25 life highlights on my 25th birthday.

The last day of the baby’s 25th week. The first day of my 25th year. Photo snapped by Jonny, who was making me laugh.

I turned 25.

I feel like this is a monumental birthday.

Lately, I’ve been pinching myself.

Do I really get paid to play with words?

Am I really a mom to an amazing two-year-old? With another little one on the way?

Have I really been married for 4.5 years to my teenage-hearthrob-turned-man-of-my-dreams? (Hey, what’s a birthday reflection without a little cheese?)

I’ve been incredibly blessed, and a little lucky, too. I’ve gotten to experience more in 25 years than many do in a lifetime. Thankful seems like such a small word for how I feel.

25 Highlights for 25 Years (Part 1, in no particular order)

  1. Sacrificial parents. Thanks, Mom & Dad, for all you’ve done to love me these 25 years. For showing me what it looks like to be a healthy family. For encouraging me as I began to pave my own path. For supporting me as I’ve started a family of my own. Most people don’t grow up with parents like you.
  2. An awesome little bro. Even when he was a slightly obnoxious and ever-so-awkward middle schooler (sorry, bro), Nathan has been the bomb. He’s beyond smart, incredibly musically-inclined, and the nicest guy I know. (And I know a lot of nice guys. So ladies…just sayin’.) I loved being his big sister the moment I got to visit him in the hospital and touch his tiny face. Though he wears size 18 shoe and could squish me with his little pinky now, he’ll always be my little brother. Joseph’s pretty lucky to have such an awesome uncle.
  3. Growing up in Iowa. Can I just say that I love Iowa? (Okay, I also enjoyed my three years in the great-north that is Minnesota Twin Cities.) I love the people. I love the seasons. I love the State Fair. I love all of the memories I have across the state. I love the fresh air and the green grass, and the surprising amount of diversity some of our cities boast. I love that I had yards to play in and parks to explore. Iowa, if we ever part ways, know that you will always be my Number 1.
  4. Family vacations. My mom was the vacation-planner-guru. She had packing down to a science, and created to-the-minute itineraries way back when you still had to plan trips from books. From fanny packs to souvenir shops, the memories made on those vacations are priceless, something I’m realizing now as a new parent. It’s not so much the places we went (though, I’m pretty thankful for those magical moments at Disneyworld, let’s be honest), but it’s the funny stories that mean the most, like when my dad was wearing his Indiana Jones souvenir hat and freaked out because he thought he accidentally ran my brother over with the rental car. (I think you had to be there.)
  5. A diverse elementary school. I was recently looking at a photo from my 2nd-grade birthday party. (Pocahontas — holla!) There I am, looking like the Molly American Girl doll, arms linked with friends with mocha and chocolate skin. My beloved 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Reed, an African American with fluffy-dyed red hair, taught me MLK’s famous speech. I learned about the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina among classmates who had themselves immigrated from Bosnia. I had friends from single parent families, divorced families, two-parent families, and friends who were raised by grandparents. I learned about dreidels and latkes and begged for a Kwanza doll for Christmas. I’m so thankful for attending a working-class public school. I’m so thankful for parents who raised me to see beauty in learning from and interacting with God’s creation. I’m thankful for an involved mom who logged many classroom hours, doing lunchroom duty and advocating for students when their parents couldn’t. I’m much better for it.
  6. The arts. My parents, who knew I had a flair for the dramatics as soon as I made my entrance into the world, graciously allowed me to pursue theatre. From drama day-camps to community theatre plays, acting was a big part of my childhood. I starred in middle school and high school productions, and in high school went to All-State for improv, ensemble acting, and individual acting. I was voted best-actress my senior year and received a theater scholarship to a college I ended up not attending. Oh yeah, and I also met my husband in a theater arts class. I hope my kids develop a passion for the arts, whether that’s music, theater, design, or something else.
