So it’s my birthday. Again.
As my friend DeAnna said somewhat accusingly in my birthday message, “I feel like your birthday has come very fast; I don’t know why — other people have also had birthdays — but I feel like the time between this birthday and your last birthday seems like less than a year.”
I hear you, DeAnna, how do we slow down this crazy train?
DeAnna is constantly surprising me with her perspective. She’s one of the few people I know who brazenly and totally bravely thinks for herself. She questions things I would never think to question (like has it been less than a year since my last birthday?). Everyone needs a friend like DeAnna.
You know, I thought 40 was the big birthday, but I think it’s 41. I mean, my birthday is a pretty big deal, as evidenced by this post on my Facebook wall from my friend Jenn:
Jenn is going to remember my damn birthday. I tell you what.
When I turned 40 last year, I just wanted to be alone. I took a solo trip to Connecticut. I slept in a greenhouse. They called this “glamping,” that’s “glamorous camping” to you and me. On my actual birthday I kayaked. I am not comfortable with any kind of deep water, so even on a dead calm river, I found it challenging. The whole concept of steering with the oar seemed counterintuitive.
I did make it upstream to a spot where you had to duck to get under this bridge and then on the other side you were in like a mossy green fairyland. On the return trip, floating through the narrow opening, I thought of it as a rebirth. Onward to the next phase of my life.
This year, Lani and Chris came to visit from San Francisco. It had been a long time since they had been in Colorado together. We decided to take an overnight trip to an AirBnB in Salida with amazing views and a hot tub.
The whole time leading up to it, I was all about the hot tub. I could not wait to sit under the stars in the damn hot tub. But when we got there I had a respiratory infection and it was frigid cold outside – in the 20s and 30s. Definitely not get-wet-and-be-outside weather. I was grumpy and disappointed, and not that fun to be around. I pouted and went to bed, which apparently I still do, even at 41 years old.
From our deck, you could see a string of 14ers, which the owner, Drew, rattled off the names of when we arrived. Drew built the house himself using strawbale construction. He has chickens and turkeys, and a huge sow named Tammy. Drew gets the vegetable scraps from some of the downtown restaurants, and the waste barley from the brewery to feed her. (Tammy wouldn’t pose for a picture, but just imagine the biggest pig you have ever seen.)
We shopped at a great thrift store in Salida the next day called Ruby Blues. This actually was the impetus for the whole trip; when Mom and I were in Salida over Christmas, I just knew that Lani and Chris would love this store. The owners are a husband-and-wife team. Their selection is authentic vintage and very reasonably priced — like varsity letter jackets, and jean jumpsuits, riding pants and 70s sweaters. A lot of amazing pieces. I’m going to go down there just to go record shopping. I want every record in the store.
Chris found a 1940s reversible military jacket with fur trim that basically had never been worn before. One side is green and the other side is white. When wearing the white side, he looks like he is in Siberia in a James Bond movie.
He also got these 1970s sparkly motorcycle helmets.
I got a pair of clogs. For some reason, they have a robust selection of Dansko clogs at this place.
We had lunch at the Mexican restaurant in town, then stopped at a roadside Gem and Rock Store outside Buena Vista. Lani has a thing for rocks.
Lani was a pretty miserable baby. She had constant earaches. She only wanted to be held by Mom. She cried like crazy.
When Lani was about one-and-a-half my mom was pouring boiling water into a pitcher when it burst in her hands. Lani had been on the floor, possibly even clutching my mom’s leg. She was burned all over her little body.
My earliest memory from my childhood is walking down the hospital hallway and the nurse saying, “Now remember, you can’t touch your sister, or she’ll bleed.”
I must have been about three. It was dark in the hospital room, with only a few dim lights on. When they opened the door, Lani was standing up in the crib holding the bars. She had gauze around her head and this huge smile on her face. She was happier than she’d ever been.
We were pretty shy and quiet kids. Our parents were introverts. So imagine our surprise when Lani was about five and she picked up her stuffed bear and began to speak for him in a deep, growling voice. None of us would have believed such a big voice could come out of such a little kid.
Dad asked the bear what his name was.
The bear replied, “G.B.”
Dad: What does G.B. stand for?
G.B.: Gray Black. (G.B. was a gray bear, with black eyes.)
G.B. started watching the Broncos games with us, yelling at the TV screen, high-fiving Dad. Occasionally, Dad would pick G.B. up and throw him in the air, prompting G.B. to growl, “Stop it, Gery!”
One day Dad asked G.B. who his hero was.
G.B.: [thinks for a minute] Kirk Blueberry.
Dad: Oh, yeah, what is Kirk Blueberry famous for?
G.B.: He found 10,000 rocks.
Lani loved nature from the beginning. To me, a rock is a rock. But when we were in that rock store on the side of the road outside Buena Vista last weekend, it was clear that Lani has a very special talent for seeing beauty in normal, regular things. She chatted up the geologist proprietor, asking meaningful questions, picking the best things out of the case. Lani didn’t go to school for this, but she just enjoys it; she likes what she likes, not what anyone else likes, not what she is told to like. She and Chris have this sixth sense for cool stuff. I just see a rock.
Everything shifted for me when we got to the hot springs. It was a cloudless day, gorgeous fall colors, just a bit of chill in the air. After being sick and crabby, floating in the hot springs with the sun on my face was rejuvenating. We finished out the weekend with a nice gathering at Dad’s house where we ate cake and ice cream, and did a mini birthday celebration surrounded by extended family.
On my actual birthday Mom brought me the most beautiful lunch. Salmon with garlic and dill; quinoa; an amazing salad with romaine from her garden, feta cheese, strawberries, blackberries and pecans in a blush wine vinaigrette. She even made me a cheesecake. She went off-recipe and replaced the heavy cream and whipping cream with yogurt and cream cheese. Like she does.
