This is 42.

My birthday fantasy of sitting in a bubble bath eating pancakes and mashed potatoes (my own version of Tina Fey’s “sheet-caking” because I can’t handle the world right now) translated in reality into “I cleaned the bathtub.” Because family. And life. And then just, ew.

Being a grown up is never what we expect. I had Ben Folds Five’s song “Video” on repeat in my head for a large chunk of the day. You know the one: “Oh what fun, I can’t ’til the future gets here.”

Fortunately I am blessed to be “teacher/mentor/friend/second mom” to a host of delightful young women who, as they so often do, gave me their best. 

There is a side of adolescent girls that society doesn’t often acknowledge exists. They are written off as backstabbing, unstable, and nightmarish, and that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But they can also be determined, compassionate, selfless, and loving. They have to make their own way in finding and sharing their light. You’d be surprised how hard it is for them to find ways do that sometimes. It’s not that they don’t want to. Yesterday, they showered me with memories and compliments and laughter, with love and hugs and gratitude, for the work I have done, the time I have spent, and the things I have created. It was a wonderful reflection of our years together, and my heart is full.

I observe, though, that they freely give validation and gratitude to others at an age when they so badly need it themselves. They don’t see that the things they remember and praise me for are things I could not create without them. They are the medium. I could not make this art without the living, breathing souls that build, shape, express, and execute it. I can’t just sit here (or get out there) and be awesome by myself. (Wait, what? No, really.)

I often reflect on how the years I have spent since leaving my previous career for parenthood and finding this particular path have been isolating. But that is not entirely true. It’s true that not a lot of people “get” me, my schedule, or what I do. I don’t have a group of girlfriends to go out with for coffee or wine, no neighborhood for cookouts, and no camaraderie of a traditional 9-5 work place. My colleagues get it, but we work in tandem, not together. Socially, all that is hard. But what I have is a place where I do my darnedest to share a passion with 50-something young people at a time.

While that might sound like a nightmare to some of you (and it does have its moments), I assure you that people, no matter how old or young, become the best versions of themselves when they are connected, inspired, and valued. I have to hope that giving those things to young people will create a better world, no matter what they choose to do with their lives. Days like yesterday, when I see the people they are becoming, feeds my hope. It’s happening. That better world is based on individuals who believe that their contribution matters.

Sheet-caking is for the defeated. Strong people scrub the hell out of the tub, put on their super-suit, and change the world. Even if that super-suit is a leotard, and the first step to changing the world is a plié, and the change they are making is a few girls believing they are enough. We all start in our own first position.

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