  7. Moving. When my parents broke the news that we were moving during the summer between 5th and 6th grade, I had an existential crisis. Not only was starting middle school scary enough, but now I had to be the new girl? I was terrified, but made friends my first day. It was an awesome lesson in self-confidence, as well as learning to trust God to fill in the details. By that winter, about 15 girls crammed into my parents basement for my birthday party. It was pretty incredible. So imagine my chagrin three years later when I learned we would be moving again, this time during the summer between 8th and 9th grade. Cue emotional meltdown. I forgot everything I had learned and proceeded to blubber my way through boxes and packing tape. (How dare my parents pull me from my BFFs and my totally amazing boyfriend?!) But guess what? I made new friends and had a totally normal and fun high school experience. And now I’m confident that wherever we end up, wherever life takes us, I’ll be OK. I can handle it, and probably make a few new friends along the way.
  8. Learning how to drive. Like many teens of the 2000’s, I learned to drive in a minivan. My long-suffering mom taught me about parking, and merging, and how to turn the wheel slowly. I took driver’s ed with my elementary school BFF, and she only almost-killed us once, when she pulled in front of the semi and our quirky instructor had to put down his peanut butter sandwich to use his emergency brake. The first time I drove on an actual street and not a parking lot was with my dad (I may have forgotten to share this information) and I drove on the wrong side of the road, causing him to grip his chest and demand that I PULL OVER NOW. I got my permit when I was 15, and paid for half of my 1994 Dodge Shadow, a lovely red car known to all as Candy. (Miss you, girl.) (Also, whoever voted me as Worst-Car my senior year…how dare you. Candy was amazing.)
  9. Family pets. My first pets were of the water-variety. I named them Flounder and Sebastian. My first dog was an adorable Cocker Spaniel-Golden Retriever mix named Cassie (I believe we got her from the shelter on Valentine’s Day). I cried in my dorm room in college when I found out she died. Cassie’s companions were Alaska (a soft and snuggly Bichon Frise who just wanted to love) and Dobi (a Miniature Doberman Pincher who was tiny and quirky and a little bit of a diva). All of my childhood puppies have passed on, but I’ll always have a soft spot for them. (Dogs rule, cats drool.)
  10. Catching the journalism bug. My junior year of high school, I signed on to become the assistant features editor of The Spectator, West High’s greatest and only high school newspaper. I loved it instantly — the notebooks, the AP Styleguides, the layouts, the critique sessions. I found a way to combine my curiosity with my passion for writing. I became the editor-in-chief my senior year…and the rest, they say, is history.
  11. Forging friendships. I can’t create a Kayla Highlight Reel without thinking back to all of the girlfriends I’ve had. The quirky elementary school buddies, the catty middle school BFFs, and the even cattier high school frenemies. (And can those long-suffering college roommates get a shout out?!) Those friends have come and gone, but all of the zany antics and dramatics we got ourselves into are too classic not to be included. So friends, old and new, thanks. It was fun.
  12. Meeting Jonny. I’ve already shared that we met in a theater arts class. He was cute and outgoing and nice and I was intrigued the moment I met him. (Though, after I got to know him, I became less interested…ha!) But that obnoxious teenager somehow captured my heart, and I’m so thankful he did.
  13. Graduating high school. If there are any high schoolers reading this, I have to tell you — high school, contrary to popular belief, is not the best time of your life. It’s frustrating and confusing and sometimes heartbreaking. People can be cliquey and mean. I know all too well — I’ve been a mean girl and been subject to mean girls. Don’t get me wrong, high school years included lots of fun (extra-curriculars, sports, football games, dances, lifeguarding jobs), but I was thrilled to graduate and start something new.
  14. Attending Drake University. Part of starting something new was picking a college. I was super stressed and overwhelmed, but once I settled on majoring in journalism, making the choice became a lot easier. Drake as an absolutely amazing school of journalism and mass communication, and I’m beyond thankful for my incredible professors. I learned what it was like to live with roommates, and to live two hours away from my parents. I learned how to drive on the interstate and navigate around a much bigger metro area than I was used to. I listened to supreme court justices, met journalists ranging from George Stephanopoulos to Tim Russert to Helen Thomas, worshiped with leading Christian thinkers, shook hands with presidential candidates, and so much more. Drake emphasizes a well-rounded, multidisciplinary education, which led me to minoring in English as well as sociology. Drake gave me the tools I needed to land competitive internships, and though we’ll be paying off student loans for the foreseeable future, it was worth every cent. Go Bulldogs!

Stay tuned for the last 10 highlights of my first 25 years! (I know, the anticipation is killing you.)

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