Happy Birthday To Me

I’ve been quiet on the blog this week, I know. It seems that I cannot, in the same week: (a) Write thoughtful blog posts; (b) Successfully edit my memoir; and (c) Complete my consulting work. This week blog was the egg that got dropped. Oh, and the tail end of my chapter on personal resilience for the University of East London that I was scheduled to complete this afternoon.

I had all good intentions of finishing it, really I did. But I came back from lunch absolutely exhausted and decided that my birthday present to myself would be to go to sleep instead.

It was a great birthday present.

Now, however, I am groggy, spaced-out, and no further along in either finishing my chapter or answering the questions Mike was asking me over lunch about how I felt about turning thirty-five.

Thirty-five, Mike and I agreed while sipping fruit shakes and gazing out at the Mekong, sounds solidly middle of life. It sounds mature. It sounds established. It sounds like an inflection point of sorts, and as if, by 35, we should have accumulated a nice big invisible backpack of wisdom along the way. It sounds way older than we both feel.


I can so clearly remember turning thirty. That weekend in Mexico with friends and lobster and margaritas seems an age ago now. So does the essay I wrote that month about my hang-ups around that birthday, Where’s the Fun in Normal?

“Now that I’m turning 30,” I wrote then, “I’m finding that I’m less worried about not having achieved the milestones of marriage and children than I am about the fact that people are going to start expecting me to be capable, knowledgeable and accomplished as I travel the world. The fact that I (sometimes) am all of this will no longer be surprising and noteworthy. It will be normal. And where’s the fun in normal?”

I can remember the person who wrote those words. But, now, five years down the track I am surprised and somewhat relieved to discover that they no longer hold true for me. I no longer fear losing any “child prodigy” status I once held; I’ve accepted that it’s long gone. I believe I have tamed my instincts to take different paths long enough to ask myself whether there are good reasons to take them, apart from the fact that they are different. I have made progress in outgrowing my habitual tendency to judge my life through the prism of other’s perceptions. And I no longer fear that normal would equal boring and that boring is a fate worse than death.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven’t yet figured out whether this last point is due to a genuine maturing, or more to the fact that little in my life could be considered normal during the last five years and that perpetually living life in the hurricane of the unusual is exhausting.)

During the last five years I’ve met, courted long distance, married, and conceived. I’ve published a novel. I’ve left the beaten path of LA for the less traveled road of Laos. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses – I’ve also developed a full-blown case of lyphedema that is annoying at best, painful and limiting at worst, and requires daily attention. But, all in all, these have been the best five years of my life to date.

I don’t yet feel nearly mature, established, or wise enough to merit the age of 35. But I am relieved, when I check the rearview mirror, to see growth. Growth in a quiet, centered, sort of self-confidence. Growth in love. Growth in happiness. It all gives me hope that (whatever sort of inflection point 35 really represents) this sort of growth will continue to be a part of the journey.

And, of course, I still have a couple of things left on that To Do list I drafted the month I turned thirty. I’ve swum with dolphins, but I haven’t rafted down the Amazon (uh, don’t hold me to that one Mike, I may have changed my mind). Most importantly, I haven’t eaten ice cream on every continent in the world. Come to think of it, although I was already treated to ice cream at lunch, I may start training anew for that global ice cream eating marathon tonight. For, as with so many areas of life, I suspect that perseverance and disciplined practice are likely to prove the keys to success in that quest.

That sounds sensible to me, anyway. Maybe there’s more stuffed into that invisible backpack of wisdom than I give myself credit for. Or maybe we should just feel free to eat as much ice cream as we want on our birthdays without having to resort of justification gymnastics. Either works.

What about you? If you’ve turned 30, or 35 (or 40, 45, 50, etc) what did you reflect upon? If you haven’t, what has so far been a milestone birthday for you? Why?

[Birthday celebrations off the beaten track: 30 in Mexico, and (almost) 35 in Thailand]

18 responses to “Happy Birthday To Me

  1. Happy birthday, beautiful. 🙂 Wish I could share it with you. I do, however, have a possible way to send you a care package in the near future. My uncle is in Laos right now and will be heading back soon. He goes through Laung Prabang often and I might be able to talk him into dropping by in exchange for the sort of witty banter you’re so capable of. 😉 Sending love and hugs!

    • By all means give him our name and email address if he’s in need of some company over drinks one night. Would love to meet him if we’re in town. Don’t promise him witty banter though, I swear, my brain is shrinking at present (I looked this up, and apparently that’s not all in my imagination – the baby is rewiring things).

  2. Happy birthday! 🙂 That is a great photo of you in Laos, and I love the blurred background.

    I must say, I relate quite a lot to the piece you wrote at thirty. But then, I haven’t even reached twenty yet, so responsibility can be pushed away for another time (sort of) and normalcy is not something I would like. Yet.

    • Fair enough, I think. Yeah, I had a good time writing that piece for 30, though it took me quite some time to get out. It was one of those pieces I spent a couple of months trying to figure out what I wanted to say. Sometimes they come out in an hour and a half, other times I mull over an essay for months. Hope your study’s going well and not too much procrastination is happening 🙂

      • Minor procrastination is currently happening. I’m telling myself that it’s a reward for finishing my German assignment. 😛 My self-delusion skills are quite proficient.

  3. Happy not-as-middle-aged-as-you-think-it-is Birthday, Lisa! Isn’t it amazing all the changes that can happen in 5 years? I just turned 50 a few months ago and I still don’t feel I have the wisdom all these years should bring.
    Who knows, by the time you’re 40, you may have eaten ice cream on every continent (and lived to tell). I drafted a “to do” list when I turned 13. I’ve been able to accomplish much that was on that list but still have not had afternoon tea with Ray Bradbury. As long as he is alive, there’s still hope…

  4. Happy birthday to you, and many returns of the day!

  5. I have a question: would you really want to eat ice cream in Antarctica? It is a continent, you know. Howling winds and bitter cold do not sound like an invitation to ice cream.
    On the question of age and wisdom: I wish I had been a bit more intentional about getting wisdom. If that is even possible. I am now 63 and feel I am wiser than I was, but perhaps not as wise as I should be by now. I do wish I had set more specific goals for my life early on.

    • Well… that is a good question about Antarctica. It sounds like a good idea… in that way that ideas you know you will probably never have a chance to realize (and you’re really OK with that) sound like good ideas. But if I get the chance to eat ice cream on Antarctica I will do everything possible to eat it inside a warm arctic research base. On another note, that’s an interesting point about wisdom. I wonder if it’s something we can intentionally collect along the way through goal setting. I suspect, in part, yes, but I hadn’t thought about that. I’ve always thought of it as sort of a by-product of other (good, and sometimes not so good) choices.

  6. I turned 30 in Laos last year. I had dreaded it and even told one of my guy friends to get me as drunk as possible, as early as possible. It ended up being the best birthday to date. Not only did I have a wonderful morning of children, but later that night all of my friends came out to help me celebrate. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would turn 30 in Laos. A lot has happened in the last couple years and I am hopeful that my next 5 will be just as rewarding.

    Happy birthday to you, Lisa. May blessings be abundant and love overflowing in the next stage of your life. It’s been a pleasure connecting with you and I look forward to reading more stories.

    • Thank you! Glad you had a great 30th, sometimes the parties and events we’re not really looking forward to can catch us by surprise in a good way. I love it when that happens. Thanks for reading.

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