Today, I turn 33.
I’ve shared some of my thoughts on aging — and even some humorous reflections on how my shopping cart has proven to me that I’ve officially become an adult — but today I will share that this time last year, I was feeling pretty down about turning a year older. I’d never cared much about age. I had always felt that my life was full, and that I’d accomplished a lot given my relative juniority.
But last year was different.
Even though I had a lot to celebrate — two degrees from wonderful educational institutions, a strong and engaging career, a clean bill of health, loving family and friends, a wonderful husband, a house we owned, a business we’d built together, and a puppy we were raising — I was beginning to experience what can only be described as heartache over the fact that we did not yet have a child. I felt that life would not be complete without a baby in the picture. Everyone says that “the timing is never perfect” for a baby and that you’re never “really ready” for parenthood, but I was chomping at the bit and regretting that we hadn’t started a family sooner. I had begun to worry that I was getting too old to have more than one child–and then that evolved into fear that I wouldn’t have any children at all, which was a jagged little pill (Alanis reference FTW) to swallow as I had always–always!–envisioned myself as a mother. My sisters and I used to sit in Mass and stare at the pretty young families in the pews in front of us and gab afterwards about how we’d dress our babies and what our husbands would look like as we’d lay on our backs on the blue carpet of my childhood bedroom. When I was in second grade, I remember filling out a questionnaire asking what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I scrawled in my imperfect Catholic School cursive: “Mom.” And when we were very little, my sisters and I used to play some variation of the make-believe game most children call “house,” but we called it “mother,” so central to the plot–and to our worldview–was the notion of a mother holding everything at home together.
And so I watched my thirty second birthday approach with mounting angst and frustration. For all of the blessings in my life, I could only feel the vacancy of my childlessness.
Mr. Magpie has always spoiled me rotten on my birthdays. Concerts, extravagant gifts, flowers, champagne, trips, flying friends in from various locations–he’s arranged it all. For my 32nd birthday, along with a slew of thoughtful gifts, he treated me to an incredible prix fixe dinner at Roister (a Grant Achatz restaurant — he’s best known for his restaurant Alinea, which is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world). As we sat watching the chefs prepare course after course of delicious, fanciful, but approachable food, I remember Mr. Magpie working his boyish charm to convince me to put all those baby thoughts out of sight and out of mind. He held my hand and encouraged me to relish the moment: just he and I, decked out in our finest duds, indulging in an expensive meal, living our lives as adults. As I lay in bed that night, I remember giving myself a pep talk: “OK, Jennie — why the long face? What a charmed life you have. Focus on the positives. It will all work out as its meant to.” But it was an emotionally strenuous, friction-filled attempt at self-affirmation: my heart just wasn’t quite in it.
Four days later, I found out I was pregnant.
Fast forward to my recent trip back to D.C. with our daughter (!!!! I have a daughter!!!!) in tow. I was sitting on the couch in my parents’ TV room, traumatizing mini with a horrendous rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (singing on key is not my forte), and my Dad came in and sat down next to us, plopping his ever-present companion of reading materials–articles, books, magazines, his iPad–down beside him. Without any preamble, he said: “Motherhood suits you, Jen.”
It knocked the wind right out of me.
My Dad has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time and in a way that can make the air leave the room. (In a good way.) It would have been a joy to hear these words any time–what an exquisite affirmation from someone I so deeply admire and adore!–but to hear them so close to my birthday, a day that had–just a year ago!–been cloaked in feelings of the deepest longing for motherhood, struck me as the most incredible instance of narrative symmetry my life had yet afforded me. If my life to date were a movie, this would be the line in the screenplay that would mark the denouement. The struggle overcome, the heroine recognizes her good fortune and the camera slowly pans out. This is not to say that life won’t present new challenges, of course, or to go all Pollyanna on you, but my father’s comment succinctly reminded me of just how far I’ve come and just how lucky I am at just the right moment.
And so, this birthday, things feel markedly different in the best of possible ways. I’ll never forget how painful and emotionally caustic those days of longing for a baby were, and, for that reason, I feel I’ve exhausted my right to bemoan the arrival of a new year for the remainder of my life. From here on out, my birthdays will resume their former status as celebrations. Bring it on, middle 30s! Let’s do this.
Other things to do: order some of my ten picks for today. It is my birfday, after all.
Pick No. 1: The Melamine Plate
How fabulous are these Jonathan Adler melamine plates ($12 each) for summer meals al fresco?! So Goyard! So fabulous!
Pick No. 2: The Coconut-Based Beauty Line
Even though the Internet has been atwitter about the fact that coconut oil may not actually be as healthy for you as was previously posited when it comes to your diet, I’m still all for trying out coconut-based products on the bod. The beautifully-branded beauty line Kopari has all kinds of coconut-laden goodies, but I’m especially intrigued by their “coconut melt” ($18), which can reportedly be used to remove makeup, condition lips or hair, or even protect legs from shaving! Their illuminator ($42) and their face cream ($38) are also vying for my attention.
Pick No. 3: The Striped Mini
OMG, how adorbs is this cabana-striped mini dress (Red Valentino, on sale for $389)?!
Pick No. 4: The Fertility Bar
Apropos of my reflections above, I love the story behind FertileGirl, a new line of snack bars that include a number of nutrients reported to be helpful for women trying to conceive. The company, founded by a woman who struggled with infertility for years and reported that a focus on her own nutrition and well-being enabled her to finally conceive, is quick to state that these bars are not THE answer to infertility, but that they can be part of a woman’s intentional focus on her health and wellness while trying to start a family. And, let’s face it: the bars contain plant-based protein, omega 3s, calcium, and iron, good things no matter what. What I like about them is that they are a small way for a woman to take control of a very frustrating situation. (When I was having trouble breastfeeding, I ate these lactation bars, and it’s certainly possible that they had a placebo effect, but they at least gave me the sense that I was taking action and doing everything in my power to make things work. I also drank mother’s milk tea and took fenugreek pills.)
Pick No. 5: The Scandi Jug
I love the design of this “vacuum jug” ($53 for red, $81 for white — more colors here) by Danish line Stelton. In my perpetual quest to drink more water, I think it could be helpful to leave a big pitcher of ice cold water out on the counter. Apparently, this jug’s patented design keeps warm beverages warm and cool beverages cool — and also automatically opens its spout when tilted forward. So chic!
Pick No. 6: The Crab Doormat
On a recent Target run, I found this $13 crab doormat and, as a native Washingtonian and crab lover, HAD TO HAVE IT for our back door. SO CUTE! Also, damn you, Target. In addition to the boring items I had set out to buy (toothpaste, granite counter cleaner, sparkling water), I left with s’more fixins, a bag of caramel M+Ms, and some jalapeno-flavored Fritos.
Pick No. 7: The Portable Speaker
How chic are these little portable speakers by Bang + Olufson ($249)? The sound quality is apparently incredible. Pack one for the beach, your backyard, the park, etc…
Pick No. 8: The Striped Blouse
Pick No. 9: The Bow-Topped Flat
I mentioned these in passing already, but these bow-topped flats ($120) are TOO GOOD as a shoe that will transition easily from season to season. Can’t beat that price tag, either!
Pick No. 10: The Rope-Tie Overall
How cute is this pair of short-alls (on sale for $59)?