She helped me repot my herbs and bring them inside for the winter. And she made me the most hilarious and awesome present. Over the weekend, I had been admiring the drawings in this old cookbook she had. We especially liked this one of the cowgirl and the vegetables.
So my mom copied the drawing and made these kitchen magnets. She really is the best mom.
All in all, I’m optimistic about 41. I received many sweet, genuinely thoughtful and heartfelt birthday wishes. I have many people to love, so many people who love me. It’s a ridiculous abundance of friendship. I am grateful to have known and shared my heart with so many. It really is the best gift.
It’s easy to focus on what’s lacking. Like, I’m not married, and I don’t have kids, I don’t have pets, I don’t own a house, I’m out of shape, I’m exhausted and unmotivated, my ankle still hurts after breaking it three months ago. I’m sick, blah, blah, blah. It’s easy to let my mind ramble on, cataloging all my faults and failures, but there comes a point (age 41, maybe?) when all that toxic noise just gets really boring.
As I was floating in the hot springs, trying out various arrangements for the sad limp pool noodles — Under the knees? The ankles? Propped under the neck? — I overheard two ladies discussing the movie “Age of Adaline” (currently available to watch on Amazon).
I’d seen the promo for it, but frankly, Blake Lively bugs me. She’s headed down that Gwyneth Paltrow road of self-righteous clean-living that just lacks any sort of spark of life. Where is the authentic woman behind the complexion and the ever-calm-and-collected smoky voice? Where’s the blood? Where’s the heart? Where’s the soul?
But as the ladies discussed the plot, I became intrigued. In 1930s America, Adaline (Blake Lively) is a young widow with a daughter when she accidentally slides off the road and her car ends up in a freezing lake. Adaline dies submerged in her vehicle in the icy water. But, it just so happens that within minutes of her death, the lake is struck by an electrical charge, which restarts her heart. She is alive. She climbs out of the lake, and from that day forward, her body doesn’t age another day. Adaline remains 29 years old forever. Even as her daughter grows up and becomes an old woman, Adaline still looks exactly the same. In order to avoid being kidnapped by the government or some crazy scientists, she changes her identity every 10 years. She has no life of her own. No one except her daughter knows the truth. Over the years, Adeline falls in love, at least twice.
(Spoiler alert) the movie unfolds as she meets a relentless young rich dude named Ellis (actual dialogue: “Like the island?” Ugh). Despite her reservations, Adaline, now going by the name Jenny, “falls” into bed with Ellis the way it always happens in romantic comedies: They drink a bunch and then ravage each other like horny virgins. These movies make you believe that the only way to “fall in love” with someone is to get totally hammered and have sex on the first date. Because that works out so well in real life.
Of course, Ellis is inexplicably drawn to Adaline’s aloof demeanor and distant gazes. He absolutely will not take no for an answer. Again, this only happens in movies. If a real dude were this persistent, you would be like hey stalker, no means no, brah.
Adaline agrees to go with Ellis to his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary celebration. But (plot twist!) it turns out that Ellis’s dad, played by Harrison Ford, also fell madly in love with Adeline in the 1960s, and planned to propose to her on the day that she ditched him to change her identity. One of the main reasons to watch this movie is to see the flashback scenes where the actor who plays the young Harrison Ford does like a crossover impression of Indiana Jones and Han Solo.
Eventually, Harrison Ford figures out that Jenny actually is Adaline. He begs her not to hurt his son the way she hurt him, but Adeline just can’t conceive of a life where she gets to be loved and to love another honestly.
As I watched Blake Lively’s shiny blonde hair flowing behind her as she ran through a forest, the point of the movie hit me. It’s about running away from life, making excuses, giving in to doubts, letting whatever the obstacle is – money, health, social awkwardness, fear, anger, shame, eternal youth, whatever – letting that thing stop you from even trying.
When Ellis discovers that Adaline has left, he asks his father what happened. What made her leave? Why’d she do it?
Ellis: Dad! Tell me what she said!
Harrison Ford character: She said she’s not capable…
Ellis: Of what?
Harrison Ford character: Of change.
Over the past few months, I’ve slowly opened up to the idea that my future could look different from my past. I don’t have to run. I don’t have to listen to the mindless critical chatter. I don’t have to settle. I don’t have to lock my heart away, and I don’t have to deny myself the life I deserve as penance for my perceived faults and failures.
The media and the advertisers will tell you that aging is about loss — the loss of beauty, of health, of optimism, of potential — like if you haven’t made your career and had your family by 35, if you haven’t maintained a perfect physique and resisted all addictions, if you haven’t found inner peace and eliminated negativity, if you haven’t accomplished something, become somebody, achieved your dreams, healed your family, saved the world, then you might as well just completely give up.
But it’s a lie.
The reason prior generations valued youth so much is that everyone expected to be dead by 50. Life was hard. People were dying all the damn time. You got married at like 12 and had 10 babies by 40. You probably wished you were dead. You worked on a farm or in a factory or a mine where nobody cared if you didn’t feel like going to work that day. Nobody cared if there was a blizzard or an ice storm or a dust bowl. You didn’t have choices. Youth was valued because you didn’t expect to be young for very long. You had to grow up fast, and the decisions you made as you launched into adulthood had serious, lasting repercussions. Marrying the wrong man or choosing the wrong job could put you in the hospital, or in jail, or in the grave. We have so many choices now. We have so much more to work with than any generation before us. Including time.
So, here’s to 41. Here’s to change. Here’s to choices. Here’s to anything can happen. Here’s to another year. (And I’ll try to make it a full year this time, DeAnna.)