Today I turn 40. There were no trumpets. No confetti. No big proclamations or cabana boys jumping out of cakes. Really, it has been “just another day”. And that is okay. I don’t need the flashy kind of birthday. I’m not flashy. I like quiet. It’s really just enough that my family and friends remembered and wished me well. And, well, Jake gave me the biggest hug this morning and a sweet happy birthday wish. (Considering that he’s 12 and most days I annoy him more than anything, that was one of the best gifts ever.)
I always get a bit retrospective on my birthday. With this being a “milestone” birthday and all, I have been thinking about my 30’s quite a bit. What did I learn? Did I come out ahead? One thing for sure, my 30’s had a lot of change, experience, and pivotal moments.
I started out that decade with a plan. I always had a plan. I was going to carpe me some diem. Or whatever. I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to work, we were going to add to our family, I was going to rock the professional and personal work/life balance thing. It was going to be amazing.
Looking back, my 30’s reminds me a lot of the game Perfection. Remember that game? I was going to get all the pieces put in just the right spots, with plenty of time to spare, beat the buzzer and win!
Jake had been born a couple years before. His arrival threw me because he was early. I was expecting Tate a few months after my 30th birthday. I was prepared. Even if he came early, we’d be okay. Nursery was done early. Clothes were washed. Bag was pack–EEEEEEH!!! The buzzer went off before I got those pieces put all together. Tate came 3 weeks and 1 day early, I had an emergency c-section because he was breech, and he was diagnosed with a heart murmur the day after he was born.
Tate’s first couple of months were the typical blur of having a newborn. We threw in some specialist appointments (turned out the heart murmur was minor and he would be okay). But damn, that kid WOULD NOT SLEEP. EVER. He was a fussy little guy, and hated to be snuggled. Hated being on his tummy. He threw up at seemingly odd intervals. I went back to work, barely getting enough sleep at night.
We moved on. The boys grew. We were finding our way. It wasn’t smooth, but it felt like the pieces were starting to fit a bit better. I was going to beat that buzzer. Yea—EEEEEEH! Buzzer went off. Damn! The head of our daycare called and expressed concerns about both Jake and Tate and their development. Whaaaaa?! She suggested autism in relation to Tate. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, listen. How? Why? Not my baby!!
We made appointments with Early Intervention. Tate was evaluated. He was severely delayed in speech, both receptive and expressive. His pragmatic skills were nil. What did that even mean?! Jake was speech delayed. He started services with the school. Tate started meeting with a speech pathologist. He then was evaluated for OT and developmental therapy. I felt like some new pieces were added to the game, but we were playing, and just about winning.
In 2009 we found out we were expecting another little boy. We were prepping for our transition to a family of five. Hubz finished the basement. The game of Perfection was getting closer to comple—. EEEEEH! Buzzer went off again. I went into pre-term labor at 33 weeks. It couldn’t be stopped. I had excessive amniotic fluid. I wanted to have a VBAC and, well, the baby was on his umbilical cord. A c-section was going to have to happen. Our little guy, Cole, was born 7 weeks early. He was small. But he was strong. He spent 3 weeks in the NICU. It was a rocky period, but we made it through.
I picked up those pieces, organized them differently, and started again. One piece went in so easily. Cole was flourishing. He was meeting milestones ahead of schedule, which was a relief. Tate was in Early Childhood preschool and was talking more and more. Jake was doing pretty well in kindergarten. I decided to stay home with the boys for a year or two, and I quit my job. I became a room mom for Jake’s class. I was figuring out how to navigate the parent gig with school and being home. My mom and I were talking about how much fun we were going to have once Jake and Tate were in school full days. Yes! I was figuring it out. These pieces weren’t so hard, after all…only a few more, and I’d wi—-EEEEEEEH!
My mom got sick. So, so sick. She was hospitalized. Then a stroke. Then a diagnosis…Pancreatic cancer. Terminal. How was I ever going to get through life without her?! The summer of 2010 was, and remains, a blur. I shuffled between caring for the boys and caring for my mom. I was truly sandwiched. The pieces of were scattered everywhere. I couldn’t even remember how to put them in the right way. That damn buzzer was going off. September 2010. The buzzer blew so loud and so fast. Mom was gone.
The pieces were everywhere. I think I lost a piece or two. I had enough to attempt to start over, so slowly, ever so slowly , I picked them up, and started placing them gingerly into their places. One. At. A. Time. I learned about things that were important. And I learned to let go of some things that weren’t. We also realized that as much progress as Tate was making, something wasn’t quite…typical. Six months after my mom died, we found out that our Tater Tot was autistic. No one I knew had a kiddo with needs like his. Hubz and I thought our game was totally busted. During that time the game sat on a shelf. The buzzer was jammed. I had other things to worry about.
Once we had a diagnosis for Tate, we got things moving. I figured out insurance. Hubz dealt with HR. We found ABA. Tate got more services. His IEP was beefed up. He started to make REAL progress. I pulled out the game, looked at it to decide whether I should try again. I flipped the pieces between my fingers. I could do this. Those pieces could fit. I could still win at Perfection. I got pretty close, but then, as usual, the buzzer went off, again, and I was no where near perfection.
As is the norm, the buzzer sounded a few more times in my later 30’s. I’d get SO. DAMN. CLOSE. Then…EEEEEH! Buzzer would go off. I kept trying, though. Then, one day, while I was putting those pieces in, I started to realize that maybe this game of perfection wasn’t where it was at. At 39, I put that perfection on the shelf. As it collected dust, I realized that I have friends whom get this roller coaster life that we lead. They have helped me see that perfection isn’t always the end goal. My family is fantastic the way it is. We can always work for BETTERING ourselves, but perfection??? It doesn’t have to be the end all, be all.
So, as I turn 40, I am chucking that stupid game into the garbage. I have finally realized that those pieces will NEVER all quite fit into their precise spots in a dictated timeframe. Life just doesn’t work that way.
This decade, I hope to work to achieve a balance. I know that there will be joy. There will be pain. Perfection is a word in the dictionary. I cannot and will not use it to dictate how my life should be. Perfection isn’t how I will measure my children’s successes, either. We are perfectly imperfect, and it suits us well.