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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.

I had always been weary of doing the right thing and then being sorry I did it. Especially when this concerned making sacrifices for the family and then unconsciously holding a grudge against them because I still regretted not getting to do something else, something so vital to my own sense of fulfillment and meaning in life. I didn’t want to have those grudges, and so, my mantra became: no regrets.

Let me develop that. You can regret something that you did, and you can regret something that you did not do. I always opt for regretting things that I do , instead of avoiding potentially wrong choices altogether. Because at least this way, you know how it would have turned out. Regretting not having done something is the most torturous kind of regret, because of all the “could have been”s.

So how has this been working for me? Mixed results. I went to Paris and married a young man that I fell in love with, four months after meeting him. And spent the better part of the next six years regretting it. What was I thinking when I married him? Well, I didn’t want to live with the regret of not having married him; of letting an absolutely unique and talented individual become a stranger when he wanted to weld his life with mine. Did I consider for a moment that we were incompatible, literally unable to function as a single unit? No, I didn’t think about it. See, I was all about no regrets.

Went to graduate school when my kids were 2 years old and 1 year old, pushed through so that I wouldn’t regret not having obtained an education due to the fact that I had young children, and unconsciously hold a grudge against them for life. Do I regret it?

Maybe.

And then there is the vending machine predicament. I stare at the variety of death treats, wondering, if I get a reeses, will I sit there eating it wishing I had gotten cheetos instead? Listening to my inner gut, I try to discern what it wants. My mind says, stick with the peanuts. But I don’t want to regret not having gotten the Snickers…Ultimately I end up regreting whatever I get, and when I get nothing…well that never happens because that would be the cardinal sin totally negating my mantra.

The same happens at night. I get ready for bed but then my husband invites me to a game of chess. Can I say no? But then I will never know how the game could have turned out. And sleeping is always so predictable…

But wait.

I know this. Peeling out of the covers before the crack of dawn, hurridly taping my drooping eyelids to my forehead, really far back for that EXTRA bushy-tailed look, peering in the bathroom mirror only quick enough to say, “Oh boy…”, I know exactly how each late-night game of chess turns out. And the mystery snack options all yield the same yucky aftertaste, and the what if’s get more and more predictable.

Still, I vote for no regrets. Now though it comes not as a result of my action or inaction, but as a natural consequence of the decision I make, when I have the strength of spirit, to not regret things.

It’s that simple.

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