Monday, December 15, 2008

A Woman in her Thirties Brings her Own Bag

I recently moved back to an area known for its liberals, expensive houses, and number of Whole Foods Markets per capita. As a verifiable collector of grocery bags and sucker for good packaging for many years, I have to say that I find this whole 'green' movement daunting. Not just daunting, but annoying. It's not that I don't know how to make a small difference in the things I do, like turning off the faucet when I brush my teeth and recycling, it's just that I have spent most of my life not doing things that brought any sort of inconvenience upon myself or those around me.

Now, as a woman in her thirties, I must make a change. And for me, that change involves stopping before I leave the house every morning and asking myself one question: 'Do I need to stop by the grocery store on the way home?' If the answer is yes, I take the folding blue canvas bag I have hanging on the door in my kitchen. I even go so far as to say 'donate' when the friendly Whole Foods checker asks if I want to give or take five cents as she puts my groceries inside the bag. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, and I'm going to get to that purpose five cents at a time.

I realize this is not the type of change that is going to get me noticed by the likes of Al Gore, but for me it's a big step. I even found myself eyeing a Prius earlier today and thinking, 'Hmm... maybe.' That's what I call progress.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Woman in her Thirties Opts for Jeopardy

I remember it very clearly. Ninth grade English class; Romeo and Juliet. This was my first year in public school and I happened to be placed next to E, the school jock and resident bad boy. He made my heart pound, and not in an I-love-you way, but in a please-don't-notice-me way. My entire freshman year of high school was spent hoping no one would look my direction, especially the likes of E and the popular crowd. I knew I didn't belong with them, and instead of spending any time wanting to be with them I spent my time hoping they wouldn't stop to take notice of me and all the imperfections ripe for teasing I had to offer.

The problem with this was that I loved school, especially English, but doing something so bold as raising my hand and participating was out of the question if I wanted to blend in with the crowd. Instead I sat and listened, mouthing the answers to the teacher's questions and writing down intelligent things she said in my notebook so I could read them later and remember them, thinking them later as thoughts of my own.

E caught me one day and leaned in, close to my ear, whispering, 'You know the answers, why don't you just say them?' He wasn't saying it in a mean way, which he could have. He was just curious.

'I don't,' I said, covering my notebook. 'I'm just... I don't know.'

'You do,' he pressed, and this time his eyes took on the glint of someone who was about to rat me out. 'Why don't you just say them?'

'Because I hate her,' I said, nodding toward the teacher who had been nothing but kind to me all year. E found that amusing and left me alone. After that, I was careful to keep my notebook hidden.

Now, in my thirties, I kick myself thinking of moments like these. It wasn't as though I could solve college-level equations, it wasn't as though I was any smarter than anyone else in my class, I just made a choice that, when it came to knowing things it was best to keep my mouth shut. That's what a nice, modest girl does. That's what a girl who cares more about the opinions of others than her own advancement does. That's was this girl did, and for a long time.

Now for my truthful admission: My husband and I have a game we play when Jeopardy comes on. We keep track of our points as we answer questions, and wager our 'money' on final Jeopardy. It's the kind of game that I would never have admitted to in a million years back in my twenties, when Liar's Dice was a much more socially acceptable way of spending a Thursday night. Back in my twenties, I did only the bare minimum to pass my classes in college. I was the girl who could quote Temptation Island from the night before to my colleagues over coffee. God forbid I tell them that I read a book a night. God forbid I take some of that wasted time on reality TV and use it to make myself smarter.

A woman in her thirties realizes that it doesn't matter anymore what other people think. She realizes that being smart and 'cool' are not mutually exclusive. And while I'm still working on the 'cool' part, there are times when I'm proud to know a thing or two.

So much more to know. No more mouthing the answers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Woman in her Thirties Takes her Time

On my thirtieth birthday this year, I stood in my bathroom and eyed myself like a kindergartener might eye Santa as she waits in line to sit on his lap—with cautious excitement. Here I was, thirty. It was official. I didn’t look much different than I did in my twenties. In fact, I didn’t look all that much different than I looked in high school. I still had the long, stringy hair. I still had the somewhat uneven eyebrows and embarrassing inability to put on eyeliner evenly. My clothes, still purchased from the sale rack at Gap, didn’t scream “mature”. I was, for the most part, exactly the same.

And yet.

My fiancĂ©, a friend, and her boyfriend were waiting for me in the living room, waiting to take me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. Sushi. My favorite. I could hear them making small talk about the weather, I could hear the clinking of ice in their glasses as they waited for me to make my entrance. I realized at that moment that I was never on this end of the waiting game—that it was usually me stuck on the couch waiting for some princess to fix her bangs or eye her ass in a full length mirror umpteen times. It was usually I who had to keep the drinks filled, the guests happy, the talk small. My twenties were all about making other people happy and distracted.

I reached into my jewelry box and found a pair of earrings and held them to my ears, the way I’d always imagined mature women to do when they got ready in the mornings. I looked at the chinsey diamond studs in my ear, a gift from my ex, that hadn’t been removed for six months or more. They were tarnished and old. I took them out and threw them in the box, replacing them with long, dangly gold ones.

‘A woman in her thirties’, I told myself, ‘wears gold’.

My fiancĂ©, L, rounded the corner to the bathroom. ‘You ready?’ he asked in his hungry voice.

I looked at him through the mirror. ‘Not yet,’ I said.

‘Why not? You look fine,’ he said.

‘I don’t want to look fine,’ I said, calm and collected as a driver’s ed teacher. ‘I want to look fabulous.’

‘You do,’ he said impatiently. ‘Come on. Let’s go.’

I picked up my purse and walked out into the living room, resisting the urge to apply lip gloss as I was making my way to the front door, like I always did. Instead, I looked at my guests with the kind of self-assuredness that only the exceedingly rich and famous possess, as though I was a celebrity gracing them with my presence and they should do their best not to lose their cool sharing the same air space.

‘I’m ready now’, I said. ‘A woman in her thirties takes her time.’ I explained, nodding toward the empty glasses on the coffee table.

L snorted. ‘A woman in her thirties is high maintenance,’ he quipped.

And so it began, a simple phrase that has followed me the first six months of entering this decade. Of course, it is silly. It’s become a long running joke among my friends that I will often start sentences using this phrase, reminding us both what we imagine a woman in her thirties to be, and not allowing us to revert back to those irresponsible, uncultured days of our twenties.

‘A woman in her thirties drinks Seltzer.’

‘A woman in her thirties doesn’t steal People magazines from the dentist waiting room.’

‘A woman in her thirties buys brand name toilet paper.’

It is, however, more. It is a reminder that, while we are certainly not old, we are certainly not young. We have husbands and boyfriends and aging parents and kids and dogs and career paths and breast exams and Roth IRAs to think about. We are defined by much more than the jeans we wear and the credit cards we hide. We can’t make the same quick decisions that defined our twenties, decisions that, regardless of right or wrong, were often excused with a breathy ‘Well, she’s young.’ With our age we have moved on to a new realm of legitimacy as people. A new start. We are now, like it or not, women.

A woman in her thirties reflects.