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Fourteen Lessons from My Favorite Ninety-Year-Old Lifelong Learner

6 min

Dear Omi,

You were a one-of-a-kind best friend! In addition to my mom and dad, you were undoubtedly the person who had my back and were only just a phone call away to help out. I am thankful for you and the love you brought into my life as I grew up. All of the little things added up to a whole lot and you were a second mom to our family

Lesson 1: Stick to your promises and be punctual.

Thank you for coming early to pick me up from school, dance class, and swim practice. The rooster tin of Starburst candy and your stories were always something to look forward to after a long day. I loved car rides in your golden Malibu hatchback.

Lesson 2: Have fun creating imperfect things 

Thank you for making gingerbread houses with Steph, Mitch and I. It never looked near perfect, but we always had fun making it. Life doesn’t have to always be so serious.

Thank you for helping me overcome my perfectionism. You never stressed out. Even when we spent over a half year sewing a dress that by the time we finished it never fit me with my growth spurt. It looked far from something I’d want to wear in public, but perfection wasn’t the goal of the dress. It was to spend quality time together creating something and learning together.

Lesson 3: Even if it doesn’t taste or feel good at the beginning, it’s worth it.

Thank you for forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do. These included cleaning my room and eating my green beans. I appreciate having my possessions in order and green beans are now one of my favorite vegetables. You used to always say 

Lesson 4: Be intentional word choice— this includes making up your own phrases. 

Thank you for helping to correct my grammar and when I pronounced words incorrectly. Being an immigrant, you always made such an effort to understand the English language better. You were relentless with languages and knew Dutch, English, German and French. I adored your intentionality with word choice even when you’d poke and pry at my michigander accent while I say words like eggs, crayons, and Snapchat.

Lesson 5: There are different ways to get to the same outcome. Respect that diversity.

Thank you for showing me how to knit, even though you did it an old-school way under your armpit with long knitting needles that I never quite understood. I got the basics from you and knew you could come to the rescue if I dropped a stitch.

Lesson 6: All it takes is at least one cheerleader who believes in your creativity.

Thank you for acknowledging my love for being creative through my writing and paintings even though they weren’t very good. In kindergarden I was convinced I wanted to be an artist like the painter of Starry Night. I figured Vincent Van Gogh was Dutch so I imagined myself having an advantage on my side. I got away from art after this until later. In 4th grade, I personified the day in the life of being my big toe and you could not stop re-reading it. Your recognition for my effort helped to never give up on my creativity.

Lesson 7: Invest in your relationships.

Thank you for inspiring me to always build relationships and invest in my family and friendships — they are what can support you on the harder days. You were the most independent person I knew yet you were never lonely and enjoyed great company. Being a widow for over half your life taught you how to see independence as something to enjoy rather than run away from.

Lesson 8: Learn to say no.

Thank you for giving me the courage to quit dance when I was too scared to stand up for what I didn’t like spending my time doing. You taught me how to be brave, when I was afraid to prioritize in my extracurriculars. You taught me how to stand up for myself and figure out what I valued.

Lesson 9: Listen to comfort others and help them feel seen.

You’d put up with my waterworks and my orangutan face when I was mad or sad. I had countless meltdowns for pubescent reasons like not having the perfect dress for a dance. I needed that support through the rough times. Rather than advice or console of how to fix the problems I just wanted to feel understood. 

Lesson 10: Model the way for others to never stop learning

You showed me how beneficial it is to have hobbies like crafts or gardening to have fun while investing your time apart from academics or work. I am still exploring my own interests and I will never stop.

Thank you for sharing your Dutch culture with me through endless stories. I still love learning more about it as it lets me learn more about your childhood living in the Netherlands.

Lesson 11: Zoom out and see the big picture of life.

You’d talk sense to me and lift my spirits when I had tunnel vision. A negative incident, like a slower swim time or bad grade could easily ruin my day. You helped me snap out of the sorrowful and dwelling stories I told myself about my failures. You taught me to realize that failures are what makes us human.

Lesson 12: Open your eyes and be observant .

You were always enjoying life by actually looking out the window. You’d observe the surroundings around us. I always relied on you to point out how many freighters were on the lake, when the leaves were turning color, or when the buds on trees were starting to bloom. You’d point out how many swans were paired up on the lake.

Lesson 13: Stick up for what you believe in. 

Thank you for standing up at the dinner table to get your voice heard and make a point when no one was listening. If you had an opinion to share, you would be sure to share it.

Thank you for showing me what real authenticity is in a person no matter the circumstance. You never changed who you were at your core and weren’t afraid to say things as they were.

Lesson 14: Celebrate and learn to love life full of many little moments full of spontaneity and surprises.

You’d make reasons to spontaneously show up at the house to drop off a catalog nobody wanted to read. These were the surprises that made you most memorable for your infamous “creep creep” back massages.

Thank you for always helping me celebrate life. You’d buy me ice cream at Ashby’s on the good days and the bad. Life is to be celebrated each day whether it’s a peak, plateau or trough. We both loved our peppermint stick flavor. If the treat wasn’t ice cream, it was Kaukauna cheese and crackers. Oh how I adore cheese to this day.

Thank you for having the biggest heart for animals of any shape and size. You always had a way with birds, dogs and cats. I know you are surrounded by a field of vibrantly colored roosters along with all your past pets in heaven now. 

Thank you for devoting endless time to sharing life with me and unconditionally loving me. You were a bit crazy, but so am I — that’s part of the fun.

I will always be your snoeperdoltje. 

I love you, now and forever Omi ❤(12/23/28–12/5/19)


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