In November, I turned 30. And it was simultaneously depressing and shocking. Like when the end of a semester catches up to you and all of a sudden you realize you don’t have anything done. You’ve wasted time. THIS is why nobody else was around to hang out all semester…they were looking at the syllabus and completing the work.
30 felt different from 29. Nothing changed on the outside—I had the same job, husband, and kid. But I could see the resume of my life and it was all typed out—it was too short and too plain. There wasn’t a lot to be proud of myself for.
Let me back up…
I have a very easy existence, full of privileges I don’t deserve and didn’t work for— as the Bible says, I’ve eaten from vineyards I didn’t plant my whole life. My parents gave wonderful advice and helped me in every way I needed help; my husband is a good man who supports me, both money-wise and feelings-wise. I even have a son, like I always wanted—an easy child to deal with who was born a pretty compliant baby. I’ve had lots of free time to pursue goals and all the resources I needed to pursue them. I dreamed the dream of being a confident and competent adult—one who knew how to do lots of things.
But the sad truth is, I’m not one. I know how to do a very limited number of things.
I’ve been a teacher for 8 years, so I guess I know how to do some of that. I have a car and a place to live and a little boy I manage to clothe and feed and bathe and vaccinate when it’s time to do so. I had him at 28 and a half. And like that poor guy from Hello Dolly, I realized that 28 was definitely time to start doing the cool stuff you’d always dreamed of doing. No, I didn’t need to go to New York City or kiss somebody (I was already married and I’ve been to New York like twice, so…I’m good)…but what had I been doing all this time?
I’m a teacher, yeah, but I have free time. Plenty of free time to develop skills I dreamed of having as a little girl. Except that I just…hadn’t. And the worst part about it is…I feel like most everybody else HAS.
My father told me something when I was in high school—“It’s summer. Why not get a job?”
No, it sounded more like this… “You have a finite window of time to develop the skills that will be useful when you’re out of the house—you should pursue some goals instead of sitting around reading books you’ve already read.” Weird, I actually forgot that until shortly after I turned 30. It just hit me harder then.
After having Andrew, I stopped taking risks. I felt like being pregnant had been difficult enough, and as soon as he was sleeping through the night, I was going to take it easy for awhile. I had a bad attitude his entire first few months of life, and rather than feeling empowered and courageous because I’d brought an awesome life into the world, I decided I didn’t want to stay up late ever again. A bout of postpartum depression that knocked me on my butt convinced me that maybe I wasn’t strong enough to take a lot of risks from here on out. Also, there’s this weird feeling when you’re done being pregnant that your usefulness has diminished. I can’t explain it, because of course moms are half of the most important part of a child’s life, but it stuck around, and it nagged at me.
Andrew became a toddler, learned to walk and talk, and my husband started graduate school. So one of us was working late into the night, but it wasn’t me. He was going to get a Master’s, he said. And my son showed himself to be such a curious little guy. My husband’s Hebrew and Greek notebooks doubled as Andrew’s coloring books, and they brought the same level of intensity to their pursuits. I realized that they were leaving me behind. Thomas embraced Anglican liturgy and read late into the night, showing the same fervor Drew showed his books about animals…and I just watched a lot of sitcoms. After they were both in bed, I would get online and read stories about my contemporaries who were starting businesses and writing novels and traveling the world…even doing just regular things like driving cross-country and producing works of art. These were no wunderkinds, these were just adults…in their early thirties. Doing things they’d learned to do in their twenties. Why wasn’t I learning anything?
It’s not that I didn’t make feeble attempts here and there to develop more than the bare minimum of skills. I’d look at pictures of beautiful foods that people had labored over, and I’d get great ideas…then at the last second I’d just get the box mix. I’d practice Spanish on duolingo a few times…then feel overwhelmed with all the verb tenses and give up. And every time I think about driving on an unfamiliar stretch of road, I chicken out. All the ways this could go wrong and make me look stupid in front of EVERYONE would swim into my mind. Quitting stopped being shameful and became a way of life. And every time you quit something, it gets easier to do it again.
I began to hear myself say wistful things like, “before I die I want to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner,” or, “someday I’ll write something worth publishing,” or “I wish I was good at…” Not realizing—or choosing to ignore—the fact that nobody was, and nobody had ever, stopped me. Nobody was telling me no. I was just getting older and more complacent.
I said I’d write something but I wasn’t brave enough. And I couldn’t finish writing a story or novel without realizing I wasn’t brave enough to stand by it if it were criticized. I was too scared to do any traveling—what if I got sick or something in a country without penicillin? What if I got in a car accident? What if I got kidnapped? What if I tried to make real food—things involving DOUGH or EXOTIC VEGETABLES—and it was awful and gross and my worth as a person diminished? What if it turned out I was just BAD at learning languages, and I forgot them all? What if I TRIED to speak in Spanish to a native speaker, said something stupid, and they laughed at me, thus ending the world?
But I’m thirty now and it’s time to stop worrying about looking stupid.
So I’ve made a list of things I should do this year to become a more grown up adult woman. A competent person. Because I don’t have grand dreams, you guys. I don’t want to be President, I don’t really want another degree, I don’t want a bajillion dollars. I just want to be good at more than 2 things. Because right now there are only two—teaching kids between the ages of 5 and 12, and on-the-spot song parodies.
The List is on the other page, and right at the top is “write something people will read.” I love to write but I hate to have people read it. So I guess that’s why blogs were invented…so we could get our terrible written work out there, and not have to hear people groan when they read it.
Anyway, so here I am.
If you stumble upon this blog, I’m really glad you’re here. And I hope you have fun following along while I do a bunch of stuff I should have done ages ago.
The list is not meant to be universal or anything. In fact, I think it’s very unique to me. And yes, I have a bunch of problems, which explains why some of these things are…kind of easy. And maybe YOU have been doing most of them since high school. Or could figure them out in no time. If that is so, I’d love your advice.
Yes, I have anxiety and yes it’s under control with medication. No I didn’t have the medication when I was in college—it would have saved a lot of fear and maybe this blog wouldn’t be happening now.
Yes, I talk a lot about myself because I won’t sue myself for libel. That technology does not yet exist.
If my mom sent you, welcome. She is mostly exaggerating my good qualities.
At the bottom of this post, I leave you with one of the best photos I’ve ever taken. It is a black and white photo of a porcelain penguin in a mug of tea. He is glued to the inside of the mug—it was a gift from a friend—and he wears on his face an expression that I have difficulty describing. Is he just looking around? Is he scared? He doesn’t seem scared. He seems…cool, calm, and collected. Even though he is up to his neck in hot rooibos chai, he is dignified. Some may say that he looks stupid. But this is the mug he’s always been in, and he’s proud of himself. I’ll let you interpret that as you will, but I for one find it inspiring.
Thanks, team. 🙂