I am 35.
I don’t know if that really qualifies as a confession. Or if that’s what I really mean to confess.
Maybe what I should have written is Confession: I am 35 and I’m not married and I don’t have kids and I’m not a publisher and I don’t own a big house or a car and I’m not where I always thought I would be at 35.
But that’s really too long for a title. So I condense. I am 35.
Sometimes it feels like I’m being left behind.
I am the bridesmaid, standing at the altar in the pink satin dress and matching shoes that I will never wear again, heart cracking a little each time I’m not the one saying “I Do.” Each time someone else is chosen ‘for better or worse’.
I am “Aunt Katie”, aunt in quotes because I’m really not the aunt, just the stand in, that title bestowed upon single friends who gaze wistfully at sleeping babies and buy the impractical dresses with tutus because they’re just too cute to resist. Who think when another baby is born, “this may not happen for me”, and die a tiny death each time.
I am the sales rep, I am the apartment dweller, I am the car leaser. Nothing too permanent, nothing that lasts. It’s a life lived in pencil instead of pen. It can be erased in an instant.
I’m not where I always thought I would be at 35.
I was emailing with a male friend this week, marveling about our mutual friend who is having her third baby (THREE children?!? How could that be?!). I trotted out some of my canned lines about having children. I prepared them years ago, anything to avoid the pitying stares that get doled out to the childless 30-somethings:
“I’m SO not ready to have children.”
“I can’t even take care of a plant.”
“I want to be able to plan an impromptu trip to Vietnam without coordinating with husbands/carpools/nannies/schools. I want to just get on a plane and go.”
I say them so frequently that I barely even know what they mean anymore. They’re just lines in a play that I repeat back from memory with the same practiced gestures, the same indifferent expression, the blocking of this scene always the same. But somehow this week, I actually heard what I was saying. Maybe because I was talking to a male friend and I didn’t feel any pressure, or competition, or hint of pity from him (possibly because those without a ticking biological clock don’t know better). Or maybe because I’m hitting a milestone birthday with regard to having children. Or perhaps I just got it for the first time.
I really meant what I said. I am not ready to have children. I kill every plant I’ve ever had. I do want to just get on a plane and go. It’s all really, really true.
So here I sit, throwing a pity party for one, mourning the loss of this imagined life. Dreaming longingly about a life that, as it turns out, doesn’t even fit. It’s like waking up and finding that the pair of shoes you have been completely lusting over for months actually pinch your toes and don’t look good on you because they are so not your style. But you wanted them because everyone else wanted them so they must be special and so you just had to have them.
The night before my birthday, I began reading a book that just arrived by Karen Salmansohn called “Instant Happy”. It includes simple but meaningful messages about finding happiness in your life. One passage stood out in particular from the others on this birthday eve:
“Much of the pain in life comes from having a life plan that you’ve fallen in love with, but that doesn’t work out. Having to find a new life plan hurts. The trick is not to become too attached to any particular life plan and remember that there is always a better, even-happier life plan out there somewhere.”
What? You mean we’re not stuck with this dream that was formed at age 11, or at 25, or last night? We can actually do a re-write? Go back and choose a different path, like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that everyone read in the 80s? I always read every ending. I had to be sure I chose the right one, had to know what options existed so that I could change my mind and go another way.
I can choose my own adventure now. I can explore every ending. I can re-write the story, within every chapter even. I can change the outcome. I can change my confession.
Confession: I am 35.
I am loved.
I am successful.
I am following my passions.
I am an “intrepid traveler” (thanks JH!)
I am a writer.
And…I am happy.
I’ll choose that ending for today.