On Turning Thirty.

My thirtieth birthday is just a few weeks out. That’s left me thinking about the past decade or so, and no matter where my mind wanders, it keeps returning to this-where the hell did the time go? I remember growing up, all the adults in my life relayed the story of how quickly their lives moved since graduating from high school, and like anything else they said, I largely ignored it. I’ve got all the time in the world, I thought. Twenty-five, let alone thirty, seemed like an eternity away.

It turns out, they were right. Thirty is on my doorstep, and while I’m looking forward to this next chapter in life, I keep thinking about myself at eighteen, and the ideas I held about what the future had in store for me. I had no way of knowing, sitting on stage on graduation night, thinking about my future, that life would turn out so radically different than I had imagined. It’s a life that I love, but nonetheless has been so fraught with unforeseen twists and turns that it makes me dizzy to think about. My twenties have felt nomadic and at times downright unstable, but despite the regrets I may have, I don’t think I would’ve chosen to do much differently, were I given a second go-round. I have had a rich tapestry of experiences and have met some of the most beautiful, kindhearted people who, had I stayed on my original path, I would’ve never known. And to me, that’s not worth doing anything differently. Hey, if nothing else, I’ve some great stories. I like who I’ve become, how I see the world, how I see others…and I know that the past decade has had a lot to do with the shaping of those attributes.

I read an article in the NY Times Magazine recently, where a number of high school seniors across the country were interviewed, and asked about where they believed their lives would be in ten years. Given societal shifts in the delay of childbirth and marriage, it astounded me that the vast majority of them believed they’d be married with children, owning a home and making above-average income at twenty-eight. And while some of them may, it is more likely they will be living in a rented one-bedroom apartment, making average income (and possibly working two jobs to pay off their astronomical student loan debt), and having dinner alone at night, wondering how their romantic life has gone so awry (and yes, I realize I may be projecting what my own life was at twenty-eight). My heart goes out to them, because should they fall short of those expectations for themselves (and many will), I worry that they’ll feel a sense of failure, one that many of us have felt at the varied paths our lives have taken, no matter the ultimate outcome. I think we’re pressured to outline our lives at way too young an age to have any real idea of who we are, or what we really want out of life. This has become increasingly evident for me in the past few years, as I watch a number of my friends shirk their careers and formal educations in pursuit of their true passions (and as I myself consider doing the same thing).

All of this is to say that after the rocky nature of my twenties, I’m excited to move into my thirties, with a much better sense of myself and my needs than I had ten years ago. And while I think a part of me will always crave the need for change, for passion in what I do, for the “want to” vs. “have to”, I’m hoping that these next ten years will allow me to evolve and focus those urges into something sustainable. Because while I like where I’m at now, I’m even more excited about where I’m going….even if I have no idea exactly where that is yet. And unlike my eighteen year-old self, I can now find something freeing in that uncertainty.

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Hank.

Andy’s niece and nephews came over last weekend, and Henry, who is six, brought along his weather encyclopedia. Hank is this huge, dynamic personality in this little body, and is also incredibly charming and bright. He has learned to read, and seems to have a voracious appetite for doing so Here he is, reading to me about the effect of weather patterns on animals:

And again, when he realized the camera was on him:

He and his siblings are such amazing kids, and it’s always such joy when they’re around.

Oh, Alice.

Anyone who has known me closely for any bit of time, has heard what I have called the “Alice Chronicles.” Alice is my grandmother, and is…colorful, to say the least. Spend any amount of time with her, and you’re going to come away with a few feelings, the most notable of them being mortification. Take her out in public, and you’re bracing yourself for her to engage in battle with whatever customer service person we encounter. Server, counter clerk, you name it-she’s got an issue, general public, and it’s with YOU.

