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30th Birthday! A different kind of celebration of self

June 20, 2012

There are those milestone birthdays where one is expected to have a large party with as many of your “best” friends as can fit in a single venue, and (if you’re old enough), drink copious amounts of alcohol, or maybe take a big vacation. But my big birthdays have usually been a little different…

I did have a big pool party when I turned 10, Little Mermaid themed. Probably one of my largest birthday parties ever, with about 30 or so little girls from my school.

13, when a pre-teen finally becomes a teenager. I have to think for a moment to remember my 13th birthday…oh right, on the birthday when I was celebrating “growing up,” I excitedly attended the premiere of Disney’s Pocahontas at the fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta.

16? Sweet sixteen (or 15 in some cultures), the age to throw a big fancy party, second only to a wedding in the life of a young woman. I went out to dinner with my parents on my 16th to our favorite local, family-owned restaurant. That was my typical birthday celebration: a celebration of family, with my mom’s birthday being the day after mine, and Father’s Day around that time, too. I remember seeing a rainbow as we were coming home from dinner.

20 was a special birthday for me; I was on a study abroad trip to France. I celebrated the end of my teen years all summer with travel, new-found independence, and moderate amounts of French wine.

21! Finally! Now I could legally drink in the United States! So of course I had a big night on the town…with ice cream, in the dry Mormon college town of Provo, Utah. I was at Brigham Young University  for a week-long summer ballroom dance camp, a birthday trip to celebrate one of my passions. My first drink (ok, first legal drink) in the U.S. was a glass of wine at the Salt Lake City airport, kindly bought by a fellow ballroom dancer I had met at the workshop.

The twenties. The doldrums of birthdays. One year rolls ever more rapidly into the next, marked by happy hours, job changes, relationship changes…these soon become the milestones by which you measure your life, instead of that special day on the calendar. “Oh, that was when I worked there;” “That was when I was dating so-and-so.” “What do you do?” becomes the social question of individual definition, instead of the “How old are you?” question that had been so important at the pool as a kid.

So I arrived, all too quickly, at 29. OMG! The last year of my twenties! Start panicking! And I certainly did, for a while. I didn’t like my job, I felt like my career was going nowhere. Relationships were short-lived or not present. Nearly midway through age 29 (already in my 30th year), I began some serious self-reflection. What did I want more of in my life? What did I want to spend less time doing?

In short, those reflections continued for the next six months, instigating and facilitating some major life changes. I changed jobs – changed careers – leaving the non-profit/political/communications/small business world to pursue my passion for the arts: dance, theater, photography. I got back into dancing and performing through some amazing opportunities that appeared at exactly the right time – when I was open to and ready for them. I began working at a café, playing the role of “starving artist,” but with free coffee and food. I started yoga, getting back in touch with my spiritual side, and transformed some long-held bad habits into better, more energizing sleeping and eating patterns.

With my 30th birthday close on the horizon, and my life in transformation, when Mom and Dad asked if I wanted to come home to Georgia for a big family reunion, I was happy to come. When they told me it was on the day of my birthday, I hesitated briefly. What did I want? I thought I had always wanted a big celebration with 50 of my closest friends at a big bar with a big dance floor. Or maybe a house party with about 30 of my friends.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that being with my parents, my aunts and uncles, meeting “long-lost” aunts and uncles and cousins I didn’t even know I had – this seemed more important than a big, alcohol-infused party. It had been about a decade since I celebrated my birthday with my family, and that was the celebrating I remembered the most growing up.

So that was how I came to spend my 30th birthday celebrating with 30 family members. There would be plenty of time for summer revelry back in DC – this family reunion was only for one day, and who knows how many more years we get with our parents and relatives of their generation? (Or with anyone, for that matter.)

Delicious and abundant food was happily eaten. I listened to stories (some I had heard before, and some new) from my uncles and aunts and parents. Wine was drunk. Children were amused and spoiled. Pictures were taken, old pictures happily examined. New connections were made with cousins, and old family ties strengthened. An unforgettable birthday. (Much more memorable than yet another happy hour.)

Sometimes, you want to look to the past, hear stories of who came before you, what was important to your parents and their generation. Sometimes, you need to slow down, to think about and focus on what’s really important to you, and how to spend more energy on that. Reconnecting with family, with my family’s past, I found that I reconnected with myself, in a grander and more authentic celebration of self than anything else I could have possibly planned.

(But you’re still welcome to buy me a belated milestone birthday treat if you’d like!) 😉


One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 10:07 am

    Happy belated if I have missed it! I will say, that about 6 months into being 29, I was at that emotionally panicked state. Then I realized, I am going to get as old as I am going get anyhow, so I may as well chill and set out to do the things I want and not worry about a time table…then once I turned 30, it was like “I’m REALLY cool as ____ now!!!”…

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