Aug 01 2012
It’s strange, our preoccupation with round numbers. I mean, 20 years of marriage is no more of an accomplishment than 19. The 76th anniversary of the founding of an institution is as impressive as the 75th. But, for a culture that’s surprisingly lacking in any formal rites of passage, I guess we use these opportunities to celebrate and reflect.
I turned 30 recently. And, yes, I know, rationally, that it’s just another day, another year. But, still. I’m nostalgic.
At first, I wanted to record my reflections carefully, in a thoughtful essay that I could look back on, 30 years from now, and realize both how wise I was and how much I had to learn. But my brain isn’t working that way. Maybe it’s because I’m old.
So, here we go: 30 things on my 30th.
- On the morning of my 30th birthday, I plucked three gray hairs from the top of my head.
- Here’s the thing that no one tells you: your 20s are hard. Maybe I’d always painted my 20s with these broad brushstrokes of assumed awesomeness. A fulfilling, moderately influential job in a big city would fall into my lap after graduation. I’d have money to spare, would travel with friends, own an amazing wardrobe. I’d get a master’s or doctorate or both. Somehow I’d exude a confidence I’d never been able to harness before in life. None of this happened. Or at least not the way I imagined it would.
- Your 20s end up being all about defining who you are and what you want from life. You are forced to define yourself outside of your parents, outside of school and grades. For someone who pinned her self worth on her grade point average, this was hard for me. Am I doing it right? Would I get an A in life?
- I fell in love eight years ago. The kind of love that you want to believe is real, but always doubt, until you meet that person. The floodgates open and you’re swept out to sea, the current holds onto you until suddenly there’s no land in sight and you realize, too late, that your life will never be the same.
- I am a different person at 30 than I was at 20.
- Lately, I don’t get carded as often. This makes me happy and sad.
- I traveled in my 20s. A lot, comparatively. I quit my job and country-hopped for eight months. I’ve traveled to a new place every year since, too. I think about these trips every day. They impact the decisions I make, change the way I perceive the world and my place in it, and help me define what’s important.
- For my birthday, Ben surprised me with a piano. He is the best giver of gifts — somehow he picks out the one thing you never knew you always wanted.
- I never thought about marriage, really. If you asked me when I was 20 if I’d get married, I probably would have shrugged. It was never something by which I wanted to define my life. Even when I was in a serious relationship, I would contend that the title of "marriage" was not important. But, somehow, my marriage has become the best thing I’ve ever done. Also, I used to dislike people that said stuff like that last sentence.
- In high school and college, I was the quiet girl. I never spoke up in class, never expressed strong opinions publicly. Now, I never hesitate to tell people what I think. Ben would say, to a fault. I think maybe in my 30s I’ll land somewhere the middle. Even still, I regret being that quiet girl. I wish I’d embraced my passion sooner.
- I think there are things in life that never change. I hate cake, but love coffee cake, and it’s always been that way.
- Yesterday, Ben said to me: "You realize that we get 80 years of life, if we’re lucky. Maybe 100." It was a moment of clarity. Think about it: 100. Years. That is nothing. Why do I waste moments on silly anxieties? Is it possible to quit my job and go live at the beach? Will you, my family and friends, come with me?
- A few days after our birthdays (Ben’s is two days after mine), we were going over to my mom’s house for a celebratory dinner. Instead, standing in her backyard, was a surprise gathering of our closest friends and family. I haven’t had a surprise party since the third grade.
- When I saw my family and friends standing in my mom’s backyard yelling "surprise!" I was awash with the warmth of knowing that, no matter what nagging doubts pester my mind, I have friends and family that care enough about me to decorate a backyard with lights and flowers, cater a dinner with my favorite food and drinks, sing happy birthday to me and light sparklers when the sun goes down. Life will never be all that bad.
- Should we get a dog? Most days, I keep thinking that I want one, but some days it seems like far too much trouble.
- I had one of the best meals of my life on my 30th birthday. Ben took me to Mamma Zu, a local restaurant that we love. It’s the kind of place where you have to stand in a crowded bar for a good 45 minutes to get a table, but you can grab a bottle of wine from the wooden racks and drink it out of old jelly jars while you wait. The waiters are rushed, the exterior is ramshackle, the tables are too close together, the flatware is thrifted, and the food is melt-in-your-mouth died-and-gone-to-heaven is-this-real-life delicious.
- I often think that I didn’t meet my potential — whatever that means — by not going to graduate school. I was one of the "smart kids" in school, after all, wasn’t I? Was I meant for academia? But, then, I know that if I’d gone to grad school, it would have been only to fulfill some measure of success as defined by other people. Still, it bugs me.
- Also, my present from Ben, the piano, had a giant pink bow on top. I’ve always wanted a present with a giant bow.
- On my 30th birthday, my family came over to my house while I was at work and hung streamers throughout. I had to rip my way through them to get inside the door. They know me.
- After Ben and I took our 8 month round-the-world trip, we made the decision to build a life in our hometown. This decision was influenced by a new appreciation for the place where we grew up, the realization that being near family is important, and a strong, stubborn urge to never have the course or location of our life be determined by a job. We still battle the urge to pick up and move to a bigger city.
- For his 30th birthday, I gave Ben a commissioned piece of art — a pop realism piece featuring an original Nintendo controller. He flipped out, in a good way.
- How did an English major end up as a web designer?
- I notice, slightly, that my body is aging. Scars take longer to heal. I need a stronger contacts prescription. I have the hint of a wrinkle between my eyes.
- I hope I’m able to remember what’s important to me as I get older. I don’t want a lot. I like my small brick rancher. If I have a larger house, I have to fill it with stuff. Stuff that breaks. Stuff that I have to clean. Stuff that distracts me from having fun, spending time with family and friends, and causes me unnecessary worry. I can already tell it’s easy to fall into the lap of wild consumerism when you have a little bit of extra income. Please make note, future Brittany: put that money into your retirement account! Take a trip! Donate it to charity! You do not need more clothes or a dedicated formal living room.
- I still care too much about what people think about me. But, I care a lot less than I did at 20. Hopefully this is something that will fade even more in my 30s.
- Every year, I realize how dumb I was the previous year. Does this happen forever?
- I’ve enjoyed establishing lasting relationships with my siblings as adults. We’re now more than sisters and brother. We’re friends.
- It’s so easy to assume that there is one "right" path for us. It’s easy to want to believe that one of the options we’re presented with is the correct one. That we are, in a sense, predestined. All we have to do is find this path. I know this isn’t true. We’re all guessing and hoping and flying by the seat of our pants. The belief that there is only one right path is the source of much regret and anxiety. But, it’s a hard assumption to eradicate from your brain.
- If I ever had to imagine when I was 20 what my life would be like at 30, I think my vision would be a whole lot different than it is today. This is a good thing.
- On the drive home from work on my 30th birthday, I saw two rainbows.
…and forgive me for that self-indulgent diatribe. It happens when you’re old. I’ll restrain myself from now on.