and your way isn't always best.

21. Exercise makes me a better person. This year, I've been biking D'Assise school on our tandem bike, and it's a great start to the day.

22. Just because I like to dance doesn't mean that I can dance. Same goes for singing. D'Assise reminds me of both of these daily.

D'Assise at karaoke
23. Being a parent has made me realize why my parents did they things they did (no matter how unfair they seemed at the time!), the sacrifices they made for me, and it's made me admire them even more than I already did. I'm so grateful to have two incredible parents, and I literally can't imagine having 4 kids in 5 years while maintaining demanding full-time jobs. Mom and Dad, you're the best.

24. 99% of the time, people are making it up as they go along. No one has everything figured out before they do it (especially parenting!).

25. Journaling and writing are essential to me. I'm forever grateful to my Aunt Margaret who got me started on journaling at a really young age, and I've kept up the practice. My journals are the one object that I would save in a house fire. It's awesome to be able to look at what I was thinking as second grader, my worries as a seventh grader at a new school, what I thought of my high school boyfriend, and my first impressions of arriving in Rwanda five years ago.

26. Nice sheets are worth the money.

27. In the words of my 90 year old grandmother, Bubba, "It's easier to go up than to go down." You can get used to almost anything, and it's a lot easier to see and appreciate special things as luxuries than to have the special things become your normal every day. It's easy to add things but hard to take things away. I've realized this a lot going from being a Peace Corps Volunteer to having a steady paycheck and a real job in Rwanda. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I rode on the slowest, cheapest bus. I was used to eating beans, rice, and boiled cabbage for two meals a day, nearly seven days a week at the convent; if I went out for Primus beer and grilled potatoes, I expected the beer to be warm and for the potatoes to take two hours.                                                  

            Now, I frequently drive myself or have a driver and can arrive in a third of the time as the slow bus. I have access to a pretty wide variety of ingredients, and can cook in a well-stocked kitchen. I can afford to eat at restaurants in Kigali that I couldn't as a volunteer, that take well under two hours to deliver the food. But it's too easy to start taking all of that for granted. I remember walking into the beautiful modern kitchen of my current house over three years ago and just standing there in awe of it. I was used to cooking over an ancient wood-burning oven with a metal sheet over the top of it as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I had just walked into a huge communal kitchen with three refrigerators with cold beers inside and two sleek, gas stoves with ovens. Words escaped me it was so beautiful. And yet, three years later, I find myself too easily forgetting, and too easily taking things for granted. I find myself complaining when the food takes a long time at the restaurant, or when the power goes out and those beautiful refrigerators aren't working. And then I have to remember my Bubba's words and remember how lucky I am to have access to those things in the first place.

28. I need to be more patient with myself and others. I can be my own worst critic, and that's something I'm trying to change. My goal for age 28 is to be a lot more patient and forgiving of other people and myself. I read this beautiful thing the other day, about how we're always forgiving young children's behavior by attributing it to them missing a nap or being hungry or just having a bad day, but we're loathe to do the same for adults. We notice it with kids, but we forgive it and forget and move on. Maybe that colleague sent that passive-aggressive text because they were stressed with work right before their vacation. Maybe that friend who flaked out had a rough week and was just really hangry. Maybe that rude guy on the bus just needed a nap. I've tried being a lot more patient and forgiving of other people (and myself) the past couple of months, and it really changes your perspective.

Here's to you, 28. May you be a bit easier on me than 27.