So on the big day, after making the boarding announcement for the departing flight to Paris (in English and French, bien sûr) and folding up strollers at the end of the jetway, a few of my colleagues joined me at the somewhat sketchy bar in at the far end of the international terminal for my first legal drink. Given that most of them were French, they spent most of the time criticizing the wine list and looking generally displeased. It was not terribly festive.
And that was fine with me. Birthdays, at least my own, have just never been my thing. While I love baking cakes, decorating, and generally showering my kids and other family members with birthday love, when my turn comes around I tend to suffer from an annual case of the Birthday Blues. It typically lasts about one week and symptoms include, but are not limited to, compulsive over-introspection, a distinct feeling of not having accomplished enough in life, and the overwhelming desire to bury one's head in the sand. Or a jar of Nutella.
But this year, as I feel the familiar tug toward the pantry, I'm determined to stop the Birthday Blues in their tracks. So today, the day before my 42nd birthday, I'm doing my best to reflect on all the ways this is going to be twice as good as turning 21.
I've noticed that the older we get, the more we tend to idealize youth as a time of carefree, independent hedonism. But just between us, I was a hot mess. Of course, I didn't see it that way at the time.
In my 20s, I thought I was fearless. I solo backpacked through Europe. Worked my way across Australia. Took jobs in states I had never even visited. Climbed to the top of the Alps, and dove to the bottom of the Red Sea. But the truth is, I was afraid of pretty much everything.
I was afraid I'd never find my calling, so I picked up the career phone every single time it rang, trying on vocations like they were a stack of jeans at the Gap.
I was afraid I'd spend my life alone and never find Mr. Right, so I clung desperately to Mr. Wrong(s).
I was afraid I'd never be worthy of the love that was right in front of me, so I made myself as unloveable as I could.
I was afraid I wasn't strong enough, so I took on every physical challenge I could find.
I was afraid I hadn't had enough fun in my life, so I had way too much fun. (OK, this is not exactly a major regret.)
I was afraid I didn't know enough, so I pretended to know it all.
I was afraid of being wrong, so I never admitted it when I was.
I was afraid I'd never have enough, so I envied and coveted what everyone else had.
I was afraid of who I was, so I tried to be someone else.
In my 40s, I no longer think of myself as fearless, but I do fear less.
I now know that in order to find my calling, I need to do a lot less talking and much more listening. Because no matter how much you turn up the volume, you can't drown out the voice inside. More importantly, I've learned you shouldn't even try.
I've learned that you don't have to be Ms. Perfect to find Mr. Right. And in letting go of your perceived imperfections, you open yourself up to the possibility being loved by someone else- flaws and all.
I now understand the immeasurable ocean of love a parent has for their child, and that nothing they ever do or say will change that.
I now see that strength comes not just from the things we choose to do, but in how we react to the things that are out of our control. My mom battled cancer over Thanksgiving break, and returned to work without missing a day. My dad is now physically unable to run, walk, or even stand unassisted, but lives life with a full heart and no complaints.
I'm still working on having enough fun. I'll keep you posted.
At this point I think I have enough advanced degrees and certificates from the School of Life to be the first to admit that I don't know very much. In fact, my kids remind me of it on a daily basis. But I've learned that the simple act of saying "I don't know," is yet another way to release yourself from the prison of perfection-seeking.
The same goes for being wrong. At least a dozen times a day, in my side career as a child referee, I find myself telling one party to say "I'm sorry" to another. Now I understand both how difficult, and how profound those words truly are, especially when followed by, "Please forgive me."
While I admit to still ogling this person's granite countertops, or that person's seemingly laid back lifestyle, today I've (mostly) stopped aching for what others have. I've learned that God doesn't give us what we want, he gives us what we need to move on. And whether it's joy or sadness, success or failure, it's always enough.
And perhaps that's the biggest thing I've learned: that I am enough. That includes my flaws, neuroses, saggy parts, and all.
Sure, there are things I still fear, because the world never appears more dangerous than the day you bring a child into it.
I fear the cars that speed down our cul-de-sac will fail to see a toddler on a trike. I fear that rollercoasters will disconnect in midair. I fear black widow spiders hiding in bags of grapes, creepers hiding on the Internet, and the dark...side of life.
But mostly I fear not having enough time with the ones I love.
I fear not using that time wisely and loving them as deeply as I can.
I fear not fully using the gifts that I've been given- and I don't mean the kind in a box or a bag.
And so those are the fears I'll work on conquering as I turn 42.
Just you wait- by the time I hit 84, I might actually have this figured out.