I’m in the woods today, lounging on the balcony of a log cabin eyeing the sunset and listening to birdsong. So quiet here. A long weekend getaway in Hocking Hills again with my husband and kids to soak up a change of scenery and pace. It’s serene. I’ve learned to embrace it.
Tomorrow’s my birthday. Last year was a milestone – the Big 5-0. I spent years looking forward to it. Relatively speaking this year snuck up on me. The ones ending in 5 and under always do.
Needless to say I am approaching 51 much more quietly this year but then again my birthdays are always like that. No hoopla…no fanfare. Only three birthdays ever came close to that and I wouldn’t characterize them as hoopla.
Yes, my sisters and their families and a couple who are friends of ours and their kids joined us for dinner last year but it was a pretty quiet affair, reserved in a way that is the hallmark of my family growing up. A high school friend threw me a surprise 15th birthday slumber party and my parents hosted a party at our house with more school friends when I turned 16, but that’s it. It felt weird to be the center of attention each time.
Part of me wanted my 50th to be a big, special affair, but honestly? I was afraid no one would come so I didn’t ask a soul. Neither did anyone ask…. so I think I was right on about that hunch.
How did I know? Well, my other milestone birthdays were almost comically bad! I don’t remember 20. I’m pretty sure I had just broken up with my jealous, possessive-type boyfriend. Thank God I had the presence of mind to avoid entering a new decade with that sort of baggage. He was so wrong for me.
21 was a total bust. These days it’s a rite of passage. For me? Nope. My college roommate didn’t drink. It was the holiday weekend so other friends went home to see their families. I decided to ask a drop-dead handsome guy on a 2nd date for my birthday – my Computer Science 101 grad-student instructor from the prior semester – and he was gracious enough to agree to it….BUT…..he turned out to be gay and didn’t have the heart to tell me. It wasn’t immediately obvious but really, I had zero experience asking guys out, so what did I know? I do recall it becoming painfully clear – FACEPALM obvious – during dinner. It was such an epic fail, I didn’t bother asking guys out from then on, despite being relatively confident and feminist. I really began to hate the sheltered way I had grown up! Nothing in life prepared me for the dating scene I encountered…
25 was my first mid-life crisis. I took stock of what in the world was happening with me, who I was spending my time with, where I was living, and how my career was developing. My roommate of many years was an absentee “friend”. The guy I had been dating for a few months was too caught up in his medical studies and professional goals to devote any time to me…plus he eventually made it clear I wasn’t a good enough trophy for him in the long-run. I traveled all of the time for work and was having a hard time meeting people besides those I worked with, and that was a strange office environment of married men managers hitting on single women at the staff level. I was gone all week traveling across the country and then drove two hours home one-way to visit my Dad on the weekends since he was now an older widower. Not a whole lot about that lifestyle was enjoyable or sustainable so I decided to move to Pittsburgh where it was a little easier to visit Dad regularly and start over socially.
30? I don’t even remember what I did or if I spent it with anyone at all. Maybe I blanked it out. My long-term boyfriend had unceremoniously broken up with me a few weeks before, dropping me off on the front porch of my house after our vacation. I didn’t have the guts to ask my girlfriends to go out because I had invested so much of my time in this guy for the prior 18 months….I had kinda neglected the friendships, ya know? I felt like I had deserved to spend 30 alone.
Are you noticing a theme here? I have to chuckle when people think I live this fairy-tale life. Uh, no. Definitely no.
By 40 I was finally married but we had moved around a bit. I don’t remember the birthday itself but I must have spent it with my husband and two kids at the time. We were still relatively new in town, and I was working full-time as a consultant traveling all over the region. Being the mother of small kids, I had no means to develop any deep friendships and I found it really hard to keep up with my old ones. Parenthood – at least the way I approach it – is all consuming. So yeah, I don’t even remember my 40th either.
