Yesterday was my birthday and I turned thirty-five, and much in the way it takes me six months to write the correct year when I’m dating my checks, I think it’s going to be a while before I let that number sink in. Thirty-five. 35. Five plus thirty. Even now I had to do the math again because it just doesn’t sound right. Doesn’t feel right. Most of the time I still think of myself as in the phase that immediately follows college, forgetting that in the intervening years I’ve moved states, built a career, gotten married, bought a house, had some kids (but not in that order), and it’s actually been thirteen years since I graduated. No twenty-two-year-old would voluntarily share a demographic with me.
I’ve heard real, live, not-paid-actor women swear they feel increasingly confident as they get older–”I don’t care what other people think of me anymore! Shazam! *pierces something*”–but I feel a little backward because the older I get the less sure I am that I have any idea what I’m doing. Growing up, I had a relatively narrow view of the world and a relatively high opinion of myself, so I didn’t worry much about the things I worry about now: fitting in, saying the right thing, being a good citizen of the world, being a good citizen of my community of family and friends, etc. I’m not quite sure why I’m thus afflicted at this advanced age, but I suspect it’s mostly perspective. When I used to look in the mirror, I could focus on myself and nothing more, and most of the time I really liked what I saw. Now, I still like what I see (more or less; the muffin top is not my favorite), but I’m also aware of the whole reflection–myself within a context, against a background of people and places and issues and feelings and many things I can’t control and many others I can, which is sometimes worse.
Maybe I’m just feeling the weight of having to make decisions for a family instead of just myself. Or maybe it’s that the stakes feel higher because time is shorter. Like, there’s lots of wiggle room for mistakes when you’re twenty-two because you have a lot of time to correct them? Or because you’re not evening thinking of the world in those terms because time is infinite and you’re invincible?
What you might recognize as a common dayplanner I call an “exobrain,” and I’m a slave to it. I can’t help but see every day as part of a countdown to some beginning or ending. First swimming lesson. Last day of preschool. First day of kindergarten. Last day of nursing a baby. Maybe it’s just one of those years (have you also found that everything feels bigger when you have small children?), or maybe I’m just allowing myself too much aimless pondering and should get a hobby that’s incompatible with navelgazing. Maybe this is the seed of a classic midlife crisis. Maybe I’m addicted to metaphors.
It’s just…these firsts and lasts and all the moments in between lay over us like the thinnest sheets of tinted glass, and we’re the same but different but the same but different but the same. We’re variations on a theme. We’re ourselves but not. We’re thirty-five but we’re still twenty-two. Still twelve. Still choosing the perfect outfit for our own first day of kindergarten. “Still,” not merely “also.”
Milestones (including all those pesky invented ones) come and go and come and go and it’s not like a swing going back and forth on a stationary hinge but like a tetherball, circling, circling, circling. The ball is the same, but it doesn’t feel like that to the ball as its tether gets shorter and shorter and it senses itself moving closer to and higher up the pole as the speed and g-force increase more and more until SMACK, it hits the pole with a dull clang. Maybe when we die life doesn’t flash before our eyes but unwinds like a tetherball, slowly, showing us everything backward until we’re at the beginning again, experiencing our childhoods in the wide, lazy circle that made every day feel thirty-five years long. Maybe heaven is a return to childhood timekeeping but with the wisdom of old age.
Well! That got morbid! (Yes, definitely a midlife crisis, then.) The thing is, I’m not sad to be thirty-five, just incredulous. Not having my shit together keeps me feeling young, I guess? I’m at least glad I’m able to say, “But I don’t feel thirty-five” and have that be a good thing. At thirty-five, I’m able to be proud of what I’ve accomplished and grateful for the many things that have fallen in my lap. I’m lucky to have made a few excellent permanent decisions (hello, stupendous husband and outstanding children!) and to have the peace of mind to deal with everything else. As the great Cat Stevens once crooned: “I’m old but I’m happy.” There’s still some swing in this old pony.
(Obligatory birthday photo.)
I don’t mind putting clean dishes away but I haaaaaaaaate loading the dishwasher. Part of it is the gross factor of other people’s leftover food, but mostly it’s that I get no thrill out of the sticky tetris of finding the perfect place for everything, when “everything” is elementally different each time I have to deal with it. Much to my chagrin, I have the gene that makes me thinks there is a perfect place for everything. The most practical. The most efficient. The most aesthetically pleasing. The best. It’s not enough to find something that works if I know there’s a better way, and there is almost always a better way, and I almost never have time to discover and then implement it.
