My birthday tends to fall on Labor Day Weekend every year. (My younger sister’s lands on Memorial Day weekend -together, our birthdays bookend the summer). Back in the old school days, I was always the very youngest in the class. My birthday literally was the cutoff day – if I’d been born a day later, I would have been the high school class of 1997. How strange to think about.
I got some money and gift cards to Ann Taylor this year – which I know because I cheated and opened my birthday cards early, because the Ann Taylor half price sale also tends to fall on Labor Day weekend every year. I’ve really wanted some nice t-shirts and shells that have sleeves, so my suits don’t need dry-cleaned as often. (I also need suits, but most all of the on-sale suits were white or capris or skinny leg pants, so I didn’t get any suits this time.) If I waited til Monday most of the mid-range sizes would be gone, and you’d only find XXS or XXL. So I cheated. Happy early birthday to me! Bought a bunch of $8 shirts and a couple of $22 dresses, and one splurge jacket that looks sort of Jackie-O ish and was $75 even half price. It’s part of a suit but the pants and skirt were sold out, but it will work with a lot of what I already own and I caaaaan’t waaaaait to try it on. The risk is it’s all final sale and can’t be returned if it doesn’t fit, so I hope I’m still a Medium shirt, size 10 jacket, size 12 pants/skirt/dress at Ann Taylor or I’m gonna be selling some stuff on e-bay. (PS in the reviews, every single person is like – “this runs big – I’m usually a size 0 so I had to get size 00 for this to fit!” OR “I’m 5’7″ and a size 2-Tall and this was really flattering.” I’m going to have to get in there and review some stuff and be like “Hello, I am 5’6″ and 160 lbs and I’ve had three babies and I’m a size 12, and here’s how this stuff fits just in case you are not a delicate bird of a human. Which if you are, good for you, you’re beautiful – and if you’re not, good for you, you’re beautiful too, but don’t buy this dress because it’ll make you look faaaaaat.” PPS My dad always says – “the dress doesn’t make you look fat. Your fat makes you look fat.” Which never fails to make me chuckle.
So, thirty six is upon me. I keep gingerly poking at my subconscious, checking in to see “does this freak you out? Being closer to forty than thirty?” And my subconscious is like – NOPE! THIS DECADE IS PRETTY MUCH THE BEST. CARRY ON.
And it’s true. I’ve had a few friends turn thirty recently, and in the face of their existential angst over flipping to a new decade I’ve been that annoying person shouting (figuratively, via facebook comments, mostly) No! Thirties are way better than twenties! It’s true, and I’ve only slowly begun realizing why. Mostly, it’s because I expend way less energy worrying about being sexy and skinny and attractive. It’s only recently that I realized how much of my subconscious was devoted to feeling guilty for not being pretty per the American ideal (i.e. slender, toned but not too bulky, bouncy hair, slim face, staying perpetually young, sculpted legs, tan but not too tan, blah blah blah). I carried a lot of guilt about having a flobby belly and thighs that touch (even at 125 pounds, which is what I weighed 10 years ago, I had a little belly and some cellulite). Like, a lot – more than I realized. In many ways, a huge amount of my resources were going towards chasing some ideal that I was never going to catch, anyway. And now, I 90% don’t care. A little bit of me will always care, because I’m marinating in these terrible body-image messages just like everybody else – but 90% of me has decided that I’ve got better things to do than think about how my body looks. (Like, for example, worry a lot about how it feels, because my lower back is seriously collapsing – one of the few downsides to leaving behind my twenties.)
Another thing I like about my thirties is along the same lines, though broader. I guess you could say my gaze has turned outward. It used to be all about self improvement, living a better life through better organizing/eating/wardrobe/exercising/mindfulness. I thought that happiness and inner peace would come to me if I could get my house designed perfectly, pick just the right color pillow shams, hit on the perfect number of pieces in my wardrobe to assure a fresh and professional look that’s classic and not too trendy, spend just the right amount of time in meditation balanced against the perfect amount of time out being social among impeccably dressed friends. Eat the perfect balance of protein and roughage. Drink eight 8 oz glasses of water every day, cut out coffee and alcohol, lay off all processed foods and eat only whole and organic. It’s just so much to keep track of . . . I’m finding more peace, at thirty six, from being a good friend, being a good steward of the earth and my resources, being a good parent and spouse, being a good citizen. Service to others is a higher calling than service to self. All those things that used to consume me are now still a part of my consciousness, but relegated to the tiny sliver of my time that they deserve.
And finally, self-forgiveness. Kelle Hampton wrote recently about the identity crisis of containing multitudes, and her post resonated with me. I can simultaneously reject the impossible standards put on women’s bodies, and also really crow when I look skinny in a pair of great jeans. I can carry in my one pair of hands both abstract but real grief at the horrible things happening in the world, and also fizzy joy over the fact that Parks and Rec season 6 is coming to Netflix in just a few weeks. Glennon Melton at Momastery has also in a lot of ways released me to do good things, because she has given permission to do tiny acts of good. At 36, I’ve accepted that I don’t have to feed all the hungry people in the world. It’s ok to give what you have. With these zillions of children and my demanding job, I don’t have a lot to give – but we do what we can.
So. My navel-gazing birthday post, in all its glory. I know the best writing contains few – ideally, zero – references to I or me. By that measure, this is the worst thing I’ve written all year. But that’s ok. I contain multitudes. Sometimes the multitudes = good writer and good steward of her gifts, and sometimes it just feels like blowing some birthday dollars on some cute clothes from Ann Taylor and then blurting an unedited stream of consciousness on her blog.
I’ll leave you with a few more cute kid stories, because if we’re being self-indulgent already we might as well just go the whole hog.
Last night, Liam asked his father to pick him up close to the over-the-door basketball hoop in their room so he could do a “slam dump” (he said it “swam dump,” of course, which made it even sillier).
Friday, Jack told me “sometimes when my teacher puts on soft music and we’re quiet, I put my head down and I think about you and I get a little sad because I miss you.”
Craiggers, 7 months old yesterday, is my little soul mate. When I come home he stares and then wriggles with overwhelming joy, almost in disbelief that I actually came back and he gets to be with me again. He is the reason my back is collapsing in on itself like a dying star, but I don’t mind.
Happy days, these days. 35 was good, 36 will be better. Happy birthday to me!