April 17, 2018

30 Things That Happened in my 30s

I’ve always loved milestones and the way they inspire me to look back and look forward. Ten years ago, on my 30th birthday, I wrote a blog in which I listed meaningful memories of my 20s and set three goals for my 30s.

  • Move to a nicer house: Check. 
  • Have another child: Check. 
  • Increase my salary: Check (and cringe). 

To continue the tradition, on my 40th birthday, I’ll tell you what else happened during my 30s:

1. I took care of two babies, who turned into toddlers, who turned into elementary school kids, who are now the coolest 11 and 7-year-olds that I know. There was a blur of years during which, as best I recall, my life revolved around nap synchronization and tantrum avoidance, although I can’t really tell you. I put on an old coat recently and found a pacifier in the pocket. It felt equally foreign and familiar. I left it there to remind me that whichever kid it was, I’m still their mom. And, at least for now, they think I’m cool.

They loved each other.
They still love each other.

2. I started working on my first novel. While I missed the arbitrary deadline of finishing it by my 40th birthday, it’s well underway, there are parts of it that don’t embarrass me, and I will finish it this year.

3. I saw lots of live music. Outdoor festivals in the rain. GNR in a stadium. Adele with my daughter. DeVotchka at the zoo. Wilco in a parking lot. Prince in his home.

4. I quit smoking.

5. I learned to roast vegetables and make soups like a boss, leaving behind my 20s dinner staples of boxed pasta and frozen pizzas.

6. I finally started keeping, and mostly sticking to, a budget.

7. My marriage grew and changed and reinvented and struggled and triumphed and grew some more. I fell in love with Sam many times over, in surprising new ways.

8. I broke, a couple of times. I found my way back thanks to caring people, antidepressants, and the perspective that can only come with the passage of time.

9. I gained and lost and gained the same 50 pounds, two and a half times. I haven’t exactly made peace with my weight, but I have decided it’s not the most interesting or important thing about me. Not even in the top three.

10. I moved twice, once halfway across the country and once to an adjacent suburb. After the second, I swore to never move again, although the recent April blizzard has me daydreaming about the snowbird life.

11. I started noticing people younger, prettier, and smarter than me whose accomplishments outpace my own. I forgive them.

12. I said goodbye to my first cat, Oedipa, after 13 years, and welcomed two kittens into our family. Rosie and Max scratch the furniture, and Max can’t be left near a loaf of bread or a bag of marshmallows. I love them more than I can rationally explain.

13. Moving to Minnesota brought more moments with family. Riding 4-wheelers with my brother. Going to concerts with my in-laws. Driving to my mom’s for Christmas Eve dinner. The beautiful bonds that the kids have with their grandparents.

14. I got some new lines around my eyes, but I continue to borrow my tween daughter’s pimple cream. This seems unfair.

15. I never learned to keep my house tidy, but I hired a cleaning lady who pulls our household back from the brink of chaos every 2 weeks. The half hour after she leaves is my favorite. The chaos returns like a tide. I decided to not let said tide keep me from inviting friends over, because people who judge me for having a messy house are not my people.

16. I used most of the china and glassware that Sam and I ambitiously added to our wedding registry when we were the sort of people who ate pizza slices on paper towels: the champagne flutes, the cordial glasses, the fancy cheese tray. The punch bowl, a casualty of a Christmas party in my 38th year, lived a full and joyous life.

17. I connected with Poland, my parents’ homeland. Researching World War II, translating my grandfather’s memoirs, and refreshing my knowledge of the Polish language were all meaningful. The best part was traveling there with my mother and daughter and discovering a new perspective on the place I occupy in the narrative of my family’s history and culture.

18. I built some of my closest friendships, and the most recent chapter of my career, on social media.

19. I ran a half marathon, slowly enough that I was passed by power walkers. I couldn’t walk properly for two days. I may never do it again, but I did it once.

20. I tried a variety of hairstyles and colors. Currently, my hair is longer than it’s been since high school, partially in response to a suggestion that 40 might be too old for long hair.


21. I became a morning person.

22. I started to enjoy pop music, after a decade or two of snubbing my nose at it.

23. I got a smartphone and changed the way I interact with the world. It helped me become the sort of person who takes photos and videos every day, who learns random facts about the world from podcasts, who maintains friendships around the world, and who prioritizes walks to the park so I can hunt Pokemon. It also brought me new ways to procrastinate and detach from the physical world, and I am now incapable of memorizing a phone number or address.

24. I got a piano, found my old sheet music, and discovered that I’m still musically competent enough to play Pachelbel’s Canon or to accompany a drunken singalong of November Rain.

25. I reconnected with friends from high school and college. I realized that the older I get, the more I like the other people my age, and the less it matters what kind of teenagers we were. With old friends, you can see the narrative thread of a human life: the child, the adult, and the future still open with possibility.

26. I met new friends at church, through the kids’ school, and in my neighborhood.

27. The family road trip became a summer tradition. Sam and I listened to audio books across the interstate while the kids watched DVDs in the back seat. We allowed donuts for breakfast and relaxed our rules about snacks in the good car. I pointed out cows and horses, like my mom always did when I was a kid. We always covered more miles than seemed rational, and we usually arrived with surprising good humor.

Away we go!

28. I got laid off from a company I loved like a family. It turned out to be a catalyst for a positive change in my career and life, although at the time it felt very much like falling.

29. I finally shook off the imposter feeling at work, and let myself believe that I’m good at the things I’m good at. I maintain my curiosity and need for growth, but I no longer apologize for my competence.

30. I developed more empathy for my parents, my teachers, and all the adults I knew in my childhood. They were just winging it, like I am. I still look around sometimes for the “real” grownups, but less often than I used to.

When I turn 50, Evie will be 21 and Felix will be a senior in high school. It doesn’t feel possible, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that it marches forward.

Here are my three goals for the next decade:

  • · Enjoy the last chapter of Evie and Felix’s childhoods.
  • · Finish my Poland novel, and keep writing.
  • · Keep having adventures with my family and friends, so that in 10 years I can write an interesting list of 40 things from my 40s.
Here's to the road ahead.

Destination: Adventure

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