As I approach my 21st birthday next Thursday, I’m realizing I’m already feeling signs of getting older. Not like 21 is a magical number — I’m no different this week (or, for that matter, 6 months ago) than I will be next week, except that I will somehow magically be recognized as “mature” enough to legally consume alcohol. But I’m just realizing that something my dad told me once has some truth behind it: 21 is the last age you really look forward to turning. It’s a little bleak, but when you think about it, no one particularly enjoys saying they’re 50, or even 30, even if they don’t act or look “old.” It seems like there’s just a stigma with getting older that occurs sometime between 22-29 that makes birthdays seem more like something to dread than to be excited for.
I remember as a kid when every birthday was amazing; I had a countdown to it on my calendar for months. Probably because my birthday was an extravaganza in the Ring household. I usually had my “kid party” on a family-friendly weekend if my real birthday didn’t fall on one, so that extended the celebration into two days. I had mountains of presents from friends and family. My mom would organize games and prizes and activities for the guests. The entire house would be decorated in the theme I’d chosen that year, and it ranged from unicorns to Spongebob. I’m not saying I ever had one of those outrageous kid parties, but my family made sure I always had a good time. So, I came to feel that my birthday was the best day of the year to me. Better than Christmas even. I always loved having an excuse to just be happy and have fun with everyone I liked — Plus, everyone had to be nice to me, or else they were just jerks.
Last year was the first birthday that it really seemed like just another day. I didn’t get the day off from work (first sign of being a “big girl”). No one there remembered that it was my birthday, either, so no one wished me it. I almost forgot it was my favorite day of the year the entire time I was there. (And I don’t care how selfish that sounds — I enjoy my birthday, dammit.)
After work, my mom surprised me with a giantÂ smorgasbordÂ and presents she had delivered to my door, which was aÂ monumental gesture thatÂ made my whole day. But after that, my boyfriend and I went out for a quiet dinner and ate the cake my mom sent.Â That was about it. No pony. No bouncy castle. No “Happy Birthday” song. In a way, it was a sad indication of a departure from my childhood. But in another way, it was oddly exactly what I wanted — A relaxing day where I could be inherently happy just because it was June 23. No excuses. I guess I should make more days that way. I’ll add it to my to-do list.
A year later, I’m thinking about how the maturity of my last birthday was an indication of the rest of my year. By no means am I complaining that I’m getting old; I know I’m still very young. I’m just amazed by these changes because I’ve never experienced this strange phenomenon of aging outside of my childhood and teenage years, when getting another year older was different. It was all about cake and presents. Here are some of the reasons from the past year that have made me decide I’m growing up.
- I bought my first welcome mat yesterday. This might not seem like anything to you, but to me, it felt like a rite of passage. I have a place to welcome people to. My welcome mat may sit uselessly in the hallway of an apartment building outside of a studio apartment that hardly sees any visitors, but it’s my welcome mat at my apartment. The fact that I think this way about it seems like a sign of maturation … or maybe just a sign that I’m really lame and need to get a life. I prefer the former, but you can decide for yourself.
- I have acquired a taste for stores like Lowes, Pier 1, and other home interior outlets. I remember when I was a kid and my family would make the two hour drive to get to the nearest mall. I always got so excited to get out of town for a day or two, but I dreaded the inevitable trip to Menard’s. Up until about a year ago, it was a dreadful experience to me — the most boring place in the world. Now, the possibilities there are endless. I talk about decorations and improvements I could make to my little apartment. I have day projects. I spend money on decorations.Â HowÂ has this happened?!
- My palette has greatly expanded. I used to be a semi picky kid. I didn’t like vegetables or fish or other yucky stuff. But since my high school years, my taste in foods has steadily expanded. I’d now consider myself to be the opposite of picky. Whatever that is. A lardy? Anyway, if there’s food in front of me, even if I’m not particularly the biggest fan, I’ll eat it and enjoy it. (Unless there happens to be a crusty food chunk leftover on my plate/glass/utensil — MAJOR pet peeve — can’t touch it after that.) I like almost everything, with the strict exceptions of Greek food that includes feta cheese and kalamata olives. Being open to a wide variety of foods is a sign of maturity, right? Either that or it’s just a warning sign to myself that I’ll eat pretty much anything, since soon I won’t be able to depend on my metabolism anymore to keep it from catching up with me.
- I hit 20 and fell apart. I guess my first cavity happened when I was 18, not 20, but that was a sign of the things to come. Last summer, I started having stomach pains every time I ate. I went to the doctor, who told me my colon was in the wrong spot and made me endure a whole day of worrying what the heck that would mean for the rest of my life before I came back the next day and they told me they read the X-ray wrong. I never did figure out what exactly was wrong with me, but I never got any better either. In the past year, I caught almost every cold that oozed its way around UND’s campus. My hips, knees, and ankles now hurt when I run — I got shin splints from walking my boyfriend’s dog. I could keep theÂ chiropractorÂ in business, but I’ve learned to crack most of my issues myself (not good, I know). My fingernails, which were always strong and grew fine, started getting brittle and peeling. I’ve probably developed multiple ulcers from stressing out and worrying too much. And then I start worrying about that … It’s a vicious cycle. I see what people mean when they say things stop working as you get older — What the heck am I going to be like when I’m 50?
- I’m tired — Always. I never took a nap as a child. Ever. I still can hardly ever nap during the day unless I’m really sick. Because of this, I’ve become a die-hard caffeine addict. I can’t function without coffee, and I usually need another cup or a jolt of soda for an afternoon pick-me-up. I know it’s cliche, but I now strongly believe in the saying “I wish I could take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was little.” Yet, I never go to bed early. I’m always up late doing either really stupid or really productive things. That’s got to be a sign that my tastes aren’t getting too mature for my age yet.