Monday, May 31, 2010

In Celebration of Four Decades

I haven't ever really feared the big 4-0, as some do. Throughout my life, so many of my friends have been older than me that I've always viewed the next big milestone birthday as sort of like joining an exclusive club. It's just that this particular club seems to be a big one, an important one for some reason.

I remember my parents turning forty. Of course, they started the family thing at a younger age than I did, so when they turned forty, one kid (me) was away at college and the other kid was just finishing up high school. My kids are thirteen and ten. I'm not sure if there is an advantage, either way.

Forty used to sound old to me, until I started teaching high school at age twenty-two. My colleagues ranged from their twenties to their sixties, and none of them seemed especially old, once I began to get to know them. From the conversations in the teachers' lounge, I could tell they were still very sharp, fun-loving people. Age began to matter less to me then. If anything, my extreme youth was a disadvantage in that profession. I was the young pup who, although full of enthusiasm and energy, really knew nothing. I couldn't even walk down the halls of the school without getting stopped by security to show my hall pass.

So, no, I don't fear the 4-0, or any of the other numbers ending in zero, either. I don't fear the grey or the wrinkles*, either. I'm just progressing through the life that God has set before me. I hope I am living it well. I hope I will continue to learn and grow. I hope I will never settle for less than what God has for me and will continue to pursue Him with all my heart.

A review of the milestone birthdays in my life (the ones that I recall, at least):

Ten: I think I spent my double-digits birthday partying like any self-respecting central Michigan ten year old--a trip to an ice cream parlor with all my friends for one of those huge ice cream sundaes that everyone shares. I think it was called "The Trough" or something grandiose like that. After ice cream, we went to the park and played at "The Fort" (a huge playground structure known by every kid in a ten mile radius by just this simple name) and combed the stream for crawdads and the like.

Thirteen: I was a new kid at school in a new place (Long Beach, CA), in a totally different culture and was having a hard time adjusting. I spent much of the seventh grade in tears, as I recall. No strong memories of that birthday.

Sixteen: My family and friends surprised me with a huge party at my house this year. I think my family took me out to dinner while my friends let themselves into our house and set everything up. It was a rocking good time, and the awkwardness of moving to So. Cal. had clearly worn off by then. I think (can't be certain, you'd think it would be a more important memory for me) that I got my first real kiss that night, after the party. Sweet Sixteen and all that. I guess by cultural standards, I was a late bloomer.

Eighteen: I remember we went out to a nice dinner as a family (plus boyfriend?) at Bobby McGees, but I think the bigger deal was that I got to choose the family vacation that year. I decided we would go back to Michigan for a visit and got to see all my childhood friends and memories all over again. It was great. I probably also had a pool party with my friends that year, as that year we moved into a house with a pool. There are quite a few family photos that show me being thrown into the pool fully clothed, so this birthday was probably one of them.

Twenty: I was a college student, laughing a lot and trying to keep my grades up. School would have just let out then, and I was packing up to head to Pennsylvania for the summer to work at a summer camp in the Poconos for Philadelphia's inner-city kids. There, I would meet the last of the guys I now refer to as my "old boyfriends." When I returned, I would have a new passion for working with teenagers and go on staff at my church as the Jr. High Director, their first woman on pastoral staff. Don't really recall the birthday, though.

Twenty-five: By this time, I'd met Andy, dated him, completed my student-teaching (half of which took place in the highlands of Papua New Guinea), been married almost three years, and was just finishing up another year of teaching. I don't remember much about my birthday that year either (never have made a big deal about birthdays as an adult), but I know we were in the midst of preparing for our big move from So. Cal. to Vancouver, Washington at that time. What a life-changer that was. I'm sure my mom took me out shopping for something new to wear. She was always good about that, in my adult years when we've lived near one another. Shopping at the mall, with a Cinnabon and probably some Taco Bell before the day is over--that was her tradition for my birthday.

Thirty: My, how time flies. At my thirtieth birthday, I'd lived in suburban Washington State for five years and had two children. I think for my birthday that year, Andy took me to see a Cirque de Soliel spin-off that was touring through Portland that weekend. I remember that night clearly because it was really the first time I'd been out since my daughter had been born six weeks before. She and I had a difficult ride and I'd lost a tremendous amount of blood during delivery. I'd opted not to accept the blood transfusion they offered me, worried about the risks involved, and chose to just rebuild my blood supply with rest and iron supplements. It was a slow process with a needy toddler and a not-so-healthy-or-happy newborn, and by my birthday, six weeks later, I remember I was still so very weak. I remember having to lean on Andy's arm to walk that night, and having a really wonderful time, but being sooo exhausted by the time the event was over. It was a rough time in my life, and I didn't even know that the worst was still yet to come--a year and a half of deep depression would make its grand entrance by the same time the next year. I'm grateful to have survived, thanks to a gracious God who had set me up with supportive family and friends.

Thirty-five: By this birthday, my life had changed drastically again. I had moved to rural Montana the year before and was starting to get my footing, make some friends, and create a new life there. My kids were eight and five, and I still felt like one of the "young moms."

Forty: So here I am. I'm a homeschool mom in rural Montana, and after six years I feel settled and very at home here. Last night, three families of friends came over and we supped together by the campfire, telling funny stories, singing silly songs and laughing into the night. It was great. Tonight we will go into Missoula for some Mongolian BBQ--yummy. I love my life right now. I'm growing and learning and stretching. It's not always an easy life. I have a tiny kitchen and drive a crappy car, but I have flowers in the flower beds and veggies in the green house and good books to read. I have a hard-working husband finishing up the room above his shop to use as my photography gallery. My latest batch of photos is ready to bring back from the printer's to frame and put up on the walls for the big studio tour I am a part of this coming weekend. I am feeling the stirring to write again--and I might just take it seriously this time. I have great friends, both near and far, and children who take my breath away and I teach them myself at home. I live with my sweet father-in-law, who is so willing to help out with anything I need, and my own parents are still very much alive, enjoying the new adventure of their recent move to Texas. My life is often chaotic and my future is up in the air from week to week, it seems, and there are plenty of little imperfections here and there, but really, I am content. I am grateful. I am truly blessed.

Happy birthday, indeed.

*incidentally, they aren't to be called 'wrinkles,' they are 'storylines.' I wrote a children's book by this name a few years ago and really need to dust it off, give it another round of editing and send it out to a few more publishing houses. I really like it.


Anonymous said...

Yea for my dearly beloved daughter, who is truly a delight to me!

Sherry, I noticed on our phone visit last night, that something in you sounded different--content with your life, at peace with your world, and obviously a joyful spirit within you.

This is a really good post, so enjoyable for me to read your synopsis of memories.

Happy Birthday, darling daughter!
Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Sherry. I hope you have a great one.

Connie Stillings

Anonymous said...

Lots of memories for you and for us too. We love you and are very proud of the beautiful daughter you are. We could tell from the beginning that you were special. Just didn't know how special you would grow to be.
Love you,

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Sherry. Loved reading your post today. You are a blessing to so many. May God continue to bless you and your family. We hope to make it out your way one of these days! Hugs to you.
-Stephanie Hagen

Mister Ed T said...

Happy Birthday! Perspective: you are two-thirds my age. When you are my age you will be two thirds my age! When I was your age you were half my age. You know what I mean.
They are only numbers.

Mister Ed T said...

Oops, the second "two-thirds" should be "three-quarters."

Scott Lyons said...

Happy Birthday, ye Olde Farte!

alison said...

Happy Birthday! I have relished saying "39" when asked time after time in the last 48 hours, but I'll be joining you soon.

I'm happy for where you are.