At six months into my 30’s, I feel that I can provide a bit of information about what it is like on the other side of three decades. At least I can dispel a few myths about this era. I had always thought of 30 as a base camp before the final leg of the big journey “over the hill.” I imagined that crossing the threshold which left my 20’s behind would be a momentous event in my aging, and many things would instantly be different.
1. I’d take myself more seriously. I’d finally feel like an adult instead of a long-term extension of my 16 year-old self.
2. Others would take me more seriously and assume I have a reasonable level of competence in most areas of life.
3. My wardrobe would contain much more linen, like I was always just walking off the set of Mad About You.
4. My life would be a long-standing and comfortable routine, where the biggest adventure any given week would be buying new bath towels. Again, I think Mad About You served as my mental 30’s template.
5. In this comfortable routine, existential questions of purpose would have been resolved along the way, or simply evaporated with time.
Well. Let me tell you.
1. It’s partly true that I take myself more seriously, because I no longer feel that my teenage years were “not that long ago.” How could I when I recently realized that I started high school 15 years ago? But it still startles me when medical professionals ask my age (because those are the only people who dare to ask nowadays) and I must respond, “30,” suddenly feeling very like Neo waking up outside the Matrix for the first time wondering how in the world did I get here. And incidentally, I’m treated like a geriatric patient now. When I inquire about an ache or pain, the doctor makes a pinched, patronizing face and begins, “As we age….” This is especially true regarding my pregnancy, where the phrase “advanced maternal age,” has actually been thrown around a few times in my presence. (?!?)
2. It’s also partly true that others take me more seriously in that, on the rare occasions that I attempt to buy alcohol, I am never carded. But in terms of quickly being judged as competent in any situation, especially now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, no. The only place that people ever assume I am in my element is at the grocery store, where dazed-looking men ask me which of the 12 varieties of apples they should buy for their fishing trip snack stash.
3. About 50% of my clothes are 8 or more years old, and will never again be appropriate to wear, post child-bearing. I tell myself that I keep these items for upcycling sewing projects. 0% of my wardrobe is linen.
4. There is no long-standing or comfortable routine when rising small children. Maybe I’ll revisit the Mad About You template for empty-nesting.
5. For those of us with existential questions, the 30-year mark holds no special power to help answer or shed them.
However, what has completely surprised me about this time is realizing that I have well over a decade of my very own decision making behind me. Past the age of 17, my choices and my time were never governed by any person or institution. What at first may seem obvious and mundane to others- that I employed my own judgement and continually built upon the consequences of those choices over the last decade- was a surprising source of joy for me recently. Because I can remember some utterly discouraging times and difficult choices- the kind where even the right choice feels terrible. At the time the situations seemed unfair, confusing, and senseless. But looking back well after those storms passed, I know that not only did I make it through, but the choices I made in the midst of the difficulty were right. And I can start to see how pieces of the story- even the jagged ones- fit together, and it all makes a little more sense.
It is this act of looking behind me that hints at an answer to my questions of purpose. It encourages me to trust my judgment, regardless of the esteem in which others hold me at any given point. It reminds me to be purposeful in what I am building with my choices. Because in another 10 years, I’ll look back at what I am cobbling together with my time and resources right now.
Here’s to the next 30 years.