Learning Twenty-Five: A Prequel

My birthday is kind of a big deal. I’m obnoxious about it, really.

When I was four, my parents made the mistake of bringing an almost-five-year-old to the happiest place on earth: Disney World. I spent the entire trip asking about my birthday party that would take place back in Louisiana at the end of the week. I was looking forward to homemade chocolate cake and the Happy Birthday song (which I now hate) and my nanny.* I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, shut up about it.

Michelle's 5th Birthday Party
My 5th Birthday: Shortly after this photo was taken, I missed Disney World.

And now I’m 25.

Twenty years later, I still felt that same kind of excitement surrounding my birthday. Well that mixed will a little bit of nausea.

When I confessed my slight-maybe-I’m-a-little-nervous-about-25 fear to my friends (who are all older than I am), they struggled not to laugh or roll their eyes. Yeah…that’s a big one they said, all bless-her-heart-like.

Because here’s an obvious life secret: any age older than your own seems old, and any age younger than yours seems adorable and naive.

Fair enough, I thought, but still…25…that’s got to mean something, right?

My 9th Birthday. This is as old as I can go with the pictures. They're painfully awkward after this.
My 8th Birthday. This is as old as I can go with the pictures. They’re painfully awkward after this.

I wasn’t anxious about my birthday so much as I was curious about it at first. What’s the big deal? I’ve been mistakenly saying I was 25 since I turned 24, so I’ve kind of already done this. And, yes. It is the same thing.

But then, as most of you know, life changed, somewhat rapidly for me. It was different. Or, at least different enough for me to take notice. For me to wonder about this person I’ve become. Am becoming. Hope to become in the near future.

Like any good writer (or girl who calls herself a good writer), I decided to draft an essay about this uncertainty. A really good essay I decided. I’ll say a bunch of profound stuff and title it something clever like, “Turning Twenty-Five.”

Yeah. Adorable, right? Apparently, that’s been done. By every single person who has ever turned twenty-five in the entire history of the world. Even non-writers because “suddenly they’re twenty-five and have this new writer calling.” Google it, and tell me I’m lying.

But still, I was committed to the idea. (Stubbornness and commitment tend to look similar on me.) I mixed it up a bit. I decided I wouldn’t say anything profound (much easier), I would simply take a look at December 12 every year from 1988 to 2013 and do something experimental with the events that happened juxtaposed to my own birthdays. (The Clapham Junction rail crash killed 35 people on the day of my birth, and the Russian Federation gained its independence from the USSR when I turned three.).

Michelle's 4th Birthday
I think this was my fourth birthday. Or maybe someone else’s birthday. Still, I look festive.

Interesting, right? No. This is only interesting to me (and barely).

So, what then?

The night before my birthday, I couldn’t sleep. This isn’t that unusual, but something about it felt odd. It wasn’t my normal insomnia. I’d gone out with friends to celebrate the end of the semester that night and asked the bartender to make me something sweet without vodka. He said he couldn’t do that. I said okay, but I don’t want to taste the vodka. And he smiled and said, oh you won’t taste it. My friends advised me not to drink that drink, but I’d paid for it, and so I did, and now I thought maybe this awakeness had something to do with that poor choice. But it didn’t.

This feeling felt more like the excitement before the first day of school or the anxiety of the morning before a big test.

I felt unprepared.

I knew nothing about being 25. I should have actually read those googled essays! I wasn’t ready for this. I’d only just figured out 24.

And there it was: I don’t have to know how to be 25 on day one. I didn’t know how to dance on the first day of class, and I certainly wasn’t confident about writing when I started graduate school. And if we’re being honest, I still can’t figure out how to work my dishwasher so that it properly cleans my dishes.

Michelle's 3rd Birthday
2nd Birthday. I look pumped. Sorry, Molly and Matthew.

And so, with the help of my wiser friends, I came up with a long list of plans for the next year: get a tattoo (sorry Mom and Dad); buy a plane ticket and go somewhere, anywhere that same day; rent a convertible (because I can!); learn a skill (admittedly vague and achievable), speak French fluently again (or for the first time); and other things not yet sharable.

25 was a good year! they said (26 wasn’t, but you’ve got time to prepare yourself for that…) Cheers to 25!

I’ve always been excited about my birthday because it’s an ending and a beginning all at once. Bittersweet. It’s the same reason that I like New Year’s Eve and, of course, “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Michelle is not happy.
Whoa. Clearly I’m into this.

But this year, I will not look forward to my birthday. I will not focus on the chocolate cake at the end of the week and miss the happiest place right in front of me. I’m not going to say I’m 26 before I am.

I’m going to own 25. Or, at least, I plan on figuring out what all the fuss is about.

I loved cake from the very beginning.
I loved cake from the very beginning.
* In the south, at least in southern Louisiana, the term “Nanny” refers to one’s Godmother. And no, it’s not like a “fairy Godmother” although mine often felt like one, because she’s the greatest. It’s a Catholic thing.

***Writer’s Note Here’s what this all means for the blog: I’ll continue writing my inconsistent posts like I always do, but I’m also going to explore what it means to be 25. Or rather, I’ll attempt to translate the chaos of my life to definitions of twenty-five. It’s a quest of sorts (although, not one really supports me calling it that). I don’t know what I’ll find, but I hope to discover adventure along the way.

My 25th Birthday. And the one and only Amanda (see "There's Always Money in the Flea Market" (Sept 2012) and "Same Sky, Different City" (Nov. 2012)
My 25th Birthday. Me with Amanda (see “There’s Always Money in the Flea Market” (Sept 2012) and “Same Sky, Different City” (Nov. 2012)