Saturday is my birthday. I’ll be 31 years old.
Somewhere around the age of 25 my birthday started to feel less like a momentous occasion to celebrate, and more like one more day in the inevitable march towards old age. Of all my birthdays, I took 25 the hardest. I saw myself as halfway to 50, with not a lot of friends my own age, a job that was ok but that I hadn’t really settled into, an apartment in which I slept under mosquito netting because I’d wake up with bats in my bedroom, and no romantic prospects to speak of. I am not the first person to reach 25 and hit a little bit of a “quarter-life” crisis, but I was genuinely surprised at how hard I took it when it came.
My coping mechanism to facing the second half of my twenties was to make a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30. I called it, creatively, my “30 before 30 list,” and recapping the adventures and mishaps in my quest to complete the tasks became a regular part of my first blogging experience. The items on the list ranged from the mundane: “Go a full year without library fines”…a surprisingly difficult task for me, to the slightly more exotic: “Finish my masters degree” and “Go to Europe…” both requiring a bit more in terms of effort, time, and cash on hand.
Some were personal. Both “kiss someone at midnight on New Year’s Eve” and “make the first move,” had the potential to push me far outside of my comfort zone. I imagined, at the time, getting to the final New Year’s Eve before my 30th birthday and sitting at the end of a bar somewhere, realizing it was my last chance to check off the list, and eyeing up the eligible prospects who might feel so obliged as to help a girl out on her journey to the next decade. That’s not how it actually went down. There were, actually, quite a few things that I imagined happening one way when I made the list that turned out a completely different way when the moment came. On the night I “made pasta from scratch” I imagined serving a delicious meal, with exquisitely wrought pasta, hand-folded into intricate tortellinis to a select group of friends. As fate would have it, it was a good thing it was a select group of friends because only close friends would suffer through the chewy, chunky, waterlogged mess of handmade pasta I served!
It was the last thing on the list, however, that I never dared speculate how might play out. The final item, number 30, was “Celebrate my 30th birthday in a fabulous place with fabulous people,” and unlike the rest of the items, there was little I could do to plan and predict while turning 25 about how turning 30 was going to go. I reflected on this point last year as I turned 30, and greeted twenty of my closest friends and family in the basement of a restaurant in downtown Rochester (a city I did not live in at 25) as they gathered for a dinner party that my husband (whom I didn’t know at 25) put together for the occasion. My parents were there, along with my sister and brother-in-law, and two wonderful friends from La Crosse, who had also, consequently, attended that fateful homemade pasta party. Every other person in that room was someone who came into my world post 25th birthday. Every other person in that room…my fabulous people in my fabulous place on my 30th birthday…means the world to me today, and I couldn’t have imagined them at 25 years old.
I should have told this story while we were all gathered there. I should have told them that they were the people helping me check off that last item on the list. I think I glossed over it in a vague kind of way as I introduced people around the table. In truth, my 30th birthday party dinner was overwhelming and a little anxiety inducing as I wasn’t much more excited about turning 30 than I was turning 25. There’s also something strange and time warp-ish about putting people from different “phases” of your life in the same room together and waiting to see what happens. I have a different kind of relationship with my in-laws than I do with my parents than I do with my siblings than I do with my friends, but putting them all in a room together and introducing alcohol should be totally fine! Right?! Sure!
I was stressed and emotional about turning 30 in general, and despite the fact that I wrote, what I thought was, an excellent turning 30 toast, I was also stressed and emotional in that room, and so I made the game time decision to skip it. And while I stand by that decision as being right for me in the moment, with crystal clear hindsight and on the verge of turning 31, I realize I have just a few days left of this thirtieth year before plunging into the next year and next adventure.
A dear friend once told me, “Always give the toast!” Whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, a family dinner, a holiday, if you have the words, then give the toast. It’s good advice. You won’t always have the words. Most of the time I don’t, but when I do, I give the toast. When my best friend from college got married, I asked to give a toast at her wedding even though I was not the maid of honor. I just knew I had the words. I cried a lot. She cried a lot. I’m pretty sure neither one of us regrets it. You know what you might regret? Saying nothing! I recently came across my 30th birthday toast, and I was going to toss it, as it seems pointless at this point, and yet, “always give the toast.” It may not have been right for ringing year 30 in, but it seems right now for seeing it off.
A Toast – On the occasion of my 30th birthday
“I wrote a toast, which I thought might be a dumb idea, especially given that when asked to toast something I’m usually so nervous you can see my paper shake or so emotional that I cry through the whole thing. But seeing as this wasn’t a wedding, I thought maybe I’d have a better go of it, even though it’s kind of weird to toast yourself.
Admittedly I am not particularly excited to turn 30, but it does provide the opportunity to bring you all together in one place, and such occasions are few and far between, and it’s possible, maybe even probable, that this exact group of people will never come together like this again. I think that’s important to note because you are my “fabulous people in my fabulous place,” the final task on a list of 30 things I penned on my 25th birthday that I wanted to do before I turned thirty. The list spanned all kinds of things. In the five years between twenty-five and thirty I’ve finished my master’s degree, gone to Europe, run a marathon, and penned a novel. I’ve also dyed my hair, sung karaoke, and made terrible homemade pasta all in pursuit of crossing things off my “30 before 30 list.”
Needless to say, having you here tonight isn’t the most difficult thing on the list to achieve. However, in many ways, it is the most remarkable. I could not have imagined this group of people in this room five years ago. I’m sure if you’d have asked then, my “fabulous people in a fabulous place” looked much different. I could not imagine the man I would meet who would make me want to uproot my life to a new town and a new job, nor the friends I would meet as I integrated into his life. I could not imagine the new family he would give me. I could not imagine the new people I’d meet in a job that reignited my love of teaching in a place I can now imagine myself staying for a very long time. I couldn’t imagine finding “my people,” and yet, tonight, here you all are.
I’m not great with change, which is probably why I’m not great at getting older. But Joe Vitale made a mint on inspirational posters with this quote, “We don’t fear change. We fear the unknown. If we knew the future would be great we’d welcome the change to get there.” And he’s not wrong. If now, at thirty, I could go back to my twenty-five year old self and tell her one thing, it would be to run. Run towards thirty with wild abandon. Do all the things on the list and then some. Don’t shuffle your feet and worry about getting older, because that final thing on the list…that fabulous place with those fabulous people…is better than you can possibly know right now. And though you should never wish time away, trust me, you can’t wait to get there!
Though the march of time is inevitable, I don’t worry what the next five years will bring, or the five after that. I haven’t made a list of 40 things to do before I turn 40 because I know I don’t need to. With the people I have with me tonight, and the man who stands by my side everyday, I know that whatever happens in the next five, ten, and thirty years is going to be just fine. In fact, it may even be more wonderful, unexpected, and wine-soaked than my first 30 years. So to that, I’d ask you to raise a glass and toast, not to my thirtieth birthday, but to the adventure that brought us together, and the one that keeps going regardless of the number on the cake.”