I am standing in the nail salon staring blankly at the seemingly massive range of colors to choose from. There are dramatic reds and flirty purples and cute pinks and demure soft pinks and those super sparkly ones. There are the fluorescent ones that I imagine you choose if you want to pretend you are a tween or if you actually are a tween. There is the tasteful mauve-ish color my mother would’ve chosen. It is the kind of color that says, “I am a grown up. I know how to do this. You can tell by my toe nail polish color choice.”
The only thing worse than choosing any of these colors is not knowing which one to choose. In a moment of fleeting panic I choose some sort of dark color. It’s not black. I don’t want to pretend I’m moody. It is sort of brownish/gray. I guess it is bray. Or grown. It is called “Over the Taupe” which is like the nail salon’s version of a lame dad joke but either way it’s kind of funny when you are four days shy of 39 so I chuckle to myself. The pedicurist looks at me suspiciously as if I’ve been day drinking. I bury myself in my phone, embarrassed.
I am in the homestretch of my 30s and while I could never have predicted how this decade would have unfolded, I certainly would have thought I would have known more about me as I approach the final lap of it. I preceded my trip to the nail salon with a panic attack at Starbucks when I didn’t know whether or not to put half and half or nonfat milk in my coffee. Half and half makes coffee taste good. Skim milk makes coffee taste bad. But if you want to be healthy you choose the skim milk. But life is too short to do anything other than drink quality cups of coffee. So which one am I today? The healthy me or the carpe diem me? Shouldn’t I know? Does everyone else?
I remember my 30th birthday very well. It was one of those crystal clear days that September seems so generous with. I had been married for one year. I was pregnant with my first child. I did not know if it was a boy or a girl. I lived in a 500 square foot apartment in New York. The world felt like one big ball of possibility. At the start of my 30s, the not knowing felt like a gift rather than an existential crisis.
On my 30th birthday my mother visited me in the city and we spent the day together. We went to see a Broadway show and ate dinner at the Italian place near my apartment which made me a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that I basically grew my first child on. She gave me an electric toothbrush as a present. It was the kind of gift that sort of felt like it came with the headline, “Shits about to get real.”
It was the kind gift that seemed to say, soon you will completely surrender your needs to someone else and this is good and natural but hard and there will be bills and houses and clogged toilets. There will be grocery shopping and marriage that isn’t new and shiny anymore. Also, your gums will become inflamed because this is a very adultish kind of problem. You will need this electric toothbrush. Here, trust me. All of it will be hard but just take this toothbrush and even though you don’t know how to use it or how to handle any of it, you will. This is what your 30s are for. They are for learning how and why and when to use these things. They are for learning how to adult.
And honestly, all of it was. It still is. It’s all just very Over the Taupe.
As I write this I’m listening to that Chainsmokers song, Closer, play on repeat. “We ain’t ever getting older,” they croon. I can’t help but laugh. Clearly the people singing this song can’t be older than like, 25. No one has ever given them an electric toothbrush as a present. Perhaps when they do, they will write the follow up to this song, Farther, that will include the lyrics, “we are really getting older.”
I squint at my reflection in the driver side window as I leave the salon. I’ve got lines running through my face. Not a ton, but I can’t deny that I look more weathered than I did when I started this decade. I should stop drinking diet Snapple. And get that mole on my back removed. And do yoga. And work on my core and my first novel at night. I realize that the slippery danger of your 30s is nearly choking yourself to death on the shoulds of who you are supposed to be as an adult, until you find that you cannot breathe.
For a reason that escapes me I can’t seem to coordinate my own dinner plans for my birthday. I am almost 39 and I can’t manage a single dinner reservation. I know that my mother with her mauve-ish polish color was planning my father’s 40th at this age. She ordered one of those oversized grinders and planned a wonderful surprise party for him. All of the women had on dresses and all of the men had on khakis and collared shirts and someone gave him a roll of toilet paper with jokes on it that I didn’t understand when I was six but assumed it made sense if you were 40 or almost 40. They were so grown up. I wonder if I will ever arrive at a place in my life where I get the jokes on the toilet paper roll. Was my mother in on this joke? Did she ever actually inhabit adulthood, or was she just better at faking it?
I still do not understand gag toilet paper. But here is what I know so far.
In the first nine years of 30, I’ve become a mother and lost a mother. I had 3 children. I moved 4 times. I bought a house. I started a blog. The whole world accidentally read something I spent about 18 minutes writing. I thought that it would be a rush to have everyone read something I wrote. But instead I hid, literally, under a blanket in my house. I did not answer the phone. I was afraid. And mostly I was surprised by how naturally and instinctively that response was born out of circumstance. Actually owning my own emotions has sort of proved to be the most adult thing I’ve done to date.
People are instinctively drawn to and cannot hide from truth. They are compelled to honor it when they see it and speak it when it bubbles up. Fighting and hiding your truth is very, very tiring and being someone’s parent is tiring enough and so I don’t have time to do two tiring things at once. Also, as most of you already know, I am very bad at multitasking. For safety’s sake, I think it makes sense if we’re all just honest with each other.
I’m going to spend my approaching 39th embracing something I have fought my entire life, the idea that I am bad at the knowing and I am actually good at not knowing stuff. Like I could be a professional not knower. All people who do not know how they like their coffee, I will be your fearless leader! That perhaps my personal quest on this earth is to embrace indecision and to never fit in one box or space or group or dinner reservation or color or even if I do, not know which one that is. Maybe that’s okay.
Lastly, gum care.
This shit is important.
Get the electric toothbrush people. After all, we are getting older.