I called her up yesterday, and asked if she’d like to join me for lunch this afternoon. She of course said yes, and told me she wanted to go to the Olive Garden. Fine. Ok. Admittedly, I had a few drinks at the time I proposed lunch, and by the time it began to wear off, I started to rethink my invitation, knowing it wasn’t going to end well for anyone involved (except maybe her). The whole way up, she keeps telling me (probably mostly herself, though), “I swear, Jenn ,I’m going to keep my mouth shut, and not embarass you today. I’m just going to enjoy myself.” Two things: 1)this tells you that her behavior has become an expectation amongst everyone and 2)this is a vow she has no intention of keeping.

We get to the restaurant, and our server, Mykal, (really?), sidles on over, and starts being overly charming and shmoozy. I instantly know that this is only going to encourage her, and I can feel my stomach start to tense. He asks us what we’d like to drink, and I ask for water. Alice? She asks for a Tom Collins. At noon. Ugh, God, I know what’s coming next. “And make sure the bartender makes it right. Needs lots of sugar (?). I was a waitress and bartender for 53 years (this number grows everytime she makes that statement), and none of these young kids know how to make a good Tom Collins.” You’re right, Grandma, because the last time anyone ordered one, it was 1978, and it’s safe to assume that the majority of modern-day bartenders were not living yet. So, Mykal is a good sport, and off he goes to get our drinks. My grandmother immediately launches into more of her hollow promises of keeping her mouth shut, saying, “I know it’s going to be bad. And I’m just going to shut up and drink it.” It comes out, and on cue, she says it’s terrible. She then tries to compensate for its lack of sweetness (according to her) by pouring 6 sugar packets into it. My poor nurse eyes couldn’t handle it, so I looked away, brushing the overflow sugar from the table. Suddenly, I notice the orange wedge in the drink is gone, and it’s because she has tossed it on the floor, under the table. Oh, my God. Seriously? Upon questioning, she says she didn’t realize she did it. Mmmhmmm. Again, I let that go.

Thankfully, the food arrives, which slows her ability to talk at elevated levels about all sorts of stuff, but not slow enough so that a giant rivulet of sauce flies from her mouth, to my hand, which she finds hi-lari-ous. The poor server is in the midst of a lunch hour rush, and he can’t come by the table without her trying to engage him in a long, drawn-out conversation. My favorite thing she said in response to him saying he was a musician was, “So, what kind of music? Rock and roll, or rap?” Mykal is the most caucasian, acoustic guitar looking individual I’ve ever witnessed (he was probably barefoot for all I know), and she says, “…or rap?” Hilarious.
Anyway, once we’re done eating, she’s now trapped this poor kid for so long talking, that I am physically uncomfortable with her lack of ability to read social subtleties, and I have to get up and flee to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror, and my ears and face were so red and hot that it jarred me. It’s almost over, I told myself. Then we’re getting the hell out of here.

I get back to the table, and she is now telling him a very, very personal story about one of our family members, and at this point, even HE didn’t know what to do. He looked at me as I approached, a bit wild-eyed, and when I get within earshot, I froze, not believing what she was saying. This isn’t ever going to end, is it? I’m going to die in an Olive Garden, I thought. I composed myself and I said, “Grandma, look around. He really needs to get back to work.” So, with that, she shook his hand, said “Mykal, you’re good people. You’re a good boy.” And he was a good boy. So much so, that he got a 40% gratuity on the bill. I figured it was the least I could do.

As we walked out, she said, “Boy, that booze hit me something fierce.” “Really, Jabberjaw? I had no idea”, I say. And she laughed. “I know, I told myself I wasn’t going to get nuts today. Oh well. Want a mint?” she asks, digging through her Grandma purse, and offering me one of her half-opened, Grandma-style Starlight mints, the ones that vaguely taste like lipstick and pennies. I took it, popped it in my mouth, and it brought me back to being a kid again, and eating them back then. Just like those mints, her personality has always been part of her deal. And crazy or not, I love her for it. Although, from now on, I think we’ll do meals at my house. 🙂

Tales from the doctor’s office.

