This week I am turning 31, which is less of a milestone and more of a "yeah when are you having babies and why are you still single?"-type birthday. However, I've been amazed at how eventful the first year of my 30s has been. Major life things keep happening and my body hasn't shut down and I still have trouble cleaning my room. When I was a kid, I always assumed that by the time you hit 30, you'd have everything figured out. Not long ago in fact, I found a timeline I wrote out, of my future life, written around eighth grade (1996 let's say). It laid out a pretty straight forward life plan: college, then marriage to the cutest boy in school, Greg, then law school, then babies, then the FBI then the presidency at age 35. While literally none of these things happened to me and Greg long ago unfriended me on Facebook so I don't even know where he is these days let alone if he is or is not married to an FBI agent, I guess one could look at my detailed timeline and say: "This girl should be a fiction writer." And that is one of the things I am.
Finding the timeline made me think of the 14-year-old in my life, Hazel, the daughter of my first cousin Erica who is the person I most looked up to my entire childhood/still. I was 16 when Hazel was born so she is the first kid that I have really seen completely go from infant to young adult. Now she is on Facebook and so even though she lives on the East Coast, I get to see and interact with her all the time (one of the only times I will say anything super positive about Facebook so enjoy it). I asked Hazel if she could write me an essay about the way she imagined her life at age 30, for comparison and out of curiosity, to see if 14-year-old girls in 2013 had similar grandiose and romantic ideas about their future. Here's what she had to say:
My Life At 30
When I was younger people would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I probably said fashion designer, teacher, doctor or whatever I wanted to be at that time. And even just last year I still said fashion designer. But now I’m not sure. Fashion designing sounds pretty cool but there’s more than that. I’m at the point in my life when I’ve become obsessed with a hot boy band. Now when I grow up I want to be famous but I blame that on society, TV and internet. I also want to be married to Harry Styles from One Direction. My point is we all have these fantasies that are influenced by social media and whatnot. There are a million girls out there who want to marry a member of One Direction but the likelihood of that happening is slim. We can always dream.
But to get to what I think my life will be like when I’m 30, I honestly couldn’t tell you. In 16 years everything will be different; I’ll be older, I’ll probably have gone through many different obsessions, and who knows, I might even be famous. You could ask any famous person if they ever thought they would be where they are today and they would all say that they couldn’t have anticipated it; they just did what they love and made a career of it. If I’m driven enough I could possibly end up fulfilling my dream but who knows? In reality I’ll be working my butt off at some crappy job. But I hope I’ll at least have a loving family to come home to at the end of the day. I came up with what I want to name my children and what they’ll look like but that probably won’t happen as I want it to either. I want to have two daughters, Charlie Anne (brunette), and Basil Lou (blonde). I know that sounds ridiculous. When I’m 30 I want to be married to Harry Styles and have two daughters. I want to live in England and have a well-paying job as a fashion designer. I want to be happy and do what I love.
If I want all this to be my life when I’m 30, I should start working on it now. What better time to start than the present? My mom knows I want to be famous and married to Harry Styles and she supports it. I want to be a singer or actress but the problem is, I can't write songs and I can't act. But all that will really matter when I’m 30 is that I’m happy with what I have. Hey, dreams become reality one choice at a time.
Here are some things I love about what Hazel wrote: 1. She wrote me an essay. For no other reason than because I asked her to. And she let me share it with the world. 2. Like me she also gave her future imaginary children crazy, romantic names no father would ever agree to. 3. She has pretty insane and specific BIG dreams, which yes, rely heavily on a member of One Direction. But is wanting to be a fashion designer married to Harry Styles really so much different than wanting to be an FBI agent/President of the United States married to Greg? Why not have big dreamy dreams? She's exactly right that all the famous people weren't born knowing it would happen for them. And what she really wants, like any person raised by loving parents in an engaged family, is to be happy.
When I was 13 and 14, I saw the world as a pretty simple place, in a lot of the same ways Hazel does: I believed that if you worked hard and treated people with respect, you could get what you wanted and what you wanted would be what you needed to be happy. If you stood up for what you believed in and did the right thing (meaning, again, treated people with respect and treated yourself with respect), everything would work out okay. In the intervening 16 years of course, things have gotten a bit complicated. I left the nest of happiness and love I grew up in and entered the real world of people who didn't grow up with such love, either from their families or our society. Hungry people, sad people, sick people, hurt people, uneducated people. I learned about money: having it and not having. I learned about getting addicted to things: people and substances and behaviors. I learned about getting your heartbroken, violence, illness, death, sex, magic, hangovers and real extreme happiness. A lot of times the world feels completely chaotic and hard work and kindness seem irrelevant. But still, I wouldn't scoff at the optimistic romanticism of my 14-year-old self or Hazel at 14, because I still feel romantically optimistic a lot of times too.
I think the thing about experiencing all that stuff, the grown-up life stuff that started happening basically the second I turned 15, is that it's helped me go from thinking I need a specific person -- Greg or Harry -- or a specific job -- fashion designer or FBI agent -- or even a baby with a certain name, to understanding that what I want is just to be with my family, whoever they are. People I love who treat me with respect. Which isn't easy but it is possible, hopefully.
So this is all getting a little emo, but what else are birthdays for? And Hazel is right: If I want all this to be my life when I’m 30, I should start working on it now. What better time to start than the present?
I guess we should all start working on the lives we want to have. Right now. Where exactly does one go to train for the FBI? It's not too late for that, right?