I also really hate that the fridge is constantly a mess. The milk goes on the top shelf because that’s the only place it fits, but everything else is just a hodgepodge of whatever we have being thrown wherever it fits in the moment. I wish I could just organize it once–everything in infomerical-approved stackable clear containers, with possibly the involvement of a labelmaker–and then keep it that way forever. Same goes with the kids’ clothes, all the paperwork on my desk, and our attic and basement full of odds and ends–craft supplies, music equipment, old baby gear, luggage, holiday decorations, Costco overstock, paint cans probably leaking lead into my childrens’ developing brains, and a ton of other stuff I’ve forgotten about because I haven’t seen it since we moved in seven years ago. A bike is a pretty big thing to lose, and I just recently remembered we have four of them in the basement. Four bikes! A while back I had a dream that I’d discovered a massive sunroom in our house that I’d simply forgotten about. Five hundred square feet I’d carelessly misplaced in the clutter of my brain.
Part of the problem is that we simply have too much stuff (#hoarders), but the other part of the problem is that by either nature or self-indulged nurture I’ve become a thrilling combination of perfectionst and layabout, which usually means that if I can’t do something perfectly and with relative ease and speed, I’ll probably just not do it at all. You can imagine how well this works in real life.
It’s like I have this kind of whiny teenager attitude that’s persisted into my mid-thirties as basically, “But I took a shower yesterday! Why do I have to do it again?” and then I flop dramatically across my unmade bed. You’ve seen Hyperbole and a Half’s post about the ideal of being able to officially attain adulthood in “one monumental burst of effort,” a feat then rewarded with years of sitting back and admiring the accomplishment instead of, like, continuing to act like an adult day after day after day (after day after day after day after OH GOD IT NEVER ENDS)?
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that there are organized pockets of my life, and although they’re small ones, they’re big enough to prove that order is possible, which only makes me wish everything else could be so easy and then exasperated when it’s not. For instance, I can organize the linen cabinet and expect it to stay in good order for a long time because it’s all just the same stuff going in and out. No one is growing out of towels or using half of a bed sheet and saving the rest for later (and then forgetting all about it) or buying new pillowcases at the grocery store in an endless loop. We have our linens and they all have a proper place and everything is neat and tidy and conforms to a grid, and the only way I’d improve on the situation is either making the cabinet bigger or myself smaller so I could crawl inside and live there where everything is organized and pretty and nothing ever changes.
But life is not a linen cabinet. Life is a refrigerator.
You can’t put perishables in the linen cabinet. You can’t keep a family alive on room-temperature chicken.
Yep, all those thousands of moving parts that make up life–all those things I wish would just get in line and hold still–those are the perishables. And life is a giant shelved box whose contents are constantly changing. Things move around, are used up, go bad and get thrown away, and are replaced, either by more of the same or by something completely unexpected. (Somehow we ended up with a mystery bottle of Boone’s Farm Blue Hawaiian? That must be a metaphor for something.) When I think about life as a fridge, I realized there’s very little in there that will still be around a year from now (although we can count on the Boone’s), and holy shit, that’s terrifying. Like I needed another reminder of the swift passage of time and the impermanence of all things and the ever-expanding nature of the universe. Happy existential Wednesday, everyone! Yay.
Anyhoo, as pleasing as this metaphor is, it doesn’t really change anything. I still have to restock the fridge and reload the dishwasher and relearn to cope with adulthood every other day or so. To expect a linen cabinet to function like a refrigerator, or vice versa, would be to expect life to be something different from what it is. It’s not a puzzle comprising pieces that each have a single correct position in the whole, but more like a…I don’t know, a giant tub of bath toys that constantly drift away from where I put them.
But you can’t do a puzzle in the tub. And you can’t keep the yogurt next to the beach towels. Go ahead and needlepoint that onto a pillow. I’ll wait.
I’m late. I’m late. For a very important date with, uh, posting my second candy craft to remind you that today is your last day to enter to win a haul of Easter candy from Hershey’s.
Here’s the other thing I made, and although it’s not quite as easy as snapping pretzels in half, it will still only take you a few minutes, and everyone knows food tastes better when it looks cute.
Click through for the easy DIY, and don’t forget to enter to win the giveaway. As of right now, your chances are really, really good. (Y U NO LIKE CHOKLIT, INTERWEBS?)
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