A Handful of Birthdays

Turning 35, just a month ago yesterday, has turned out to be a much bigger deal than I was expecting it to.

There’s the well-known Patton Oswalt bit from his Werewolves & Lollipops comedy album about the handful of birthdays that you should be allowed to celebrate.

There’s only about 20 birthdays you should be allowed to celebrate. And the others? You’re wasting cake and paper…Here are the 20 you can celebrate: 1 through 9 you get a birthday. Cos you’re a little kid! A little kid gets a birthday. 10, you get a birthday. Now you’re in the double digits. Something’s different…13, you get a birthday. Now you’re a teenager….16 you get a birthday, cos now you can drive…18? Awesome birthday, cos you can buy a gun and vote…When you’re 19, you get a birthday, because it’s your last year as a teenager…When you’re 20, you get a birthday. Any time you enter a new set of tens: 20, 30, 40, 50, you get a birthday. 21, you get an awesome birthday. And then, THAT’S IT. A birthday every ten years. “I’m 26!” Great, go to work. Who gives a shit?”

In a much more self-serious way, my birthdays, for much of my life, were freighted with the knowledge that I was counting them against the years of my mother’s life.

19 when she married my father. Just shy of 23 when I was born. Just shy of 26 when my brother was born. 29 when my sister was born. 31 when she died of breast cancer.

A handful of birthdays.

My own 30th birthday was much harder than I expected it to be. I hadn’t exactly relished my 20s, so I was looking forward to finally shaking that decade off. But I found myself surprised by the sudden, encroaching dread that I was also walking straight into the equivalent of my mother’s last year alive. It felt like I was gearing up for some sort of grim scavenger hunt, or my own personal yearlong perambulation of her Stations of the Cross.

I threw myself a memorable birthday party at a local bar, and the rest of the year actually proceeded with a fairly epic amount of adventure.

I traveled around the country and to Canada, officially dedicated myself to my Buddhist practice, attended numerous concerts, experienced romance and heartbreak, received my first-ever clairvoyant reading (which set in motion my personal path to exploring my own psychic abilities), met my current boyfriend for the first time, and started playing music again.

After all of that, finally hitting 31, the actual age at which my mother died, didn’t feel like quite such a big deal.

32 was its own mild brand of unusual. I’d officially outlived my mother and had no more years of hers to compare myself against. It was like being reborn into my own life, in media res.

But 35 felt suddenly . . . serious. Weighty. Real. But not in any doom-and-gloom kind of way. It was more like taking another step toward embodying my word for 2014—BUILD. Though I hadn’t exactly felt disempowered previously, turning 35 infused me with a palpable sense of empowerment. It suddenly seemed like my ability to make my life into something magical was much more achievable, and much more imperative, than I’d previously allowed myself to believe.