Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On turning 31. (Better late than never.)

I have a picture of my tenth birthday in an old photo album somewhere in my basement.  For this particular birthday, my parents set up a wooden picnic table underneath an enormous oak tree that shaded most of our backyard.  Pastel colored streamers and balloons hung in the tree’s leafy boughs swaying in the light breeze of that late-May afternoon.  A silver boom box sat on the corner of the weathered table.  My best friend, sister and I excitedly awaited the arrival of my guests, and to pass the time, I hit “play” on the tape deck.  Early 90’s dance jams emanated from the speakers.  I danced under that large oak, swinging my hips from side to side and running my hands through my crimped hair like Madonna did in her music videos I wasn’t supposed to watch.  Soon my best friend and sister joined in; holding pretend microphones in our hands, we closed our eyes and felt the music course through our bodies, the wind brush our skin, and the blades of cool grass tickle our toes. The photograph captures this very moment  - little girls dancing, decorations hanging, guests en route. It captures a moment of absolute and pure bliss. It was my birthday, and although it wasn’t a huge over-the-top bash, I was the happiest girl in the world.

Really, I don’t know if I remember this birthday because I’ve seen this picture so many times or because it was that poignant of a memory.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose, because what I remember is the joy that came with turning another year older.  What is it about being young that makes us want to be older?  To young minds, being older means having more privileges and less supervision.  It means coming closer to being independent, which sounds so flippin’ cool when you’re an angst-filled teen with door-size New Kids on the Block posters plastering your walls. But, when do we make the switch?  When do we, as a culture, start freaking out over our age and grasping for earlier days?  Is it gradual or sudden?  Conscious or sub-conscious?  Healthy or detrimental?  Why can’t we embrace our years like a child does?  “I CAN’T WAIT TO BE OLDER!” we should be screaming from the mountaintop.

Recently, one of my friends told me something that struck me funny yet was so completely true.  “If you’re not older, you’re dead,” she said matter-of-factly as she sipped her cucumber mojito on our most recent “Mommy’s Night Out.”  We continued on to discuss the importance of celebrating every day of our lives and enjoying each moment, which, let’s face it, is tough in this busy life full of kids, careers, relationships, etc.  After our conversation, I began to consider how to embrace getting older versus fall into the stereotype of the bitter, aging American woman. I started to think about all of the big deal, joyous events, like my son’s first birthday and making the commitment to be a stay-at-home-mom, that have brought me to this birthday so grateful and content.  And then, inevitably, I reflected on all the pain and sorrow I’ve faced head-on this year, like my mother’s stroke and my father’s death, which has brought me to this birthday so grown-up and strong.  Then, there are all the moments in between, which I refer to as “normal,” and I realized that this is where I fall short.  What’s crazy is that bumbling around in “normal” is where I spent most of my life this year, yet I’m unable to define what traits I have gained from living through it.

Why do we blow through “normal,” sometimes at top-speed, juggling diapers, cell phones, appointments, and jobs, and neglect to remain fully present?  We’re all guilty of it.  We don’t stop and pay attention until something amazing takes our breath away or something tragic steals someone or something away too soon.  But when you stop and think about it, isn’t “normal” awesome?  Isn’t “normal” spectacular?  Isn’t “normal” WHERE IT’S AT?!  Sure, those really joyous moments make us happy and those painful ones teach us something, but think about what it would be like to arrive just as fully and intensely to every situation no matter how “normal” it seems.  I think this is the secret to embracing our climbing ages, and as simple as it sounds, it clearly is not, or more of us would be doing it.  My focus for this coming year is to discover and experience how beautiful “normal” is and truly appreciate how amazing it is to grow one year older in this life.

Just like on my tenth birthday, this year on my birthday, I danced.  Only it wasn’t under a tree with streamers and balloons, and it wasn’t to 90’s pop, and I don’t have a photograph to document the event.  But I did let loose and dance, next to my sister, a good portion of it in tears, celebrating this year and all the impressions it has left on my heart.  It was a real “normal” moment, and I was in it, all the way, one hundred percent. And you know what?  It felt damn good.

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