I met with a friend last weekend. She’s in her mid-thirties and when I lamented that I was turning forty the next weekend and had no plans, she said something on the lines of, “Being older is gift enough. I mean, I would hate to be in my twenties. I was so stupid then.”
Birthdays, mine especially, have never been important to me. I’ll celebrate my husband’s and make lots of noise and bake too many cakes for my babies but for me – I’d rather do nothing. It’s a personal time. A time for quiet reflection – are you okay? Are you where you want to be? Are you happy?
Round figure birthdays are a big deal in Denmark. I’ve been to two big 40th birthday parties this year – lots of people, a big party.
Søren asked me if I wanted a party and I said, “I throw parties all the time, I don’t want to work on one on my birthday.” So then came the inevitable question, “So, what do you want to do?” I said, “Nothing.”
I will be honest – I’m one those women who doesn’t like the idea of aging. I mean, everything is going south and wide. But as I sit here, the last hours in my thirties, I like the idea of being forty because all the years that have passed and brought me here have made me.
These were the hardest years when I look back. Growing up in India and not confirming to what is a good Indian girl was tough. I didn’t know I was being rebellious, I just didn’t know how to be anyone but me. I didn’t know how to hide or be polished or not say the things that I wasn’t supposed to say or do the things that would give me a bad “reputation.” In my teens in Hyderabad, I did have a bad reputation. I remember telling my husband this when we met and he asked, “So you slept around and had a good time?” I was appalled. “No. I’m Indian, we don’t sleep around. Are you nuts?”
Now, I realize that it was my directness (then and now) that got me into trouble. But I learnt a few life lessons as a teenager.
LIFE LESSON #1: You don’t have to care about what anyone thinks of you. As long as you’re honest with yourself and you tell yourself the truth, you’re going to be fine.
This was a very exciting decade. I moved to the United States when I was twenty. I got married when I was twenty three. I know – I was way too young and but we’ve been together for nearly twenty years now so it wasn’t entirely stupid. I had my babies in my twenties – Tobias when I was twenty-six and Isaiah when I was twenty-nine. I signed my first book contract – a two-book contract with Ballantine Books. My first book A Breath of Fresh Air was published when I was twenty-seven. I moved to Denmark when I was twenty seven.
LIFE LESSON #2: There is no good time to have children. All times are bad times. All times are good times. You’ll never be ready before – and you’ll have to be ready after, whether you like it or not. And you’ll love them unconditionally.
This is what I look back at right now. This is my most recent past. This has been a tumultuous decade. My metabolism took a dive. I put on weight. I lost weight (thanks to an infection post the removal of a wisdom tooth). I was happily married until I wasn’t and then I was again. I was happy in my professional life until I wasn’t and then I was again. I was happily published until I wasn’t and now I have hope again. The constant has been love for my children, for my husband and for life.
I have discovered in this decade that parenting has been all that I had imagined and more. I feel surrounded with love and I’m more madly in love with my children than I was before. I love being a parent. I absolutely had no idea that it would be such a wonderful feeling, that it would be so fulfilling.
I had always believed in friends but in my thirties something remarkable happened – I lost friends and made new friends and then I lost some more and made some more. I still believe in friendship but in a different way. I know I have changed and I will and my friends will as well and with some I will continue to be friends and with others I won’t – and then I will meet new people whose company I will enjoy and engage with.
I have always been a “good girl” – always tried to do the right thing and have the courage of my convictions. But in my thirties I realized that life isn’t about being “good” or being “right” – it’s about being “happy.” I realized that I’d never really been happy before. And now that I am, I’m militant about protecting my happiness and taking care of it, nurturing it.
This has been an incredible decade in many ways even though not much has happened as it had in my twenties. But it’s been an emotional rollercoaster and I have grown spiritually. I have come into my own.
LIFE LESSON #3: You’re responsible for your happiness. No one and nothing can make you happy. You are the only person who can make yourself happy. It’s a conscious thing – a choice. It’s not an accident – or something you stumble onto – you make it happen every day, every hour if need be and you work your ass off because being happy is so much better than the other option.
Ah…here I stand at the cusp and how do I feel? Excited. Curious. Happy. I can’t wait to see what happens to my metabolism (apparently it gets worse). I can’t wait to see how my professional and writing career develops. I can’t wait to see my children as teenagers and grown men. I can’t wait to find out how Søren and I can be married in a different way as my children prepare to leave home. I can’t wait for new life lessons.