My visions of thirty at twelve were concise and unmoving. Adult. Children. House. Car. Cat. Suburbs of a non-descript town in Ohio. I had always envisioned myself an English teacher. An eternal bookworm, I hid a flashlight under my bed to read during the wee hours, the ‘ungodly’ hours as we called them in my cozy suburb of Akron, Ohio in those days. I imaged that thirty year olds were responsible, that they attended funny cocktail parties in party dresses, sipping on long-stemmed martinis and laughing about adult jokes, in adult-speak. I would have imagined a cake, which I would have baked in my suburban home, and that my husband would have bought me a dozen long-stemmed red roses. And I would blow them out happily, holding his hand in the act.
Never would I have envisioned thirty to be spent in mid-air on my way to Copenhagen. I’m not sure I could have placed Denmark on the map at 12, though I did enjoy geography. I would have situated it somewhere in Europe, perhaps with a bit of mild hesitation around Germany. I choose the age of 12 for the purposes of this comparison because that is when I was no longer biologically a girl. But yet with all of the humor and irony of this comparison, I chose this life, down to the last detail. I fought to be with a man who was from a far-off ‘Northern’ country, despite all of the odds, applied to 10 PhD programs across the last 5 years, was desperate to live in a big, international city after having resided abroad for so many years and in, what I thought then was a unrelenting need to be cosmopolitan and not suburban. Anything but suburban. Death over suburban. It turns out, that I am more and more okay with the thought of it now. Whenever I return home to the once-misunderstood suburbs of Ohio after a stint away, I am taken aback to how peaceful it feels. There are weak moments when I long to jump into a car, another very decisive move I made when returning to the US. I would have no car, walk everywhere, carry on what I perceived as the ‘good’ practices acquired as an expat. Now, I’d like to sit in a car, feel the breeze in my hair, sing aloud to a pop song or two. It seems that my twenties were a process of letting go, distancing, forming a strong sense of self and an identity. It appears my thirties will be one of openness, embracing origins, returning ‘home.’
My twenties were also a decade in which I separated from my parents. With an extremely close relationship to both mother and father, I would rely on them for moments of uncertainty, help ‘figuring things out,’ a comfort phone call, a pep talk, a tight squeeze. One thing that I can say about my 12 year-old visions which is very real, is that fact that I am now an adult. I call the shots now. My parents can certainly give advice, but my adult experience is so inherently different than theirs was. They have no idea how to council a budding academic. Don’t know what to say when a problem might arise in the teaching of students. They can’t tell me to ‘study hard,’ because they know that I might even study too hard. Don’t know which journals I should publish in, how I should form my dissertation committee, which conferences I should attend. Those are my worries now. And it feels good. Although their wisdom runs deep and I am certain they can continue to teach me a lot about life, aging, child-rearing and a whole slew of other gems, I feel a greater sense of independence now than ever. Their voices fade into the background and mine grows stronger. It’s a voice that needed some coaxing to come out of its shell. To sing. This is, after all, the soundtrack of my life. It’s important that I be the protagonist.
Returning to my envisioned childhood sense of 30, it would appear that I am in fact married. Though marriage is not perfect. It is a partnership that involves a lot of discussions, a number of long hard talks, compromise and some major tongue holding. But is also a thing of beauty, a calm, deep-seeded strength amidst the chaos of life. It is companionship, council, friendship, love and what is probably the deepest personal relationship one might have in his/her adult life. But again, it is a process and a thing to be nurtured daily and not forgotten about. It is more than a romantic dinner date with a glass of merlot, the aforementioned long-stemmed roses and some pretty words. It can be that too, but only sometimes. And often more than sometimes, if you are lucky.
So, it would appear that I do not live in the suburbs. I’m okay with that. Washington D.C treats me and my desired 30 something lifestyle just perfectly, thanks. Is that to say that when I finish the Ph.D. and look for a place to raise a family that I might not apply to tenure-track positions in cozy mid-Western colleges? No. I’d love to. In due time I’d also like to have a car. Hell, make it a mini-van. Bring it on! I’d also like little ones; in fact I can’t envision a ‘long-run’ without them. I do feel that a Dr. Musings would be far more capable of raising them than a 3rd year Ph.D. student (with all the work, stress and lack of money that entails) Ms. Musings. So, it looks like I’ll be waiting at least another 2.5 years. It is good to think that I won’t be a grad student taking classes after 30 ½. I’m done with all classes related to the doctorate in June. Then there’s just the dissertation. You know, that little thing.
I do love my apartment, but I think I’d also like to have that aforementioned house within the next 5 years. I’d like a bit more ‘land’ than the downtown 1-bedroom can accommodate. At the same time, I can’t imagine straying too far from an urban center. To be within an hour from a mid-sized city sounds just about right to me. Close enough for a potential drive to see a play, far enough away to not fight the traffic.
And yet, when I reflect on these last thirty years (as I suppose we all do this year, or next (for those 82ers) or in the following couple of years), there are certainly things I’d like to tweak about the following 30. And there are others which I unabashedly love. My job, the international aspect of my life, my dedicated husband who does not cringe at my hyper-stressed-end-of-the-semester self, my friends, my family. Other tid-bits need a bit of work. I’m sure at 40 I’ll be thinking the same thing; they’ll just be different tid-bits.
Speaking of which, it might be interesting to envision the turning of the next decade. So, I imagine myself even MORE of an adult (ha!), in a house, in the suburbs, a couple of kids, a cat, as tenured professor at a local college or university. Hold on. Beyond the exact parameters of the profession, this is looking pretty similar to my 12-year-old vision of 30! Perhaps we’ll always envision our future self as one that has all of her ducks in a row, all in order, all stable and pretty and nice.
That said the difference now is that that I am okay with a more fluid version of this vision. Maybe the Swede and I will still live IN a city. Maybe I will not be able to have children and will adopt a couple. Maybe I will have a hamster because one of the kids is allergic to cats. Maybe I will be working as a language analyst at some high-powered company and transition out of academics (I hope not and do not foresee this but the academic job market is a bit rough these days). Maybe the Swede will land an amazing opportunity in Asia and will be there with two half-American, half-Swedish kids running around speaking Mandarin. Given the current deviation from my 12-year-old visualization, it seems just about anything is possible.
The point is, as you age you become more open to both your past and the unknown, to the ambiguous in-between spaces that life opens up for you. To the adventures that are had when you stop planning. To serendipity, to fate, to the often cruel but sometimes poetic justice which is life. At any rate, kiddos. It’s late. I’m jetlagged and I need to finish up a paper (yes, I’m STILL writing on the 18th of December) by Monday.
With love from Sweden,