So 50? It wasn’t a big giant celebration. It wasn’t anything at all like I had always imagined it would be. And if I’m lucky, I get one more big milestone birthday…and who knows who will be there for it? My kids will mostly be off on their own…even the youngest will be off to college for the first time. Maybe just my husband will be there and that will have to be enough. It makes me really sad that the circle I have around me is so small, but it needs to be enough. It’s all I’ve ever really had.
You know how some people dread turning older, and especially the milestone birthdays? Believe it or not, not me. Actually I’m pretty grateful for the years I’ve been given. I don’t know if it was the realization of just how young my mom was when she died at 64 – when I was 20 – or when I was diagnosed with melanoma at 24 or a combination of both. Those who die before me, and there have been a lot of aunts and uncles and now friends in that category, are stark reminders of just how short life really is. Maybe it’s a little melancholy but to be me is to know loss.
My oldest niece turns 38 this year, which blows my mind! I was 13 when she was born and remember it like yesterday. I can tell she is dreading the big #40. I want to hug her so hard and shout: enjoy every second. She’s healthy. She’s surrounded by friends and a beautiful family of her own. She has a lovely home. She works a job she likes. And it’s a privilege to be 40. It hasn’t happened a whole lot yet but the healthy young people around her are going to just start disappearing from this life through no fault of their own. It will simply be their time. Too soon, of course, but you’ll learn soon enough you are not guaranteed even one more day. Embrace 40 with joy.
So even though my actual birthdays have never been a giant celebration of my life, surrounded by family and friends, I still try to embrace life as though that was the case.
And so I greet 51. With joy, with gratitude. With passion and laughter and zaniness and loads of hugs and kisses. With hope and, yes still, with dreams. Dreams of another 50 years of health and vitality if I can help it but you just never know.
I dream I get to watch my kids grow up, discover what jazzes them, and chase their own dreams. I hope I get to watch them fall in love and it be the real thing, to love someone with their entire being and be fiercely loved in return. Everyone deserves that. It’s one of the most sacred things in life and a pure gift from God when it happens. It is a covenant of enormous beauty when it happens.
I dream of a petite, lithe body. To know how it feels to push myself beyond the limits I thought I had and see results on a level I’ve never seen before. To become strong, to know what that feels like physically.
I hope for the day when decency and dignity returns to the White House. I hope that happens sooner than later.
I am excited about the chance to further develop professionally back in technology where I feel most at home. To feel like I’m bringing value in a space that has been neglected for too long. I hope I can stay engaged with this line of work for at least another 10 years if not 13-15. To retirement…which is a CRAZY thing to be thinking about but you know I do!
I can’t wait to pack my bags for our next trips. It is so much fun to travel and explore, take the kids to the places I know and love! We’re thinking of taking the kids back to Utah next summer to see their grandma and then head down to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas as a side trip while my husband teaches a percussion master class out west. And maybe we’ll head back to Hawaii next year too. We have a place to stay so we should take advantage of it while the five of us are together and can. Pretty soon our oldest will graduate and leave home so we know the years together on vacation are coming to a quick end.
But mostly I just wish I could spend more time with friends of every sort and every age and just laugh. Talk about life, talk about the funny goofy things that happen, joke about our little quirks and idiosyncrasies, and do it again and again. I’ve been slowly reconnecting with old friends this year, as I’ve written about more than a few times in this blog, and opening up more to new ones. I know I’ve neglected those dear old friendships, and I’ve been afraid to start new ones because I am careful to surround myself primarily with people who are kind, passionate, and joyful. People who like to learn and drive themselves to be better and to be silly and laugh because life should be embraced and enjoyed. People who hug and support, encourage and lift up, bake and deliver casseroles, and crack jokes at every opportunity. I want to be that person for others.
These are just some of things I’ve experienced and learned over the last 18,615 days. I know what’s precious. Birthday celebrations are truly just icing on the cake.
Photo credit: Nick Stephenson on Unsplash