My Full Deck: 52 Things It’s Taken Me This Long to (Maybe) Learn!

woman and ageing, women in their 50s, 52 life lessons

Depending on the day, we often joke about whether we’re “playing with a full deck.” By the time you’re a woman of a “certain age” you don’t have to wonder anymore!

“I’m finally playing with a full deck,” a friend claimed on her 52nd birthday in a Facebook post. Although I wasn’t fussed about the number, that put the cool into 52.

And so I started to think about my cards. At my full deck milestone, what cards do I have in hand?

These are kind of ordered by category — as in, suits — and not sorted by value, because who knows when you will need a two more than a Queen?

Note: contents of this deck are partial and subject to change.


A. Kindness rules.

2. To allow yourself and others feelings — the quote-unquote positive ones and the ones you might like to avoid such as sadness and anger — is basic and essential, and deceptively difficult (for me) to finesse, which only means I have to keep at it.

3. You cannot convince someone to love — or not to love — another person. This means the one who wants to break up wins every time.

4. Often it works better to ask rather than to assume.

5. Smile at young children and smile more at their exhausted and besotted, drained parents.

6. Trust your feelings.

7. Affirm.

8. Invest in your friendships; they are sustenance and pleasure and life support and perspective, all.

9. Caring for people is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

10. It’s okay to be unapologetic about your sentimentality.

J. Sisterhood is powerful.

Q. Keep going.

K. Stop for a little while.


A. You can’t get too stuck on fair all the time.

2. Unattended Lego pieces are almost always injurious.

3. For reasons of privilege — beware BMW’s — age, youth, drunkenness, state residence — beware, Connecticut plates — or momentary space-outs, not everyone honors the concept of highway lanes.

4. Not everything happens for a reason — and yet you still have to find a way to live with what happens.

5. Deep breaths absolutely help.

6. Dark humor, like dark chocolate, serves a life sustaining purpose — mysteriously, and not infrequently.

7. No one goes to college in diapers.

8. Life is utterly ridiculous and so you must laugh through it.

9. If you’re a parent, you will lose a shocking amount of sleep when your kids are small, and you will still be stunned by how much sleep you lose when they are adolescents.

10. Joe Hill was wrong: you can mourn and organize.

J. Failure, sadness, disappointment, anger, not getting along all offer gifts if not apparently at first so you have to look.

Q. It doesn’t matter whether the missing sock has disappeared forever or will turn up because you will always encounter another missing sock in the next laundry pile.

K. Curse, often.


A. It’s really never a conversation; it’s always a series of conversations.

2. To make the bed daily is surely a good practice — you can continue to strive to do create new habits throughout your lifetime. With my full deck I plan to decide whether making the bed finally matters to me and if it does, I’ll create that new habit.

3. Despite the cynics’ opinions about this, gratitude is not hokey.

4. You do not have to face a task all at once in order to face it.

5. Goals and intentions — over time, weekly, and daily — are powerful, so set them.

6. Often you need help in order to learn to do something for yourself. You do not know everything. There is extensive room for growth and learning.

7. Use your feet.

8. Trust your words.

9. Stress and anxiety are not the same things.

10. There is always more laundry to do.

J. The number of words you’ll say again and again is far greater than how many new words you’ll use, for example: “Quiet,” “Sorry,” and “Time for bed.”

Q. Take a break.

K. Speed isn’t always speedy.


A. Paradoxically, while money cannot buy happiness, money does allow you to make purchases that facilitate happiness.

2. You don’t always have to save the best for last.

3. Help helps — services I’m glad to pay for include childcare, summer camp, housecleaning, bodywork, therapy, education, and personal training, and food I haven’t cooked.

4. When you put hard work in, you do earn good will.

5. To say “thank you” is a habit that will not fail you.

6. Throw stuff out.

7. Take vacations.

8. “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes” breaks down by middle age in New England, which only means warm clothing for cold weather becomes increasingly essential.

9. Trust your gut.

10. You cannot please everyone all the time, including yourself.

J. Buy the local berries.

Q. Give presents if you feel like it.

K. Smile.

My daughter wandered in as I worked on this and I tried to explain the list to her.

“You have no cards,” my daughter, age seven, pointed out.

So, there’s that.

You can find contributor Sarah Buttenwieser on Twitter at @standshadows and at her blog, Standing in the Shadows.

Image via Depositphoto

Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Hillary Clinton, Shake It Off, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton Campaign song
Six Reasons “Shake It Off” Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Theme Song
Nancy Reagan dies, Just Say No, Ronald Reagan
A Not-So-Positive Ode to Nancy Reagan’s Frothy “Just Say No” Campaign
I Married for Health Insurance
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Trump Reality Check, Now with Actual Facts!
Fascism Facts
I Married for Health Insurance
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
Paris attacks, Paris terrorism
Is Paris Burning?
Chinese government and women's reproductive rights, adopting Chinese girls, international adoption
Dear Xi Jinping, I Am Writing to You as an American Mom of a 19-Year-Old Chinese Daughter
The Vital Voice of Hillary Clinton: Part 1
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
The Eyes Have It!
Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs
Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America
women's viagra, Viagra, Flibanserin, sexual arousal, women's desire, sex after menopause
That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread