I turned 30 a few weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. No big party. Not even just a dinner out with my husband or a few drinks with my girls. (Though drinks with my girls is currently difficult because most of my girls live in other cities. Far away, exotic, big cities. Hey, my son considers NYC to be his number one far-away-and-exotic destination. I took him there almost a year ago. Just the two of us, just a few days. Last night at dinner he said, “Mommy, I love going to New York with you. When can we go again?”) Just a day of lounging, ushering a foster daughter out the door so she could spend the holiday with her mom, wrapping fifty bajillion more gifts, and snuggling with kids. Nothing extraordinary, but quiet and enjoyable all the same. No big deal.
Then I started to panic. Oh. My. God. I’m fucking thirty years old. And what have I done with my life? I haven’t done anything I planned on doing! I haven’t published a single fucking story! I haven’t written a single fucking novel! I don’t have what it takes to do the things I want to do, to have the job I want to have, to be the writer I want to be!
The panic lasted about a week, until we had our New Year’s party. Every one of people we invited over had kids. The grown ups gossiped and nibbled and boozed downstairs. The kids shrieked and thumped and trashed the upstairs. It. Was. Amazing. And during that party, my panic started to recede thanks to a new friend who is quickly becoming a dear friend. I forget how the conversation started, but at some point my new friend found herself treading into what others might consider dangerous territory: we’d started talking about age. But I’m not uncomfortable about it, and so I just threw it right out on the table: “How old do you think I am?” She looked nervous, and her answer was a slow as one could possibly make words come out of her mouth. “IIIIIIIIIIIII dooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnn’tttttttttt knnnnnnnnoooooooooooowwwwwww…miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiddddddddddd……..tooooooooooooo……..lllllllllaaaaaaaaaaattttttteeeeee………thirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrttttttttttttt…” I shook my head. “I just turned thirty last week.” “Dammit!” she shrieked. “I knew it! You have way too much life experience to only be thirty, but there it freaking is! I knew you weren’t as old as me!” And we all dissolved into laughter as she pointed out that her husband is a rickety old man at forty-five. (Just to be clear, her husband is not at all rickety or old.)
Life experience, she said. I ran a mental checklist of this life experience of which she must be speaking:
Check. (Thanks to a shotgun wedding, I had this life task all wrapped up by the time I was twenty-three.)
Check, check, check. (That’s three, one for each kid. My youngest kids are five; I had that check, check, check in the bag by the time I was twenty-six.)
An amazing, fulfilling, financially lucrative job?
Check. (My dream job is actually writing, but the job that I currently have is a very close second.)
A master’s degree?
A few years living abroad?
Adopting a kid?
Buying a house?
Really, now that I have all of that other stuff totally in the bag, I can settle into a routine of maintenance rather than expansion in terms of BIG LIFE GOALS. While my peers play the dating game and plan weddings and have babies and finish terminal degrees and find jobs, I can move all of that expansion energy into a place of BECOMING A SELF-SUSTAINING WRITER.
So a big, fat thank you to my friend who thinks I’m a good five to seven years older than I really am. You gave me the opportunity to be proud of myself, which is always an amazing place from which to start growing the seedlings of an eventual career change. Now that I’ve patted myself on the back and given myself a good, squishy hug, it’s time to get down to business. It’s time to work long and hard so that in five to seven years, I can still be proud of the check marks on my list of life experience.