Reflections on life at thirty

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,

Ms. M



6 thoughts on “Reflections on life at thirty

  1. Ah, yes, the reflective turning-thirty post 😉 Reading this, it turns out you and I probably had way more in common when we were back in school than I realized. Friends better late than never, no?

    “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.” — This I can certainly identify with. My relationship with my parents was tricky through high-school and most of my twenties. It was only within the past two years that I have truly figured out who I am and what I want. That voice now sings loud and clear and it is that voice I listen to. It was a slow progression to be sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    And with that, happy birthday my dear! And happy Christmas and New Year and all that fabulous jazz.

    With Love from the Land of Cleves 🙂

  2. Miss Musings says:

    Better late than never, indeed! I read all of your ponderings on 30 as well, thinking of myself in many an instance. Merry Everything to you too. You’ve had such a fantastic year, Ms. Rose. Getting healthy, loving your job, writing, dating… So many things to be pleased with. I’m just glad I found your blog when I first moved to Sweden in 2008. It’s been so fun being along for the ride.

    Hugs and hope to see you at some pt. in 2012.

  3. Well, isn’t there a trendy saying that 40 is the new 30? I enjoyed reading about your musings of age 30 while still a preteen, considering I believe we met when you actually were 12.

    Your post made me think about my 30th, now just 3.5 months away. I wish I had as clear an idea of what I envisioned for myself at this milestone as you obviously do; I can’t for the life of me recall my dreams for future — I guess I was too wrapped up living in the now. Maybe that’s why I have meandered so aimlessly since leaving high school. (You probably are wondering what on earth I mean by “meandered so aimlessly,” as the path my life took looks pretty planned out — on the contrary, I’d argue, I ended up with a life so stereotypical because it was easy, not necessarily because it was my dream.) I love my life, but I don’t think I’ve used the resources or talents with which I’ve bee provided, nor do I think I’ve ever truly stepped out of my comfort zone to challenge myself. I guess I’d like to see myself become more of a risktaker in my next 10 years — maybe more like you!

  4. Miss Musings says:

    Elizabeth- Yours is a life which I now envision for myself. Two beautiful children, a dear husband, a home, a flexible job which gives you time for it all. Your blog has taught me that life can guide you in directions you might not have expected (such as leaving a high-powered job to be home with your little ones; what I would in fact call a bold decision, rather than an easy one). You write in such a way that makes your readers not only understand, but become completely convinced. You are poignant without being sappy, funny without being lewd, honest without over-sharing. It’s a gift which has won you numerous followers, including myself. Given this achievement and from what I remember about your 12 y/o -18 y/o self, I’m sure there are many more tricks up your sleeve as your little ones grow. I can imagine you publishing a book. At any rate, thank you for your kind words and Merry Christmas to you all! Maybe one of these days I’ll get to meet the apples of your eye. Hugs, C

  5. I love this post. Happy Belated Birthday! 30 did sound so old and far away when we were 12. Jenn Coppolo used to tease me that I was going to be Annie Camden from 7th Heaven– married to a minister with a half a dozen or so kids. I don’t think I had any way to wrap my brain around what 30 would be like. In college I envisioned spending my 20’s traveling on my breaks and starting a family at 30. But since we started our family earlier, the traveling will be done with kids in tow or after they’re grown. And while the suburbs definitely have a lot to offer, we are considered within city limits at our house and I love raising our kids in the city. We’re in a neighborhood that allows us to walk to the library, coffee shop, some restaurants, Cate’s school, the comic book store, the Farmer’s Market, the park, etc. We go downtown often and explore different neighborhoods, which gives our kids some other perspectives. Sometimes I think moving somewhere with more open space would be fun, but then when we’ve spent a Saturday morning walking to get coffee and to play at the playground, I realize I love it the way we have it right now and that I’d really miss it. Enjoy your time in Sweden.

    • Miss Musings says:

      Thanks, Melody! I love that you love Cincinnati. That’s the mid-sized type city that I am thinking about. Would be fun to live in a city just big enough to be able to stroll down the street and get coffee, without fighting traffic and extreme costs… One day! Anyway, Happy New Year to your entire family! Hugs from Sweden, Ms.M

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