I recently switched physicians, and because of this, had to do the whole new patient physical. A few days prior, I had to get all the preliminary lab work done, and we’d go over it during my visit. So, the day arrives, and I go to my appointment. The nurse gets me settled, and hands me a gown to put on, then leaves the room. The second I saw that gown, I was silently berating myself for not considering that this would be part of the deal. Fluorescent lighting, and exposed skin cause me nothing but anxiety. I switched into nurse mode, and told myself, “They deal with this all day long. YOU’VE dealt with this all day long at one point in your career, suck it up.” On with the gown.

The nurse comes back in, and says she’ll be doing a quick EKG. This is going to involve pulling my gown down, and again with the angst. She’s getting set up, loading me up with the EKG stickers, and we’re having casual nurse-chat, about where we’ve worked, etc. EKG goes off without a hitch, and she leaves the room. I sit up, pulling my knees to my chest and wrapping my arms around my legs, and-OHMYGOD! I forgot to shave this morning! And it’s visibly clear to anyone who say, has to put stickers on my calves. I am mortified, swirling about in a vortex of shame. And now, my handsome TV doctor is about to come in, and God only knows what he’s got up his medical sleeve that would necessitate him witnessing my lackluster grooming this morning. I quickly grab a sheet and drape it over my lap. I’m aware that I’m behaving like a 15 year old girl, but at this point, I don’t care.

Dr. A enters, with his white teeth, and perfect articulation, and we have a relatively benign visit, aside from the barrage of questions I ask him about every ache, pain,general feeling of malaise and supplement I’ve had over the past year. I then relay my internal terror about working out, after I went to a spin class a few months back, and then experienced chest pains so severe afterward, that I was convinced of my imminent death. His response? “Your heart is perfectly healthy. You can’t just go from inactivity to a spin class, and expect that not to shock your body.” Ok, great. You want to take the common-sense high road with me? Fine.
Then he says he’s going to check my reflexes. Shit. That involves my legs. My unkempt legs. I immediately positioned myself in such a way that allowed him access to my knees, while shading the lower half of my legs from direct light, so that when they flung out, I wouldn’t be exposed for the unruly monster that I was. Somehow, the universe threw me a bone on this one, and I was able to avert any major embarassment.

Now, we’re onto my labs. Everything looks great, he says. Except your cholesterol. He tells me it’s a bit high. I look at the lab results, and he’s right. What am I, 60? I laugh, it finally hitting me that I’m a real, bona fide adult now. With elevated cholesterol. He starts firing off a list of culprit foods, none of which I eat. I feel compelled to say this aloud, but like a morbidly obese person ordering a crate full of chicken nuggets, 6 burgers, and a DIET COKE, I know he’ll think I’m not fooling anyone. So, I reframe the statement. “So, I by no means eat excessively healthy, but I really don’t eat those foods you just mentioned.” There it is, in his eyes. The belief that I’m lying to him. He is very kind, and says, “Well, then what types of things do you eat?” I tell him, and he says that those things could be causing it, too. “Let’s cut them out, and I’ll recheck in 4 months.” In my approval-seeking mind, I’m already seeing this like an assignment, a project, one that I need to really need to hit out of the park. And perseverate on, for the next 16 weeks. But, if the average patient doesn’t meet or exceed expectations, then I am bound and determined to be the best. To be the best at cholesterol-reducing. And remembering to shave before my next appointment.

Learning to Laugh.

Sunday was Pickle’s birthday, and some of our family was coming by later that evening for cake, to celebrate. Yes, I’m aware she’s a dog, and not an actual baby. And no, I don’t care. Anyway, I’ve developed a renewed interest in baking, and so, I thought I’d do the whole “cake from scratch” thing. This rapidly proved to be a time-consuming endeavor, one that I feared wouldn’t allow for us to possibly do everything else we needed to, i.e., clean the house, make dinner, shower. Andrew, being the fantastic boyfriend he is, took charge and started cleaning while I desecrated the kitchen with butter and flour. So, with that, I felt like life was once again manageable.

