33

Today is Flag Day.

It is also my birthday. When I was younger, my mom would excitedly point out the American flags displayed on our neighbor’s porches and various city buildings and exclaim,

“Look, Rosie! Everyone is putting their flag out for your birthday!”

I believed her.

It was not until an embarrassingly old age that I realized the flags were not for me . . . but you better believe I still pretend they are J

I have a tendency to measure my years not by when the new year begins and the old ends, but by my birthdays. I realize that most humans, especially women, are not very keen on celebrating birthdays the older they get. But I am a millennial and therefore a special snowflake and different from all other women in this way. . .

I freaking LOVE birthdays.

There are a few that stick out quite clearly in my memory. On my tenth birthday, my mom threw me a surprise party. I was in 3rd grade. I came home to all of my closest third grade friends sitting stadium style on our stairs, screaming HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!  as smiley face balloons (smiley faces were the theme that year) floated through the magical birthday air. We proceeded to the local outdoor pool after cake and ice cream and spent my favorite birthday in the sun.

On my fourteenth birthday, I got into one of the worst fights of all time with my mom—for no other reason than I was fourteen and a teenage girl and that is to be expected from angsty, hormonal, middle school girls who do not yet understand the wisdom and unconditional love of their mothers and the endless sacrifice they will give until their dying day.

On my sixteenth birthday, I got to invite my entire church youth group and then some over to our house for a Sweet Sixteen party. I don’t remember many details except we ended up watching Face Off, and my not-official boyfriend at the time was angry with me because my mission trip crush from Indiana, a young man five years my senior, had driven six hours from Indiana to surprise me on this special occasion.

On my nineteenth birthday, my boyfriend planned a surprise party for me as I had explained to him that my very favorite birthday of all time was my tenth because it was a surprise party. We got into a fight the day before my special day and he cancelled the party. He then proceeded to tell me that he had a surprise party planned for me, but cancelled it.

That was my least favorite birthday.

On my 30th birthday, I spent the entire day in a fifteen-passenger van with a 21-year old young man I had only just met—my co-leader for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. We were hauling a trailer in a caravan of four vans headed to Raleigh, North Carolina for the summer, where we would be leading trail crew. I had spent the evening previous at a crew leader party/birthday party and had narrowly escaped making a few entirely stupid decisions. I was exhausted, hung over, and not thrilled that I was spending the big day—my thirtieth birthday—in a van for nine hours mid exile to the south.

When we finally made camp for the evening somewhere in Pennsylvania, I called my older sister and broken down, sobbing hysterically—“I just always thought I would be married with children living on a farm with a dairy car and a pick up truck by nowwwwwwww. Or at least the married part!!! I’m old and I’m single and I have nothing to show for my life and I’m sad and I’m lonely and what have I dooooooooooooneeeee!?!?!”

She reminded me that she was also single and also four years older than I.

My 32nd birthday was right up there with my 10th as far as quality of special day goes. My roommate/bff/work wife Steph planned a horseback ride in the morning and a brunch afterward with all of my favorite humans. We kitchen danced and broke an Olaf piñata and the current love of my life, Braden, showed up with a dozen roses and gifts and a card and. . . wrote and performed a song for me.

He had only known me for a month at the time—actually less than. The song was not intended to be played for everyone present—but my roommate was persistent. He sang. I cried. My parents missed it because they were outside so I had him re-perform it for them via private concert moments later. They were mostly creeped out by this young man they had just met serenading them with a fairly intimate love song. . . but a year later I’d say he has their approval.

And my 33rd?

Braden and I went downtown and took a shot of Patron at midnight—the first alcohol we ever consumed together—a year ago when we drove from Steelville to downtown St. Louis and back again the same evening to retrieve my misplaced ID.  And then? Sitting on the courthouse steps downtown opening a midnight birthday gift. A pile of freshly printed, hard copy pictures of all of our favorite moments over the last year. Moments with he and I, my roommate and I, my nephew.

And a letter and a poem that were truly the sweetest words I have ever read. I don’t know that I have ever before been seen this way by other person. Really seen.

Soul seen.

I had a professor in college who was also my advisor and my mentor and my life coach. He often told me I needed to not beat myself up. He saw that when I failed or fell short I was brutal to myself. I would sit with my head hung and talk for sometimes hours about how I messed up and it’s my fault and I’m not working hard enough or smart enough or doing what Is should be doing and shame on me.

Not much has changed in that way. I am still hard on myself. I still assess and re-asses and over-assess my life and legacy on a daily basis and wonder if I have done enough and well enough.

I can’t get in to grad school.

I can’t get in to grad school because my GPA is a joke because when I was in college I never in a million years planned to go back to school so I didn’t care much what my GPA was. I cared that my life was overflowing with coffee and late night conversations and road trips and star gazing and camping and lazy days at the river. And it was.

But I can’t get in to grad school.

And that is okay. Because if I want to get in, I just have to take about fifty classes to boost my GPA—but I can. It is okay because I don’t need to get in to grad school to have a joy-filled 33rd year.

Life is weird.

I thought I would be on a small patch of land on the edge of town by now—in fact, I think I write about this every few years because the years keep passing and I still don’t have that patch of land and kids and oak tree and husband.

But I do have a job I believe in. I get paid to eat popsicles in the sun and hike on Sundays and cook delicious meals and love teenage girls and try to convince them that they are more than their past and that working hard is essential to a joyful and intentional life.

I also get paid to trim trees in city parks and learn about tree ID and buff up because I have to run a weed whacker for a couple hours at a time.

I wrote a freaking book.

And yes, I am bragging. Because it’s my birthday and I can. Because it’s my birthday and I’m 33 and I’m still single and I don’t have biological kids but I have MY kids and I don’t live in a tent anymore and that makes me sad a lot of times but I can look back and know that I did. And I can tell the story time and again about how I lived in the woods and built trails and it was really the best time of my whole life.

I am never going to hide my birthday. I am going to write it on every calendar I see every single year. At 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 and 80 and 90 and 100 and beyond. Because even though my hips are growing and I am seeing wrinkles and veins and ‘blemishes’ I have not before seen—I am still young. I am still young because I choose to be. I will still climb trees and skip rocks and eat cotton candy every chance I get.

I am 33.