Today you turn 30. Happy Birthday!
Today is really no different than another other birthday, except that it is divisible by 10. And that feels a certain kind of way.
You aren’t just thirty. You are three decades old. You are three, times ten, times one years old. You are thirty babies learning how to walk and talk years old. You are already one high school reunion down, at least a quarter of your life gone (unless science gets real weird real soon) years old.
But none of that is any more significant than any other day when you’re both living and dying all at once. Just like there’s not a real difference between spending $7.03 or $7.00, or filling up your car with 19.98 gallons vs. 20.00 gallons of gas.
They’re all just numbers, arbitrarily assigned…and yet…
And yet, there’s something noteworthy about this one at the very least. There is something about these numbers that we’ve given meaning to.
Or maybe, it’s the numbers themselves that name feelings we couldn’t otherwise articulate. They name glimpses of perfection. They name aging and time passing. They name deep longings in the pits of our stomachs. They name the way we walk around in our bodies but with less drama than words can sometimes offer.
There’s something hidden there in their roundness. It’s not achievement exactly, but it’s achievement adjacent. It’s not sadness, but there’s a deepness to it that settles on the heart.
And it’s not just yours. You’re the baby of the family (if you don’t count the pets, and you’d like to, for this once, not count the pets, I mean.) It’s not just you that’s thirty years old today, but the family unit you completed. Since then you’ve added to your numbers—another brother and sister and a niece and nephew (and other pets you still don’t want to count just now).
But that original five—seven if you count Molly and Matthew and their presence, and especially at Christmas, you do—the original cast is thirty years old today.
And what do you with all that?
There’s joy, for sure, as you’re very clumsy and all are relieved (if not a little surprised) you’ve made it another year. But there’s also a little bit of an ache, no?
And so, although we all agree that age is just a number, I offer you these thoughts in the form of a list (because you love a list, you love writing within a set form, and you’re just not ready to put on pants and face the world with thirty year old eyes yet.)
While you haven’t exactly been freaking out about this milestone, you have definitely said the phrase, “I have no life plan,” a lot lately.
You’re not wrong, but you’re equally not right. Arguably, with no life plan, you have taken on a more accurate and realistic view of life than you’ve ever had before. Because none of your previous plans have really worked out, now have they?
And what is a “life plan” anyway? You’re a writer. What the hell are you doing messing around with plans like that? It’s like you think you’re in control of things, and I think, at thirty, we can finally agree that you are not.
So enough whining about turning thirty. My goodness, we’re over it.
There are lots of people—people you’ve known—who didn’t get to see thirty. People whose parents never get to feel that pang of their aging children. People whose siblings never got to feel as old as yours must feel today.
So enough. Stop it. We get it—you’re thirty and you have feelings on the subject. But feelings aren’t everything.
Speaking of feelings, I’m sorry if that hurt yours. But listen, yours get hurt a whole lot, for almost anything. To walk around all your feelings is a minefield.
You learned this about yourself in your twenties. Of all the self discoveries, this may be top of the list. And this new knowledge is important. Not in that it has helped you get hurt less, but, on the contrary, you’ve learned what it means to lean in to those feelings, at least for a time.
You’ve stopped trying to deny them a place. You’ve stopped trying to hide them deep within yourself, letting them eat you alive, all the while denying you weren’t harboring their fugitive thoughts in your heart.
But, you’ve come to realize that your hurt feelings aren’t everyone else’s fault (at least not all the time…some people are still jerks). By accepting your own feelings, and speaking up when they’re trampled, you’re learning how to communicate and have a bit more grace for people trapped in the minefield.
To be clear. You are still average at this at best. You’re about as good at this process as you tell people you are at speaking french (and you’re worst at french than you actually let on).
But you cannot deny the difference a decade has made in this process.
You’re learning to navigate all those feelings, and you’re finally starting to coexist with how you are instead of feeling bad about living in that minefield all the time. (The metaphor admittedly starts to break down here…)
You have learned to say, “no” to things! My goodness. What a win!
Just this week, you turned down three things. One you just didn’t want to do, one you didn’t think was fair, and another that would have just fed your need for control.
And you only teared up for one of them; you are like a grown freaking woman.
Are you really going to stay here? You’ve hinted that you wouldn’t—especially the last couple of years. Can we revisit California? You want to know the temperature in San Diego this morning? 55 degrees. In December.
You’ve dabbled in seasonal depression. You took up climbing, in part, to pull you out of that pit. And you’re still going to do another winter here?
(I know I just encouraged you to stop with the life plans, but San Diego might be worth revisiting that earlier point. Just think about it. 55 degrees. In December.)
And about running away…you haven’t yet. This is surprising. Baltimore was kind of running away to begin with. I thought we’d established a pattern there…but here we are, seven years later.
You’re not married. You don’t have kids. (I mean…it’s like you’re not even from the south, honestly. Are you making some kind of comment on everything you come from or are you just super undatable? It’s really hard to tell.)
Why didn’t you run when things got hard three years ago? Why didn’t you run two years ago? Why didn’t you run this year? Why didn’t you run when the bottom fell out of a friendship and community you’d given your trust to, like a promise, like a night watch, like a mentor, like a friend.
Why did you stay?
