Happy b*rthd*y to me

I’m obsessed with dates and numbers. At eleven, it was the Year Two Thousand. What would I be doing then, at 28? I could clearly remember my mother’s 28th birthday. I had notions of striding confidently with a briefcase somewhere, though I wasn’t sure what a briefcase might contain since my teacher parents used oversized schoolbags to carry copybooks for correction.

    ‘I think I might be a scientist,’ I told our neighbor, Seamus Seery.
    ‘What kind of scientist? There are all kinds of different science. Physics? Chemistry?’

This hadn’t occurred to me. I was stumped. 28-year-old me continued to stride through my imagination, not an Air Hostess or a teacher but not quite anything else either, yet. She wasn’t married. God, no. She wouldn’t get married until at least thirty, and then her husband would do the washing up. At 28, she would travel and have love affairs and full bouncy hair. She would live in a flat and wear nice makeup. She would not go to Mass.

The Year Two Thousand was so powerful then that I didn’t think much about thirty, which was less glamorous. The traveling might stop for a while as I puttered in my perfect home and reared my kids. The briefcase would still be there. 30-year-old me would be untroubled by feelings and would not make mistakes.

Zero-birthdays are disconcerting; a summing-up and a beginning. They’re a border to which you bring your papers to be stamped. Ma’am, your figuring-things-out visa has expired. Is everything in order with your love, family, friends, career, spirit, body, home, money? Or do you need to apply for an extension?

Thirty, in particular, is freighted with ‘supposed-tos’ for those who think about such things. Some people take it as a spur to build. They get engaged, start a company, or have babies. Older and younger friends smirk at the burst of activity. Others, like me, tear things down at the sight of that big round zero hurtling down the hill towards us, gathering dread and longing. We’re no longer automatically the youngest in the room. At work, the formless class of ’94 now divides into contenders and schmoes. We slide from mentored to mentor, just as we realize we know nothing at all. We discover a god-shaped hole in lives that are no longer endless. We throw wobblers and chuck out our adult paraphernalia at the thought.

    ‘I can’t believe I have a 30-year-old daughter,’ Mum blurted this morning. Me neither. Unaccountably I am closer to my eleven-year-old self than to the cool Amazon of my early imagination.

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