November 6, 1959. My mother stood in the cramped kitchen of our tiny, nearly-new tract house in a nearly-new suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas, sobbing into her hands. My daddy tried, without success, to comfort her.
“What’s wrong?” my brother Rusty and I asked helplessly as we clung to her legs and tried not to cry ourselves. Daddy shrugged.
Mother lowered her hands. “What’s wrong,” she said, dabbing at her tears with a wad of Kleenex pulled from her apron pocket, “is that I turned thirty years old today. Thirty! I’m an old woman.” And with that she began to sob again in earnest. I wasn’t quite five years old, but I was sure I would never understand what she was talking about.
December 29, 1984. My birthday arrived, as usual, in the shadow of Christmas. Which had been wonderful, in part, because we’d celebrated it with Meg, our firstborn who was nine months old. No tears for me over the big Three-O, despite the fact that I was a member of the generation whose mantra had been to never trust anyone over thirty. As I stood in the cramped kitchen of our tiny house in suburban Nashville, a kitchen not so different from the one in Little Rock except for the presence of a microwave oven, I didn’t feel like an old woman at all. Nor did I cry.
Instead, I saw decades of endless possibilities stretched out in front of me.
March 4, 2014. Last Tuesday. The day Meg turned thirty herself. She’s ecstatic, “ready”–as she put it—“to dive into this new decade.” The decade when nobody thinks of you as a kid anymore, but when you still feel and look great. No age spots on the hands you didn’t bother to slather with sunscreen all those summers ago. No sagging chin or a turkey neck that a whole closetful of turtleneck sweaters can’t hide. No bifocal eyeglasses or hearing aids. No hesitation about wearing a two-piece swimming suit, or whatever they call “two-piece swimming suits” these days, to the beach.
I’ll wager there’s not a thirty-year-old in the whole United States of America who thinks of him or herself as old.
But I’ll also bet that the thirty-year-olds’ parents probably do. We wonder how in the world three decades could have passed so quickly. How did we morph from people with tiny little waists and ten pounds of hair to folks who take five minutes to straighten up after sitting in a car for an hour? When did we decide it’s absurd not to be in bed by ten o’clock or up the next morning by six, or start muttering “What else can I do while I’m down here?” while squatting to get something off a low shelf?
When your child turns thirty, you’re faced with the undeniable reality that the clock is ticking louder than ever. You’ve got more days behind you than ahead of you. Days that, suddenly, seem achingly precious.
You mourn the fact that the mother who sobbed on her own thirtieth birthday and the daddy who tried to comfort her are not on this earth to celebrate their oldest grandchild’s thirtieth. You wonder if you’ll be around for the party when Meg’s own, as yet unborn, children celebrate theirs. And you want—more than anything–to wrap your arms around the beautiful young woman who was, not so very long ago, your precious baby girl and say “Don’t blink. It all goes by so fast.”
(March 9, 2014)