Monday, September 17, 2007

Turning 30 doesn't have to be all that bad

(Published 4/25/07)

I’m going to be 30 this week.

Oh, I’m not telling you for your own information so much as I am trying to convince myself. Thirty. It seems so ... mature.

When I was a kid, 30 seemed so distant. Thirty-somethings were - well, grown-ups. People in their 30s have mortgages, car payments and kids.

Oh, wait - me, too.

Turning 30 has always seemed to me to be the time when grown-ups have to decide whether they are going to start (ugh, this phrase) "aging gracefully," or if they are going to fight it tooth and nail.

I’ve begun to pay a little more attention to the commercials that promise me easy ways to cover up the gray that is slowly creeping into my hair. And I am sorry to admit that I know more about alpha hydroxy cream than I did a couple of years ago.

My life has taken some turns over the last 18 months that I never expected. I always thought I would make my life in the town where I was raised and around the people I had always known. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Our family is putting down new roots here, in hopes that our daughters will grow up in a town where they’ll want to stay when they’re older.

Professionally, I have spent my time since college in different and varied pursuits. I’ve taught high school, which I never could have foreseen even two weeks before I took the job. But it was a great experience that restored my faith in a younger generation. I’ve worked in politics and government, which was as much an exercise in the development of patience as it was exciting to be a part of potential changes in public policy. And then there’s this newspaper thing that has peppered my adult life. I guess there’s no way I could have missed it; I suppose that my being the fifth generation of my family to work in newspapers is a reasonable explanation for the draw I continue to feel to this sometimes crazy but ever-rewarding public service.

My first "Happy 30th Birthday" card arrived last week, sent from a friend I made when we were fifth-graders. We battled braces, boys and broken hearts together. Over the past year, she’s lived and worked in London, globetrotting for a week or two at a time and drinking in the culture of far-flung corners of the world. Looking with longing at her pictures of exotic locales, I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’ll ever get to travel that way.

Perhaps because she turned 30 earlier this month, her card put 30 in perspective for me. She lauded me for making the most of my first 30 years - interesting, I thought, since I’ve thought she was the one making the most of life. As I read her words, suddenly it became clear: It isn’t about the specific activities you’ve pursued or even whether you’ve checked boxes off your "Things-to-do-before-I’m-30" list. It’s about whether you’ve made the most of the time.

So when I consider my 30 years in totality, 30 is a lot less daunting. So what if I haven’t made the culinary magic I dreamed about when, as a newlywed, I sorted through all those kitchen appliances and accessories? It doesn’t matter to my 5-year-old that I make Hamburger Helper - she still thinks I’m a great cook, and that’s what matters to me.

Am I making the most of the time? I’ll keep asking myself that question. It should make facing 40 a snap.

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