on birthdays

I started today as a verifiable bucket of angst. Birthdays haven’t really done it for me since I left childhood. As an October baby, I was perpetually starting new schools and awkwardly trying to figure out whether it was even appropriate to bring up my special day with people I’d only known for a few weeks. Moreover, I’ve had some truly depressing birthdays as an adult. Awkward, tenuous college friendships often led to strained and uncomfortable birthday dinners, with a culminating low my senior year when everyone had midterms and blew me off on my 21st birthday, leaving me to eat candy for dinner and cry in my room (wow that sounds really grim- the following weekend I went to the Cape with my best friend and had an amazing time, I’m being very woe-is-me to illustrate my grimness earlier today).

It’s just, getting older is just… getting old, once you’ve gotten the legal ability to do the exciting things (drive, vote, drink, etc.) And getting old is sad- that sounds terrible, but hear me out. When you’re a real adult, you realize every single decision you make, even when you’re choosing something good and exciting, means giving up something else… that’s also really good. Choosing graduate school, which has brought me so much joy and learning, meant giving up making money and a meaningful job, and watching my savings hemorrhage. Having someone I love, who I can imagine marrying and having babies with, means having to decide where to live (and since we’ve departed the era where you stayed within 30 miles of your birthplace for your whole life, that’s a real drag when you both have families you love). Choose one place and its opportunities and advantages, mourn the place you can’t choose. Self care, too: trying to take care of my body and sanity means not being skinny. Accepting my introverted self means disappointing people who want to go out and turning down opportunities for fun and youthful irresponsibility on days when I know I need to lay low.

All that being said, I had lunch with my dear friend Andrea, who I’ve known since the summer after freshman year of high school. She was also in a mood, and it was so nice to have an ally/advisor in this Me vs. Adulthood war. Also, I tend to be a hippie about things I see over and over, and thus far in the past four days I have run into SO MANY PEOPLE who represent virtually every major life experience, paid or otherwise, I’ve had thus far in my time in North Carolina.

Friday: at the coffee shop where I was doing a health behavior assignment, one of my classmates from the Nutrition Through the Lifespan class, and my wonderful professor Carmen who taught us motivational interviewing. At the Tex-Mex place where we got dinner, one of my coworkers from Early Head Start (which was nice but bizarre, taking me back to a really difficult time in my life), and the director of the planetarium where I used to work (who, as when I worked at the planetarium, did not recognize me)

Saturday: at the Bluegrass Festival in downtown Raleigh, one of my favorite classmates and her husband, and a nice dorky computer scientist with whom I collaborated on a project while at the planetarium who had a very enthusiastic chat about rock climbing with Steve

Monday: at Weaver Street Market (where I’m pluggin’ away on a take home test right now), my coworker from the summer camp I ran through the planetarium (and her boss from the partner organization, which is slightly awkward, since they offered me a job at their organization and I turned it down because I was nervous about having a lot of school work), and then my awesome advisor and then another classmate from my Nutrition Through the Lifespan class, and then the teaching assistant for my health behavior class

And this excludes the conscious interactions I’ve had during that time (hanging out with my roommate, boyfriend, and friends doing various activities like scary movie viewing, delicious brunch, playing with chubby babies, ambling through Duke Gardens, and more). And all of these interactions I’ve had have been… positive. Really positive, actually. There is definitely something to be said for the South, a region where people are actually excited to run into you and up for a nice long chat in the grocery line. There’s something to be said that I left behind my old demon boss in Virginia and now anyone I run into from a previous position I am actually… excited to see! I’ve had positive professional experiences here through which I’ve made really nice connections! And I have good, fun, interesting friends! Yes, Steve and I had a draining conversation about how we could make decisions about where to live someday (and how to live, and who to visit when) but it was also a conversation rooted in really good listening and empathy. Based on the fact that we love each other and can more and more imagine a happy life together but also both have awesome families who we love.

So, as I turn 26 (bleh. Don’t let the previous paragraphs convince you I’ve now attained enlightenment, it’s still kind of a bummer) I am going to be really conscious and grateful for this web in which I find myself situated. On an occasion that I think is too often wrapped up in glorifying the individual, I am choosing to largely disregard that (except for the cake, on which I already got a head start on this birthday eve!) and instead raise a glass to this pond in which little fish me is swimming.

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