About two weeks ago, one of my students, who knew my birthday was coming up, asked how old I was going to be. When I told her I was turning 29, she smiled and nodded at me sagely.
“It’s ok that you’re almost 30, Ms. F,” she told me. “You’re in a really good place for someone your age. You have a good job, you’re married. It could be a lot worse, right?”
First, let me acknowledge the fact that, yes, this conversation really happened. And yes, this student is fourteen years old. Let that sink in for a second.
Now go ahead and feel free to laugh as hard as I did. Because I did laugh; to be honest I’m still laughing about it nearly two weeks later. Out of the mouth of babes, right?
It wasn’t just the sheer precociousness of my student’s comment that makes me giggle, although that is a huge part of it. The funniest part of all is that, until fairly recently, I had a very similar perception of getting older—namely how, with each passing year, I thought that I *should* be hitting certain milestones. I talked about this trap in my birthday post from last year, and I admitted that, at some point while I was in high school, I arbitrarily decided what my life should look like by the time I was 25, or 30, or 35.
And then, somewhere along the line, when I had checked off almost NONE of the things on this list, but had checked off countless, unanticipated other ones, I realized that the future life you imagine for yourself at 14 is the nicest kind of fantasy—one that is imagined at the height of naivete, innocence, and ambition. Because how can you anticipate who you will meet, or what you will see and live and experience? How can you plan for a life that you haven’t even really begun living yet?
It took me far too long to realize that you CAN’T. That you can only plan so far in advance, and that you have to take things as they come and make the best of it. Above all else, it occurred to me that those arbitrary milestones that I set for myself well over a decade ago mean very little; what does matter is that, at 29 years old, I am the happiest I have been in a very, very long time. And sure, some of that has to do with things that look good on paper: Yes, I am employed and financially stable. Yes, I’m married.
But more importantly, I think my job is the most rewarding position on the planet. I’m in a happy, healthy relationship with the kindest, most caring man I know. I am in good health, and I have the support and love of my family and my friends. I have traveled to places I never thought I’d go, and I have more to check off my list. I have goals and hopes and dreams and things to look forward to. In short, life is good. In fact, life is a lot better and a lot more three dimensional than I ever imagined it would be 10 or 15 years ago.
A few weeks ago, I guess because my birthday was approaching, or because I was observing my students, I became borderline obsessed with the following question: what would your fourteen year old self think of you, as you are, in your life right now? After giving it a lot (too much) thought, I finally decided: my fourteen year old self might not understand why I’ve made some of the decisions that I have, and she’d definitely give me the side eye for falling asleep at 9:00pm on MY BIRTHDAY (true story. It was a Friday night after a LONG ASS week. YOLO!). But when all is said and done, I’m pretty sure she’d think I was pretty cool, and I think she’d be pleased with where she’d eventually end up.
Because quite honestly, I sure am happy to be here.