Until approximately 4pm.

At that point, relations in the Baker-Hurlburt household quickly deteriorated. Andy decided to clean the glass screen on our gas fireplace, a job that is utterly filthy, to say the least. Immediately after removing the glass, Pickle darted in, snatched up one of the nuts used to hold it into place, ran and dove under the dining room table, and Andy and I played our usual game of “trap her and dig whatever coveted item she has out of her mouth.” Only, she swallowed it by the time I was able to conduct a finger sweep. Pick-1, Mom/Dad-0. Moving on.

Andy then brought up the mini Shop Vac from the basement, a touchy, irritable machine. It loses suction with the slightest tilt of its body, and is enough to incite rage in the heart of whomever is using it. So, he turns it on, and from the kitchen I hear him muttering, “God, come on. COME ON!” Vacuum off. Shake. Vacuum on. “COME ON, DAMN IT!” Banging. “WHAT THE HELL?! You piece of sh*t!” Vacuum off. Rinse and repeat. Vacuum on. Banging. “COME ON. SUUUUUUUUUUCK, YOU BITCH!!!!” Vacuum off. “Jenn, can you bring me the other vacuum, please?” Ugh, God. Please don’t make me go in there. He’s mad, and I want to laugh, despite my anger at Pickle’s thievery and my expanding mess in the kitchen. In I go, and am trying as quickly as I can to set up the vacuum, and get out. Only, I’m so worked up by trying not to laugh, and to also keep him as even as possible, that I’m fumbling over everything, getting tangled in the cord repeatedly, as I’m trying to put the plastic attachment on the hose. If I was ready to laugh earlier, I am now approaching near hysteria. Please, God, I pray, please don’t let me laugh while he’s so upset. I know how much more irritated I’d be if someone laughed while I was frustrated, and I really don’t want to do that to him.

Luckily, I’m able to escape to the kitchen in enough time to giggle in freedom. I collect myself, and Andy passes through the kitchen, and heads downstairs with the glass piece. I now refocus on the cake, of which I am entering hour five of preparation, and suddenly, it’s just not doable anymore to me. Our kitchen is now covered in dirty pans, bowls and utensils, and I realize I am out of both dishwashing sponges AND dishwasher soap. Come. On. I go to make the frosting, and ineplixcably, when I turn the mixer on to whip the butter, butter flies everywhere, coating the cabinets, counter, my hair, you name it. So, I wade through that fiasco, and then I go to pull the lemon curd that I made out of the fridge, to use as a cake filling. Only. It. Never. Set. And is a soupy, fluid mess. Then I heard a strange noise in the dining room. I turn, and Pickle has DESTROYED the entire Styles section of the Sunday NY Times, into confetti-sized pieces. All over the freshly cleaned floors. Chasing, snatching bits of paper out of her mouth, and general threats of dog murder ensue. Annnd, yahtzee. This was it. The next hour was a blur of cleaning up paper, cake frosting, preparing and baking an eggplant parmesan (which I have no recollection of doing), cleaning the kitchen, and finally, reconvening with Andy, to exhale and have a glass of wine before our guests arrived. And laughing, wonder where the hell everything went so wrong, so quickly. I sheepishly admitted to him how hard it was for me to not laugh when he was so angry earlier, and sensing that he wasn’t taking offense, even venturing to imitate his earlier shenanigans. And we laughed some more. Just like that, an hour of anger and chaos has become this totally hilarious episode, one that is likely to be a good memory, when we think of it in the future. And it just reinforced the importance of learning to laugh at the the bad, the crazy, the ‘Oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-kill-something” moments in life. Because really, how are you ever going to get by, otherwise? And sharing those moments with someone else who is able to laugh at themselves makes it all the sweeter.