Today marks the 20th anniversary of my sweet 16, which is just a cutesy way of saying I’m 36 today.
It’s not a milestone age, and I’m not planning to do anything particularly special. I’ve taken the day off work and will probably have a Bloody Mary at lunch (extra olives!) and a piece of cake with dinner (chocolate!), but in between those things, I’m planning to fold laundry and drive carpool for volleyball.
I was trying last night to remember what I thought my life would look like at 36 back when I was 16, and I honestly couldn’t.
I don’t think I necessarily thought I’d be married at 22, divorced at 29, and remarried at 31 … but in a family where my dad has five ex-wives, neither am I particularly surprised by that turn of events. And although my second marriage is not the blissful perfection that my 16-year-old self thought all marriages should be and that no real marriages actually are, my husband and I are happy to see each other at the end of a long day and we laugh and kiss and drink wine and watch Jeopardy! and fight and make up and yell at the kids and leave wet towels on the bed and forget to replace the toilet paper rolls and laugh and kiss some more and then fight over who has to take the trash to the curb.
I always knew I wanted kids, and I adore the ones I have, but I had absolutely no concept of the extent to which they would annihilate my sense of self or change my life to its core. I don’t mean that as negatively as it sounds; I love being a mom. It’s just nonstop and hard and messy and boring and intense and annoying and amazing, and it drives me to my limit of every emotion from anger to anxiety to heart-exploding pride and love about 18 times in the course of every hour.
I always knew I wanted a job where I could write – pretty much as soon as I knew how to write, I knew that much. By the time I was 16, I had narrowed my career down to journalism, but much like having kids, I didn’t really know what “journalism” actually entailed, and I had a brief fantasy that I’d be the next Woodward and/or Bernstein before a few college journalism classes reminded me that I actually hate talking to strangers and am cripplingly non-confrontational, rendering me useless at the fearless investigative pursuit of truth at all costs. I discovered, though, that my love of rules, my inclination to always sweat the small stuff, and my obsessive desire to be right about things made me a pretty effective editor, and I am completely content to let someone else chase down the next Deep Throat in an unlit parking garage while I make sure the commas are in the right place, that the names are all spelled correctly, and that the writer didn’t use “late” when he meant “former” in describing a committee chairman (this actually happened once; bringing someone back to life with the mere power of words is an exhilarating experience as an editor).
So yeah: The big three – marriage, kids, career – have all fallen into place, although not the way I thought they would when I was 16. I am blessed and thankful that things I took for granted at 16 – my health, my parents’ health – are still things that I can largely take for granted. I never thought that New Orleans would be destroyed and reborn in those intervening 20 years either, nor did I ever plan to live here as an adult, but since moving home in 2008, it is not a decision I have ever questioned.
Twenty years ago, I would have thought driving volleyball carpool was the saddest thing to do on a birthday that I could imagine.
Today, I’m looking forward to it.
Happy birthday to me.