Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coming of Age

Shortly, I will experience a day dreaded by many women from the day after they turn 21: I will celebrate my 30th birthday.

Because I mastered counting by ones many, many years ago, I've been preparing for 30 for...well...29 years. It's not been a surprise that it's coming up (although I did spend a brief angst-inspired period of my teenage years believing that I'd die before I ever got to be "this" old). But, truth be told, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this coming of age. Anne Boleyn had already given birth to a future queen, been queen herself, and was instrumental in England adopting the reformed Christian religion by 29. Anne Frank was an proficient diarist by half this age. By their standard, I'm an under-accomplished old husk (although note that I am an alive husk with my head attached).

On the other hand, Harper Lee didn't write her most definitive work until she was 33 and I have approximately 92 years to go before rivalling the supercenetarian record held by Jeanne Calment. Grandma Moses didn't really hit her stride until she was a spry woman of her 70s. Throwing my name in with these great women, it is clear to me that I have plenty of time to carpe that diem.

But it is unavoidable that the prospect of turning 30 has affected to some extent the way I perceive my relationships with others: family, colleagues, my children, women, men.

Colleagues: As someone who has always been the youngest amongst my peers (going through school young will do that to you), it's a bit of a shock to learn that some of my colleagues are now two or three years younger than I am, and I'm expected to treat them as my equals. (In other words, the respect I expect from those who are older, I shy away from extending to those who are younger. But no where is it said that with age comes consistency!)

Family: By turning 30, I feel a slightly renewed sense of confidence in dealing with my family. No longer am I the irresponsible teenager nor the starting-out-in-life 20-something. I am fully an adult, empowered, unique, and independent (albeit never free) of the self-limiting impressions of childhood.

My Children: As a 20-something mom, it's always felt a little bit like playing house. My children mean much to me, but sometimes when I look at them, I see playthings, like they're really my little brothers or nephews and I'm just babysitting for a bit while the adults are out. With 30 approaching, I know that I am a mom and I now feel like the appropriate age to be one. (Maybe turning 30 and living in middle-class suburbia is just what Britney needs?)

Women: Fortunately, almost all the women I know are at least 2-3 years older. Phew. But there is a growing number of women I know who are, sadly, younger. Yes, there's a sharp twang of competitiveness and jealousy when I see them. But, what's interesting is that I always felt that, except before it was when looking at women who are older and more accomplished. So the difference here is simply perspective. I hope that some day I'll be mature (or resigned) enough to look at the younger, slimmer, prettier women without a twinge of envy or regret that I never looked like that. Until then, at least I know that age is helping me be humble.

Men: There was a time, not too long ago, when I'd look at another man and muse to myself, "now, that's a handsome specimen!" only to find out that he was (gasp) in his mid- to late-30s. Ewwww. Mentally calculating, I would quickly deduce that he could, at least in theory, be my dad. (Forget for a moment that my own dad is 40 years older than I and let's assume this other handsome Mr. X could've spawned me at 13-ish). Now, however, when I see interesting gents "of a certain age," I need to stop my recoil and realize that they're really not "that" old. Were I in the dating market (I'm not), they would be well within my range. (That takes me down another path of introspection as I realize that some of the men I notice now are actually older than my dad was when I was born. Again I say....ewwww.)

So this brings me to wonder, what will my 30s hold? If there has been a unifying theme to my 20s, it's just been to get to some place (I don't know where) and to get there as quickly as possible. A friend predicted that in my 30s, I'd derive even more pleasure from my children and find some way to wear Mardi Gras beads and a caftan together with style. Those are noble goals, although I think all I'd need to do is throw in a bad dye job, a hair cap, and some cloth grocery bags, and I could be mistaken for the portly senile lady pushing the shopping cart around down by the river.

Instead, for my 30s, I hope for direction and selfless resolve. I hope that I'll be able to make decisions based on what is best for me and my immediate family, regardless of where that takes us. I hope with that will come the confidence and determination to make any decisions successful ones.

And I hope that all those younger, skinnier, prettier women get fat with terrible acne. Quickly.