And why change your mind in the middle of the summer? In the middle of the sunshine? In the middle of the rebuild?
What cornerstone did you notice was missing?
Did you ever find it?
Do you think you ever will?
You are not in control of your life.
In fact, when you start trying to control it, you mess things up. Your twenties were about a lot of things—mostly, heartbreak and writing and a coffee addiction you are so so okay with.
But your lack of control clings to you. It begs you to acknowledge it. Bend down to it. Pick it up and cradle it and coo it’s name, not in control, not in control, not in control.
That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, what if I told you it never was?
Control is married to Expectation and Expectation is a dirty thief. And you think they’re all friends with Goals, but Goals has never liked either of them. (She’s just too polite to make a big deal of it.)
The two loves of your life were unexpected.
Your niece and nephew weren’t people you knew to long or hope for. You thought you might like them, sure. But you didn’t know what it would mean to watch these tiny, familiar strangers grow into the world.
You remember holding each baby in your arms for the first time, each when they were only hours old, filling you with an awe that is decidedly not parental, but life-changing all the same.
Because of them, you feel both older and somehow more vulnerable in this world full of things you want to teach them and others, protect them from.
This bond is the way it is, in part, because you have no children of your own yet. Because you’re not married. Because your life has not played out as you had hoped.
Your sister will not have this same bond with your children (although hers will come with its own unique perspective as a mother teaching her baby sister to be one as well).
Also podcasts. And audiobooks. And snapchat filters. These are lesser loves, but still noteworthy if we’re talking about the things your twenties gave you. Keep those with you in your thirties. (Maybe you want to actually get on making the first two, yes?)
You are embarrassed to include it, because a “year of singleness” shouldn’t really be an accomplishment. But this has been an important year.
You learned more about yourself and your actual wants and personality and views on this world in 2018 than any other year.
You mastered going to dinner alone, not apologizing for being a table of one. You realized the joy of seeing movies you really want to see in theaters when no one else is around to go with you. You have learned to buy clothes without needing affirmation from a group text of friends. You have figured out your style and owned it, unapologetically. Black and brown together? You’ve done it. White after Labor Day, sure. (You only own so many pairs of pants after all.)
And your hair. It took thirty years, but you have finally figured out how to manage the lion’s mane. The tear-stained child version of you with the tangles that broke brushes, thanks you.
Online dating is not for you. Seriously. Stop trying to make that happen. It’s not worth the essay or funny dinner party stories.
You have embraced your cat. He is not a nice cat, but you love him all the same. This does not make you a cat lady, yet. It’s a thin line, but you’re still on the right side of it.
You are a writer. You can be other things and love other things, but you will always come back to writing. It’s how you process. It’s how you cope. It’s how you play with language and meaning and connection.
It comes with its own messiness and demands and pangs, but its satisfactions far outweigh its costs.
Write to figure out who you are. Write to figure out who God is. Write to figure out what your place is in this world and what you’re supposed to do with this life (sans life plan). Write about the paradoxes and the both-ands and the heartbreaks and the people who disappoint you and the ways you’ve disappointed them.
Write yourself out of the minefield.
Write proudly. Write when you want to run. Write when you want to stay.
Rock climbing has been a game changer. Everything you were afraid of—heights, not having a climbing partner, heights, falling, making new friends, death—now seems so silly. Climbing has been the best decision for your mental, emotional, and physical health to date. It’s the crux (see what I did there?) of your next book.
Never doubt how small, scary steps can change the trajectory of your life.
You are so good at making a budget, but so bad at sticking to it. Please address this in your thirties. We need you to address this in your thirties.
You will always be either getting over a sinus infection or about to get one.
This is not an end. This is taking all that twenty had to offer and walking it forward. Take the things that matter, the lessons you’ve learned and the skin you’re finally comfortable walking around in, into the next decade. Leave all the rest of it.
Some are better memories than companions, and that’s okay.
Accept that mistakes have shaped you into the woman you are today. Accept that people have failed you, because they’re people. Accept that you also have failed others, because we all fail. Besides death, it’s one of the few things we have in common.
Keep learning how to forgive with your heart, not just your intellect. (But know this is gonna be one for your thirties, forties, fifties and beyond. Because it’s not something you can do on your own.)
Take up space and let others take up space near you. Listen to understand, not to respond. Don’t take your friends and family for granted. You have a good set of both.
Don’t worry about not being married or having children yet. Don’t worry about liking that you have a cat. Don’t worry about how bad at social media you are (although, maybe be a little concerned about how much time you spend on your phone).
Always double check the figure eight knot and the belay device, even if your partner says its fine. Please make sure your harness is not upside down.
Do your best to have grace for all kinds of people—even those you find hard to love. When you fail at that (and other things), realize you can’t do that on your own either.
Go to California. Go to Colorado. Go to New Zealand. Run away if you want. Come back if you want. But don’t forget to pause once in a while. Look up at the gas pump numbers rolling by, and smile when you spend exactly $20.00.
The numbers may be arbitrary, but the feelings are not.
Lean into emotion when it comes like waves, but know confidently you’ll still be standing when it recedes, as long you firmly plant those feet on a true foundation.
And if nothing else, remember…at least you’re not forty.