This was never supposed to happen. When I was sixteen I told everyone I knew that I would be dead by 20 from a heart attack. If not then, surely by 25. It was my mantra, I was not going to plan for a future that I would not live to see because I was certain I would be dead by now. Every year I would say to myself "maybe next year, if I am still alive". Instead I am going to turn 30 this year, a number I was always told was a big deal, and I feel unusually ready.
I get it. Nobody wants to read the essay about getting older from a 29-year old. Come back when you are pushing 40, little girl! But I have a weird history around the idea of growing older that has taken me some time to parse out, and from what I understand a lot of other people have been feeling it too.
I certainly feel older. I have been feeling it more and more. Fatigue and random pains and a general slowing down. Finding that the drive to stay up all night playing video games, fueled by caffeine and junk food, is completely gone. A sadness when you realize that not drinking is just as much fun as binge drinking with your friends used to be.
Feeling older is sitting upright in bed one night as you are trying to fall asleep and saying "Tumblr is just LiveJournal for people ten years younger than me." over and over in your head, parsing what that sentence means for you. Because you are ten years older now and maybe you get it and maybe you do not, but it is not really for you anyway.
I stopped celebrating my birthday after college. It was an easy choice; when you have no friends, trying to convince yourself that you deserve a special day is a much harder pill to swallow. Along the way, the whole concept stopped making sense. Why should I be celebrating that I am older?
Every birthday was just another reminder that I was wasting my 20s not doing what I ought to be doing. Thankfully as we are heading into the final stretch I am, only now, starting to shed the notion of things I should have been doing versus the things I actually did, but at the same time I can safely declare it a wasted decade nonetheless.
I have a very distinct childhood memory of being taken to a birthday party for one of my parents' friends who was turning 40. It was held in one of those party rooms that your apartment complex might let you rent out. (I had only ever been to people's houses before so this was a big fascination at the time.) It was a surprise party but we forgot to surprise the guest of honor when he arrived.
The friend was turning 40 and the party was "Over the Hill" themed. All of the party supplies were "Over the Hill" branded, plates and napkins picturing a car cresting the top of a grassy hill. It quickly became a running joke that all the couples in attendance had gotten him the same "Over The Hill" card. There was something about duck weed. I was nine or 10 when this happened and the whole party gave me the impression that life ends when you turn 40. Being "Over the Hill" is saying that everything is just a downward slide right into the grave.
My parents adopted me when they were already in their mid-thirties, so aside from this party I do not remember spending much time around adults who were not already 40 or older. There seemed to be a very clear line between the things my parents liked and what I was interested in, and never should the two meet.
The idea that anyone in my parent's generation would ever regularly use the internet, play a video game or listen to any of the music I liked was completely foreign. Those were things young people did and were off-limits. Parents and their kids would never share interests, there would always be this distance between us.
Maybe it has more to do with my parents being unhip, or our living in suburban Wisconsin and not closer to somewhere with actual culture. I am not sure.
Now, twenty years later, I have a number of friends who are 40 or older and it hardly seems like a thing. Aside from having different cultural references around childhood, we all love the same stuff and get along just fine.
Of course I realize that anyone who is 40 now was still on the kid side of the line when Star Wars and the Nintendo Entertainment System were released, and that adults were always invested and driving the "youth culture" things that my parents were never going to be into, but I think there is still something fundamentally different between then and now. The idea that parents and kids can share their interests certainly feels more acceptable to me now than it ever did before. The overlap between being an adult and being a kid is bigger than ever.
The disconnect comes, at least for me, from the idea that my parents knew what being an adult meant. The people who attended that "Over the Hill" party knew what being an adult meant and they were doing it. Throwing an "Over the Hill" party was being an adult, once you turn 40 your life is over so get one last laugh in while you can. And I cannot picture it happening ever again.
So I am going to turn 30 this year. That does not have to mean anything for a number of reasons (because I do not celebrate my birthday, because 30 is the new 20, etc), but I want it to.
The thing I keep telling myself and my friends when we express doubts about aging and being mature is we are the adults now and even though none of us seem to know what that means or what we are supposed to do, it does not really matter because the only ones who can judge us are ourselves. I want this to be the time when I finally believe it.