As of this week, I am one year deeper into my late 30’s. (Insert Botox joke here.) Seriously, though, I’m not sweating it. I mean, I AM sweating, because it’s 100 degrees in Baltimore, but not the aging part. I got carded buying wine on my birthday last year, so I’m taking that as proof of my youthful looks. (So what if they card anyone under 70? No pesky liquor laws are going to mar MY moment!)
Anyway, it’s not age or looks that have caused me some birthday angst over the years. It’s more that each milestone forces you to take stock of your life, and if you’re not where you want to be, well…
I remember one particularly bad birthday in my late teens. I was working at a dentist’s office for the summer. (That wasn’t the bad part.) You know what kind of music they play at dentist’s offices? Sappy, depressing easy listening stuff. Things also weren’t going well with my boyfriend at the time. So all day long, I’d stand there filing and cleaning dental instruments in an over-air conditioned office ruminating over my doomed relationship and uncertain future while Neil Diamond and Air Supply crooned about lost love. A recipe for misery, people. And I wasn’t even old enough to drink!
If I were to write a letter to my younger self, it would go something like this:
Dear Younger Me,
Hey, you. Yes, you – the one mooning over some dumb job or some dumb boy. I get that you are in a hurry to be older, wiser, happier, more accomplished, more settled. I know it seems like you’re biding your time until your real life begins, but dude — chill out.
You might want to look around you and notice what’s pretty great about your life right now. Yes, even in the dentist’s office. For one thing, you have a job. For another, you live in a nice place where you can walk down to the beach anytime you want. When you’re older, you would kill for a waterfront view.
Also, with the money you’re earning from your summer job – since you have no mortgage or rent to pay yet – you can do just about anything you want. Travel. Buy clothes. (Though it will be decades before you figure out how to dress for your body type and understand quality over quantity.) One day you will even save up enough to buy a brand new VW Golf. (Which you will eventually have to sell because it can’t fit 2 car seats.)
You’re going to have to kiss a few frogs with commitment issues before you find your prince. I won’t tell you exactly how long you’ll have to wait for that because knowing how impatient
you are I am, that will frustrate the hell out of you me. But I’m sorry, you can’t fast-forward to the good parts. Life doesn’t work that way. Besides, you won’t even recognize the good parts until you have some not-so-good parts under your belt.
Like now, you’re thinking you know what love is. But you’re wrong. Yes, one day you will meet a guy who will gaze into your eyes and finish your sentences, but they will go like this:
“Hon, remember it’s Thursday. You need to –“
“– take out the recycling. I know. Love you, bye!”
In 20 years or so, you will celebrate your birthday with a picnic of sushi and cupcakes at the pool, where your children will step on your blanket with muddy feet and spray you in the face with their Spiderman squirt guns while you’re trying to eat. And you will love it.
One day you will realize you are exactly where you want to be and life is good. Messy, busy, and overwhelming at times, but good. You will realize that it’s not reaching all those goals you were striving for that matters – a good job, a husband, kids, etc. – but rather stumbling across what you really wanted in your life – meaning, purpose, love, belonging. And guess what? You’ve got it all.
Just remember: it’s all gonna work out. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. It may not be the stuff Neil Diamond sings about, but it’s your life and it’s pretty darn great. Enjoy it.
LAUGH O’ THE DAY: As usual, my mom sent me the perfect birthday card. The inside reads: “Every day’s a party at your house!”