A while back I was talking to one of my friends in her twenties.
We were walking along an alley in the city and there was a moment of comfortable silence. A pause in our philosophical musings and conversational chatter. Then she stared at the pavement longingly and sighed, "I can't wait until I'm thirty."
I stopped walking and stared at her, "Why?" She looked up, a little embarrassed, her cheeks slightly pink,
"Because women in their thirties have it all together. And I so don't." She crossed her arms to brace from the chilly breeze and kept sauntering forward. I stayed back,
"I don't have it all together."
She didn't contradict me, just stayed quiet for a few seconds than changed the subject to coffee or the environment or human sexuality - more comfortable topics for conversation between the two of us.
I went with the flow, but couldn't stop thinking about it.
Did I miss the boat somewhere? Why didn't I have it all together. I'm thirty-four for crying out loud! I still don't feel like I even really know how to dress myself properly!
Today, months later, in the shower, I thought about that conversation again. I remembered when I thought that by the time I was thirty-five I would be a real adult. The kind that liked to dress in grown-up clothes and sip cocktails at high end parties and had clean children all the time and an immaculate home. I would get up early in the morning, before the sun, and prepare a lovely gourmet breakfast and kiss my husband warmly on the cheek over coffee and the morning paper as he trotted out the door in a suit and tie on his way to his mysterious workplace. I would be writing my own novel and my children would be reading chapter books happily on the sparkling clean, white sofa and we wouldn't own a television.
It's looking sort of bleak, since I'm only five months from my thirty-fifth birthday. I'm sitting here typing a blog on a bare mattress with blankets strewn about the room. My husband is at the laundromat. I live in a school bus (with a television). My daughter is running back and forth between here and the living room in nothing but Hello Kitty underwear and right now is quite literally chewing on an string of Christmas lights still hung in the hallway. I have asked her for a few minutes of peace, to which she retorted, "BOOORING!" I can see the tea I made for myself this morning, only half drunk, now cold, sitting on the desk across from me. I'm wearing an old t-shirt and ratty yoga pants. My son is having a jelly sandwich for lunch and the dishes are piled high in the sink. While in the shower, I stood there for a few minutes, just breathing and feeling blessed that the kids respected the milometers between the closed shower curtain and the bathroom as a sign for privacy (most of the time).
And I think... when I look back at my life, that there are many times when I've likely had it far more together than now.
In sixth grade, for example, I was doing pretty well, especially at the beginning of the school year. I had straight A's in school. I was popular, self-confident, and still had a great handle on just who I was as a person. I didn't give a rat's bottom what anyone thought of me. I was writing fiction prolifically, reading voraciously, and playing third base on the rec. softball team. Life was pretty great! I knew who I was, what I was doing, and just where I wanted to go. I had no trouble living in the moment, or marching to the beat of my own drummer, or telling someone to stuff it when they told me I couldn't do what I said.
If only life could continue this way forever.
In seventh grade I was awkward, bullied daily, sexually harassed, and depressed. I never wanted to go to school again. My best friends were my teachers. I shuddered at the thought of having to go to my locker without adult supervision. At the lunch table, I sat alone.
What happened that summer?
I could go back and psychoanalyze all of that for you. Lord knows I've done it for myself. But the point I'm trying to get at here is that we never really have it all together.
The moment we think we've really got it life throws us another curve ball and the best thing we can do is learn how to hit it squarely, and hard, or to back away from the plate and wait patiently for the next pitch. We get better at judging this, the older we get, the more life we have under our belts, and by the time we're in our thirties it may just look to the outside world like we're hitting all the best pitches 100% of the time.
I think it's more likely we've just stopped swinging wildly at everything.
We've embraced our own quirks. Realized that the whole "no one is perfect" thing is actually real. And that people are just people - no matter how successful or how famous - everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have.
We've also realized that the only big mistakes and decisions are the ones that will still matter ten years from now. The rest are just bumps in the road.
I guess it's sort of sad to know that there isn't some magic age where everything will suddenly click into place and we'll "grow up" or "figure it out" or "have it all together". At the same time, it's kind of freeing too.
We can stop striving so hard for something that will never come, and start focusing on the important things - like embracing your passions, learning how to learn, nurturing friendships, and making sure your daughter doesn't electrify herself on the Christmas light cord.