I turned 30 this weekend. I woke up on Saturday morning, flipped the calendar from February to March. I made coffee, helped my toddler climb into her high chair, got out yesterday’s waffles from the refrigerator. Really, not much was different. I was still here, in my life, doing my mom-things.
Why does turning 30 cause us to pause, reevaluate, and freak out? Is it because we had an idea of where we would be by now? Is it the faint crow’s-feet at the corner of our eyes, a symbol of how we’ll never be “young” again?
Maybe it’s realizing that, whether we intended to or not, we’ve all made some irreversible decisions this past decade. The world is no longer our oyster. We’ve all gulped the saltwater out in the real world, and some of us have gritty sand remaining in our mouths.
When I was in college I would collect study abroad brochures, glossy and bright, and lay them out on my narrow dorm room bed. Each one felt slippery between my fingers. Semester in Fiji. Printmaking in Italy. Mountaineering in Patagonia. I liked to make four-year plans with my freshmen roommate, devising plots of how we could maximize our time away from campus.
And I loved having my options spread out before me, glistening like heavy spoons on a country farm table. I liked picking them up one at a time, feeling the weight of each piece, admiring this one’s filigreed handle and that one’s clamshell grooves. I would smell their metallic smells and slide their cool silver stems against my cheek in chilly strokes. My distorted reflection would stare at me from their arcs. And I treasured them as I counted and recounted, always returning each spoon to the table with a gentle thud, never fully grasping one and walking away.
It’s terrifying to hear the sound of spoons clattering on the hardwood floor, to realize some options are gone forever. That early 20s hubris, that feeling of limitless time and possibility, has disappeared.
Yet, there is grace in spoons clanging to the ground. It shows that I did choose: in my case, I married, became a mother and decided to stay home with my daughter while she is young. I am grateful most of the time, yet I admit that there are days when I watch my peers advancing in their careers with jealousy. Those days, I can feel the gritty sand in my mouth. I taste the sour brine of expectations being unmet.
It’s in those moments that I remind myself that life, God willing, is long. I remember hearing a 90-year-old woman talk about her life, her voice tremolo as she recounted 25 years serving as a missionary in Korea and 20 more years working in affordable housing. And that was after the 15 years she stayed home with her kids.
Nowadays I don’t spend much time considering the spoons left on the table, or mourning the ones heaped on the floor. Instead, I am welcoming my limits and living in the dirt of now. Along with the laugh lines at my eyes, I have more confidence. God is showing me again and again that he didn’t make junk when he fashioned messy old me, and I am starting to believe it.
I cling to the belief that God is moving toward me, pursuing me, taking that sand in my mouth and pressurizing it into something beautiful. Maybe the world is my oyster after all. Ask me at 40, and I may just spit out a pearl.
* Photo by NikiMM, Creative Commons via Flickr