When I turned 23, my father called me to say “Welcome to your mid-twenties.” All the excitement I was feeling about my fantastic birthday plans disappeared. Mid-twenties? What?
The day before my 25th birthday, I admit I searched my face for signs of age, fatigue, anything that might hint at my fading youth. I found a silver hair, standing straight and proud between two dark brown curls right on top of my head. Obviously, I was upset. (Hilariously so. I have found so many more since then.)
While it’s not like I’m going to start lying about my age, it’s definitely true that I have had a harder time than even I expected with my upcoming 30th birthday. There are a thousand reasons I’m sure–blame it on the media or something–that women across the world (or is it just American women across the world?) aren’t so cool with 30. But I am not usually one of those women who cares so much.
Yet my 30th birthday has been marked on my calendar for a really long time under the event title “Holy Crap.” Here I am, running this happy little race through my twenties, and thirty is hovering near the finish line with its mom jeans and its blotchy skin. Ugh.
I know that so much of my unease about this next decade is because my parents were in their thirties for much of my childhood and teenage years. Consider this: from my mother’s 30th birthday in 1994 to her 40th in 2004, I went from being a frizzy-haired, pigeon-toed little tomboy to a frizzy-haired, pigeon-toed married woman. That’s a big change.
(My father’s 30th, in 1990, must have occurred while we were living in Germany and I was still too young to realize that my parents were actual human beings with thoughts and feelings all their own. He was just my dad, and he was old as far back as I can remember.)
I was beginning the 5th grade when my mom celebrated her 30th. I mean, I remember that! The images my brain associates with this decade are not the best: thirty is a house full of children demanding too much from you; thirty is a marriage hanging on by a thread; thirty is the weary look of a person who grew up too fast. And so thirty has lurked in the distance like some unwanted spectator, a creepy shadow staring from the corner of the room, beady little eyes judging my every move. Thirty sounds like a well-meaning but obviously disappointed relative, making tsk-tsk observations about my life and asking too-personal questions like “well, when are you guys going to have some kids?” So sometimes, yeah, I’m a little like “hello? I’m still super young and carefree! No thirty for me, thanks!”
But what is so terrifying about it? It’s another year of my life, something for which I should be incredibly grateful. And to be honest, it’s not like the twenties are some jolly good time. That’s a pretty constant theme we’ve all seen too many times, isn’t it? “Wah wah wah, my twenties are so hard.”
My twenties tended to teeter between blissfully ideal perfection and absolutely devastating train-wreck. That whole decade is so much about figuring stuff out. How to function in a successful relationship. How to work with people you don’t like. How to spend and save money like a grown-up. How to stop caring so much about what other people think. In general, how to not get your way and still be happy. I learned a lot about who I was and who I ultimately wanted to be in my twenties. That’s ten years of reflection and renovation (messy messy renovation), but now that I’m on the other side I can say both that I am thankful for it and that I’m glad it’s over.
At 30, I have peace and joy and can laugh at the days to come. I couldn’t say that for so much of my twenties, so why hold on to them so tightly? In this bright moment of clarity and optimism, I am excited about my thirties. This is the decade we return to the U.S. after three years away. It’s almost like starting over. New decade, new life. I don’t think it gets any better than that. (And I don’t think I’ve ever had so many excuses to be out of the loop on current fashion trends, so that’s pretty great, too.)
*Today my students gave me construction-paper birthday cards, sang “Manuia lou aso fanau,” and assured me that I still look like I’m 25. A very happy birthday to me.