Birthdays have never been a huge deal for me, and in some ways I dread them.
When I was younger they always meant my two best friends coming over, swimming until we were sunburned and pruney, and “Happy Birthday” with polka dotted candles. I was always happy to receive school supplies and new backpacks or lunch boxes as gifts (thanks to growing up with a teacher for a mother), and it always ended with a barbecue.
It’s odd to think back to those days, to look at old photographs of little Elizabeth posing beside birthday cakes reflecting my favorite things; flip flops, butterflies, yellow icing spelling out my name in cursive.
Growing up on a farm, everything was constantly in motion. It was loud, busy, hay being thrown in the fields, corn being cut down, my mother yelling at us to constantly “stay out of the driveway!” when customers and tractors and mac trucks hauling sawdust were seen driving down the driveway. It was rare when things were quiet, the horses weren’t stomping their feet for sugar cubes, my brother wasn’t driving up and down the compost piles on the four wheeler, us kids weren’t stealing spray paint from the shop to decorate our latest wooden swords.
I loved that on my birthday, always at 5:00pm, life kind of stopped for a little while. For about an hour the farm was quiet aside from “Are you 1, are you 2?” It was all my time, the greatest gift of all.
Throughout the years that excitement kind of left. Maybe it does for anyone, that fear of getting older gets greater, the realization that I still have so much I want to accomplish on my life list that’s left unchecked. I thought that I’d have done more by now; loved more, been more adventurous, felt more alive.
I think that it’s really difficult to live up the expectations that you set for yourself when you’re a child. It’s so easy at 8 years old to say, “when I’m 25 I’ll be…” and honestly feel in your heart that there’s absolutely nothing that could possibly happen to change those plans. “Heartbreak, what’s that? Illness; that’ll never happen to me. Financial difficulties? No way. I’ll obviously be married to someone who looks a lot like my Ken Barbie doll and is also a millionaire.” I can’t go back and remember my exact thoughts when I was that age, but I’m sure those are fairly accurate.
Now my birthdays are a lot different. I’m happy as long as somebody takes me to the ocean and feeds me watermelon. I don’t like cake, and can usually convince my grandmother to make me blueberry pie if I ask her sweetly enough. I don’t like presents, they make me uncomfortable. I still want to swim until I’m pruney, be in the sun until I’m sunburned, end the day with a barbecue. I’d prefer to skip the “Are you 1, are you 2’s..” now though.
I don’t feel like I’m old, but I do feel like I’ve let down my younger self who thought without a doubt that I’d have lived a lot more by now. Sometimes I feel trapped here, like I’m suffocating in this city that I wished I had left a long time ago, even for just a little while.
It’s not that I’m not happy, because I am. I’m happy with my career and who I am. I don’t feel like I’ve grown to be someone that my parents and grandparents are disappointed in. I feel like I hold myself to high standards, put my heart into everything that I do, go out of my comfort zone more than I ever used to. I feel like I’m independent, which has always been huge for me; I don’t ever want to feel like I have to rely on another person to survive. I laugh way too much at myself, I watch silly movies, have close friends that I adore, sing off key at concerts until I lose my voice, dance under the stars in sundresses at 2am after drinking way too much wine. I feel like that’s living.
I just hope that in another 25 years I don’t look back at myself now and get disappointed in the expectations I have for myself. I want to have traveled, I want to be married, have had children. I want to still love teaching, sweet tea, and music. I don’t want to ever lose sight of who I am or what I love. I don’t want to ever be that person who changes themselves for anyone. I want to have people believe that I’m a wonderful person and mother, I want to be involved in people’s lives, be someone that another person is proud of. I hope that when people describe me they can say that I’m happy, kind, alive. I hope that I’m no longer associating myself with people who make me feel terrible about myself, who make me believe that I’m not enough. I hope that I have an amazing relationship with my family and that I’ve shown those closest to me that I trust them and how much I love them. I want to be so happy. More than anything I want to be proud of what I’ve accomplished.
I don’t want to ever say, “If I could have…” ever again. Or “Someday I will..”, or “if I had enough time I would..” Because I might not have a someday, and I’ll certainly never have infinity, but I do have right now. I have these moments and that’s pretty amazing.
I guess 25 really isn’t that bad.