Quick disclaimer: April was a crazy busy month. I had a ton of work to complete, a triathlon, a visiting sister, visiting parents and a brief family vacation on Daytona Beach. I apologize for the two-week hiatus. Here’s what I should have posted on April 24 to commemorate Lance’s FIFTH BIRTHDAY, a milestone I let slip by with little acknowledgment.
Hey! The Lance turned 5! 35 in pug years! That’s like a big accomplishment for an easily distracted, moderately busy mommy blogger. Woop woop.
ANYWAY. I read this piece April 19 before a small crowd at CL Story Time: Birthday Edition in Tampa’s Ybor City. I wrote it nine days after my 31st birthday and 45 minutes before the start of the event. At 31, I’m finally making peace with my procrastination pattern, among other things.
AND in case you missed it, this is how I coped with last year’s 30th birthday woes.
¶ Last year I spent my birthday curled into a fetal position, sobbing quietly into a pillow. The voices in my head, sounded, on this particular day, a lot like Marge Simpson’s sisters crossed with my husband’s 95-year-old grandfather.
True to form, they were none too pleased with my despondency.
“You’re pathetic,” they rasped. “I’d give my left titty to be 30 again.”
As I sobbed, my infant son napping in the room next door, I glanced down at my left titty. It was visibly TWICE the size of my right titty.
Why? Because my breastfed child preferred the left boob to the right boob and because I subconsciously offered him the left more than the right so my stronger hand would be available for such important tasks as operating a remote control, reading an issue of Vogue, swigging from a bottle of Vodka (just kidding) or in some cases conducting a phone interview for work (not kidding).
After 10 months of exclusive breastfeeding, I was taking back my chest, which among some circles of mothers is considered sacrilegious. The healthiest, smartest, most benevolent children wean themselves. Didn’t I know that? Cutting my kid off early would cause irreversible damage to his psyche. Our bond would suffer and he’d grow distant and resentful. Formula would give him cancer, lead poisoning and cavities.
It was my birthday and my hormones were raging. In my head, Marge Simpon’s sisters were chain smoking and chastising me for wallowing in self-pity.
“Get over it,” they said. “When we turned 30, we ordered a lap dance and a round of tequila.”
Joe would be home from work in a few hours. It was time to buck up and put on some mascara.
I slumped off the bed. I trudged to the mirror and took in a full-length reflection of my wretched self. I was skinny. The skinniest I’d been since puberty – a side effect of breastfeeding. My eyes were blood shot, puffy and carrying suitcases. Angry crows with razor blades for feet had etched lines around them – the result of too much squinting. Lines like half-moons had begun, unfairly, to form around my mouth — the result of too much SMILING.
I saw nothing but flaws. In my head, Marge Simpson’s sisters cursed me for my attitude.
“You’re wasting a perfectly good nap,” they said.
My nose was its usual big – the result of genetics. My hair was its usually Rod Stewart mop – the result of waiting too long between cuts. My nails were their usual bitten – the result of anxiety and my arms were their not-so-usual toned — the result of carrying a heavy bundle of joy.
What was my problem? Was I depressed about aging? Was I uncomfortable with weaning, a process that happens slowly and signals the un-welcomed return of a menstrual cycle, which we all know makes some women loony.
I’m not an especially vain person. I’ve spent most of my life in breathable clothes, comfortable underwear, little-to-no makeup and little-to-no hair. Yet there I stood. Thirty years old, scrutinizing my appearance like I was an insecure, irrational, self-centered Real Housewife of St. Pete.
I made my way to the bathroom. I washed my face. I walked to the back porch. I sat still in the sun. I opened a magazine and tried to read a story. The story felt pointless. I felt pointless. One year older. One year bitterer.
I thought of a recent conversation I had with a young employee at CVS. Wannabe by the Spice Girls had come on in the store, which caused me to giggle. The cashier, who I put at about 19 or 20, had an amused look on his face.
“You know this song?” He asked.
“Do I know this song!” I cried. “I couldn’t escape this song in high school.”
The cashier smiled.
“I’ve never heard it before. Is it like an 80s song?”
I sighed, my granny panties in a twist, and replied, “It’s a 90s song and it’s by the Spice Girls.”
The name, he said, didn’t ring a bell.
Thus, I spent the majority of my 30th birthday in a verifiable funk, my melancholy stemming less from feeling old and more from this one undeniable fact: I hadn’t accomplished everything I had hoped to accomplish by 30.
My byline hadn’t landed in the pages of The New Yorker. I hadn’t published a book. I hadn’t even self-published a book. I hadn’t lived for a few maddening years in New York City. I hadn’t lived for a few life-affirming years in Portland. I hadn’t holed myself up in a cabin in Boulder to write a three-part series for Outside Magazine on the transcendent experience of summating every mountain in Colorado. I hadn’t even climbed a mountain. At least the Spice Girls have British accents and a No. 1 record.
I have a …
Oh wait …
That’s when it hit me like a Hallmark movie moment of the week.
I have a baby. I have a husband. I have paying work and a house by the water. I have a twice-a-week running ritual with a close girlfriend and a good relationship with my in-laws. I have a pug, with whom I spent two months camping in parks across the country — an experience that was AS transcendent as summating every mountain in Colorado.
I have talent. Real talent. An ability to write things that move people, an ability I take for granted every day.
I have a kayak and an expensive pair of running shoes, both purchased using money I saved in a mason jar. I have under my belt,
five six triathlons and two half-marathons, which I trained for, mostly, by running with a jog stroller.
I have self-discipline and the kind of energy that some people only get from a bottle.
I have a jiggly stomach, but muscular legs and strong arms.
I have a bad procrastination habit and the attention span of a fruit fly, but I have incredible endurance.
I delivered a baby. In a bathtub. Without drugs.
I like my hair because it resembles my sons. I like my nose because it resembles my dads. I like my fingers because they resemble my moms. I like the lines around my mouth because it means I’m prone to laughter.
I can still fit into the pair of denim shorts I got from my best friend on my 12th birthday. I wore them when I read this story in front of a small audience in Tampa.
I think back to the day I opened that gift. I was apprehensive about turning 12. I wanted to be older. Cooler. I wanted to be 30. I wanted to be a writer, living on the water somewhere much warmer than Buffalo.
After my sixth grade friends had gone home, I pulled out my new shorts, grabbed the kitchen scissors and chopped them shorter than my mom would allow.
I was confident, though at 12 I’m certain I had achieved very little, take care of almost no one and fought hard for nothing worth fighting for.
My birthday shorts survived 19 years, six moves and one baby. I held onto them for three reasons:
One: I’m lazy when it comes to cleaning out my closet.
Two: I saw them as an odd way of maintaining my tweenage weight. (Disturbing, yes.)
Three: You never know when short, high-waisted, acid-washed shorts will come back in style. (Hello. Hipster chicks love them.)
And four: I view them as a reminder of how badly I wanted to grow up.
At 12 I wanted to be … basically … what I’ve become.
On April 10, I celebrated my 31st birthday. My wish was simple and selfish. I wished to cut myself some slack. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since my 12th birthday, it’s this: high-waisted denim shorts go in and out of style. Inner peace never does.
PS. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla