About a month ago we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. There were other mothers at the party, and I got to talking to one of them about children. She mentioned that she had an older son, and when I inquired about his age, she said he was 18. I instinctively thought, “Wow, she looks so young but her son is almost my age…” Only a few minutes later, looking out at my children playing did I realize: I am almost thirty.

Now, as I sit here eating the remnants of my birthday cake, I wonder about age, and growing up, and growing old.

More and more often I find myself thinking, “…but that was ten years ago”. What have I been doing these past ten years? Where have I been? Most of my friends on Facebook are people I met in my teens, kids from school and church, their parents, and, curiously now – their children. Having them so vividly in my memory, I cannot help but notice the physical changes that time has impressed. From 20 to 30, about 70% of my friends gained weight. From fresh and peach-fuzzed they have become amorphous, slushy. Those who have maintained their physical appearance have turned more crisp, all of their features settling in, emphasized by fine creases. For example, now when someone smiles, the corners of their mouth fall into pre-defined crevices – smile wrinkles that weren’t there before. This is a definite indication of age. Also, while ten years ago the softness below the cheekbones protruded ever so slightly to give faces a smooth, roundish complexion, now the cheekbones are exposed, and the cheeks aren’t as full as they used to be. It’s as if the face has become more rigidized: it bends only along its familiar lines of expression.

Physical inevitabilities set aside, thirty, for me, raises several important questions. Do I have to start wearing make-up now? Should I stop climbing the playground equipment with my kids? Should I stop climbing trees? At which point does looking like a fifteen-year-old stop being advantageous? At which point does “looking youthful and silly” turn into “being old and looking pathetic because you’re in denial about your age”? I also wonder about how long I get to look forward into the future for “grand and magnificent things yet to come”. I wonder about when my metabolism will slow down and I won’t be able to chow down cheesecake and donuts with no penalties to my waistline.

There is also that nagging fear that maybe this is the decade in which natural self-regeneration mechanisms start slowing down (which means I’ll have to actually watch my diet, how much I sleep, how much I exercise). Maybe this is even the decade that the little quirks in my body will stop going away on their own. I will have to go to the doctor and “get things fixed” and then pay attention so that they “don’t get broken” again.

The most poignant part about turning thirty is that now I can look back and realize that this is the way my life is turning out. Some mysterious have been revealed. I will live to see thirty. I will get married. I will be divorced. Some of these realizations are painful: I will have only two biological children. I will not have a nuclear family of my own. I will not be a gymnastic Olympic champion. That ship has sailed. Some other revelations are joyous: I will have two children! I will get to work for NASA, doing important things for the ISS Program. I will reach 30 with three of my grandparents still living and in good health. I will get to fall in love, I will get to be happy.

Time did crazy things with me my first two decades of life, but I can say that I was fully cognizant for the past 10 years. I was an adult this whole time, and hours did not seem to go on forever, while years actually took some time to pass. Looking back I have a good feeling of what “ten years” is, and looking forward, I can say that I have just five or six of these chunks of time left. At best. Just five of these finite, tangible pieces of time on Earth. That imparts some real urgency and yet, less and less I find myself wanting to run around grabbing blindly at every activity, thought or project that comes my way. I have a slight suspicion that a lot of the things I’ve done don’t really matter. But something else matters. Something somewhere just out of reach. Maybe I get to figure that out this decade too.