Every time I photograph one of my children, I stare at it for what is likely too long-- dwelling on the curves of their faces and noticing all the ways they have changed over time. I ache by the memories of yesterday and long for a little more baby chub to remain. Just recently I took a photograph of my son Jackson and my jaw dropped when I viewed it on my computer later. He looked so….adult-like. I seriously almost cried. I stared at it for quite awhile and began wondering what he would be like as a teenager…or even scarier, a full blown adult. Have I taught him enough? Have I done enough? Kissed him enough? Told him I loved him enough? Cheered him on and motivated him enough? Been there enough?
Gosh, I hope so.
Now, I know I am not the perfect mom. And I know I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I hope that each one of my four children will step into adulthood as confident, determined, successful people who are crazy happy and understand the true meaning of life.
Here are 20 life lessons I think are essential, and that I hope --more than anything-- I can instill within each of them before they walk out my door into the real world. Gulp.
1. Happiness is a choice. Choose it-- simple as that.
2. Politeness should not be overrated. There is no such thing as saying, "please" or "thank you" too often. Express your appreciation sincerely and without expectation of something in return. If you truly appreciate everyone and everything around you, you will find that more people, more opportunities and more things will inevitably surround you.
3. Persistence pays off. You will never fail if you never give up. Natural born talent, inherited genius and education have nothing against persistence. Persistence pays off. Persistence pays off. Persistence pays off. Get the point?
4. You are loved, always. If everything else falls apart; if you fail, if you break, if you are teased or knocked down; I am here. My love for you is not dependent on your successes. It will remain through every up and every down. It is constant and does not fray. It is unconditional, forever, and without a doubt, no matter what.
5. Learn something new everyday. Expect to. Continue to grow, question and evolve. With every new thing you learn, you will feel more at home in the universe, more comfortable in the nest, and more prepared for tomorrow. When you’re in your twenties – you’re still learning and growing. You’ll understand in your 30′s.
6. Be a good listener. Always. There is no better way to show you care about someone than by listening and comprehending their words and feelings. That means shut your mouth, keep your ears open and do not offer advice unless asked. Just hear them.
7. Learn to be self-sufficient. Far too often, we lean on others and expect to be given the answer. Stop that. If you don't know how to do something, figure it out! Look it up in a book, or on Google for goodness sake. Try different approaches. And most importantly, realize that you can find the answer yourself. You are enough.
8. Be an optimist. See your glass as half full, always. Your perception will pave the way to your success.
9. Express yourself freely. Whether it be through words or art. Your story and feelings matter. So, leave your mark with beautiful expressions of who you are.
10. Let things go. There are things in this world that are beyond your control; let them go. At one point or another, you will come across people who will hurt you, situations that will break you, and loss that will overcome you; let them go. Life will continue on around you, so all you can do is make peace with today and take a step toward tomorrow.
11. This world is not made for only you. You are living in a compact and populated world; respect that. Respect all aspects of this world-- from your elders to the bees; from someone else's property to your own body; from the organically living to the artistically made --and everything in between.
12. Live slow. Life goes by too fast, don't rush it. You have the rest of your life to be a grown up, don't wish for it just yet. Embrace the moment you are in right now always and the future will come when it's ready.
13. Make a life, not a living. Sure, money matters and you need to be able to support yourself. But, do not get so wrapped up in making money that you forget to make a life that matters.
14. Learn to love books. They will allow you to view the world from new perspectives, take you to impossible places, and help you find your meaning. There is power in words, solace in stories, and freedom in the knowledge found on a page.
15. Collect memories. There will be days in your life that feel little and insignificant. However, one day you are going to look back and realize that all the little things steamrolled into the big things. These little moments and seemingly meaningless days are full of moments that are becoming your memories. Embrace them. And don't forget to pay attention to what you see, what you smell, what you hear and most importantly how you felt.
16. Choose to see the good first. In a world full of gossip, social media, rash decisions and snooty comments, do not make assumptions. Before believing the bad, search to find the good. And if you find it, share it. Remember that there is always another side to the story, there is always a heart inside the human, and there is always, always, always a silver lining.
17. Less is more. The more you accumulate, the more you need to manage. Likewise, the more you have, the less you appreciate. So, unless it is vital to your life; unless you cannot imagine a day without it; unless it essential to your happiness; you could probably do without it.
18. Welcome others. Be the kind of person who pushes over to share their seat on the bus. Be the kind of person who sits beside someone who is sitting alone at lunch. Be the kind of person who smiles at strangers and stands up for others. It can be scary to let others in, especially those who are not always accepted by others; but be the better person. I will not ask you to be anyone you are not, but I will ask you to be kind, always.
19. Radiate Confidence. Please, no fish handshakes or slumped shoulders. Keep your chin up, your back straight, and your handshake firm. You are someone to be reckoned with. You deserve every opportunity that is presented to you. Believe that.
20. Our door is always open. If you ever get lost or cold or scared; if the world ever treats you bad or breaks your crown; if you ever for one second forget your value or purpose, Daddy and I are here to remind you. You are valued. You are full of purpose. You were placed on this earth for a reason. The world may knock you over again and again, but we will always be here to help you back up. We believe in you and we are here. Always. And Always. And Always.
Jackson, Delaney, Luke & Kerri Claire-- remember these words, remember these moments and know that my love for you is as constant as the north star.