Happy Birthday To Me… an Awkward Conversation with My Father

It’s past two a.m. on my 31st birthday morning. I’m already in this odd mood and exhausted, not in the mood for any sort of serious conversation. Unfortunately I started to doze off on the couch which meant at 2am I had to walk past my awake father in the kitchen who apparently had something he had to get off his chest. No, he didn’t want to wish me a “happy birthday.” What started as a somewhat kind “do you want to talk” inquiry launched into a tirade about how my father is upset that my boyfriend hasn’t proposed to me yet and that, at the same time, he hasn’t said hi or thank you to them in the time he has been at our house, which has now been a few days on and off.

I understand my father’s concern – and he’s expressed this many times before – but this time it was clearly more pressing for him. It made me quite uncomfortable. My response is always that I’m not sure I even want to get married and maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I have a good job. I can take care of myself. Etc, etc. My father, being of the traditional mindset (who refused to get a divorce despite it being obvious both him and my mother would be much better off apart from each other and who also pretty clearly hate each other and/or love themselves too much to ever love another person who doesn’t fuel their narcissistic supply) is freaking out that 1) I’ll never have children and 2) That I’ll have children out of wedlock and 3) That I won’t live the life he envisioned for me.

This may be fairly typical of parents from that generation, and I understand that he’s also looking at not having many good years left due to suffering from terminal cancer, so I try to be sensitive to this, but at this point I don’t know what to say. I want to just scream at him – what do you want me to do? You think starting over now, even if that was the right thing to do (which it isn’t – my boyfriend and I are going to be together permanently and already have discussed this) – how would starting over help matters any? Do you really think I’d be able to find another guy in this world who is as compatible with me and obtain a marriage proposal and jump into having kids before I’m too old to even have kids? It just doesn’t make any sense. Logistically, love aside, I’m best sticking with my current option if the end goal is grandchildren.

That said, I understand that he is upset that my boyfriend hasn’t said hi or thank you. What can I say, my bf is an odd duck – but so am I. He’s shy and he grew up in a household where social norms were far from the norms. While I have social anxiety and struggle to act like a normal human being I have learned, I guess thanks to my parents, how to fake it. They’re so good at faking it that they can convince people who don’t know them well that they’re an actual sane, lovely couple reaching their senior years. It’s amazing how my father is so completely delusional about many things – caring so little about his own appearance or other’s emotions yet being so overly paranoid about how other’s chose to live their lives. I wanted to shout “fine, if you have an issue with him then we just won’t visit again.”

At this point marriage is on my mind too, though, and I know in some respects my father is right. While I’m not sure I actually want to get married due to the marriage penalty taxes and huge potential losses in annual income, I’d like to think that at the least my boyfriend would have proposed by now and we can discuss it. Tomorrow is our 8.5 year anniversary. I know he’s been waiting on me to learn how to keep my stuff organized in our house (which is a huge challenge due to ADHD) so I have to hold up my end of the bargain before he puts a ring on it and we can discuss whether we want to get “real married” or “legal alternative to marriage married.”

Regardless, it’s going to be an awkward week at my house, to be sure. I just hope no fireworks are set off.

Hello 31.

Well, I’ve made it. Another year around the sun. Another 365 days of ups and downs, laughter and tears, deep depressions and manic outpouring of not-so-situationaly-appropriate glee. It has been a year of growth and change, saying goodbye to one job and another, embarking on a shaky yet exciting advancement in my career; moving in – finally – with my boyfriend of 8 years; losing my grandfather and attending my first funeral; and – starting – to accept that aging is going to happen, and is happening, to my own flesh despite still wanting to believe that I’m forever-young invincible.

So I have 1/32 of a grey hair now, a few more wrinkles in my forehead due to my chronic state of worry, and a couple of more breaths between freak outs to remind myself I’ve been in those unpleasant shoes before and managed to survive to see another happy day. I’ve taken steps to seek the right kind of help — hired an ADHD coach — focusing on treating the symptoms vs the root cause of my psyche which, no matter how well I psychoanalyze and understand, is never going to dramatically change. I guess you can say at 31 I’ve accepted that I have a chronic condition known as “me.”

Am I 100% satisfied with myself? God no. I have a lot of work to do. I’m always pushing myself to improve all while pondering how that may be possible given my constant state of neurosis. I’m longing to become a mother despite being terrified of how that fits in with this life I’ve managed to create for myself as a business executive and otherwise responsibility-free adult, all things considered – no mortgage, no car payments, no kids, no debts – just save, save, save, and push through the lows so I can try my best to enjoy the highs. It’s the best I’ve been able do so far, but I still have a lot to give and still have a lot of getting my shit together to do.

10 years ago I had this crazy goal to save $250,000 by age 30. I didn’t really think far past that, other than a seemingly impossible objective to save $500k before I have my first child. At the time I had $10k in the bank and didn’t even have a boyfriend so it was all a crapshoot of dreams. Today I have my guy and I’m nearing a solid $300k in networth as I say hello to 31. I’m in a good spot to achieve my $500k before my first kid goal. On paper my life is pretty damn spiffy. But every day is still a struggle with all the highs and lows.

In my 30s, now that I’m actually “in” my 30s vs just starting them, I want to achieve some kind of stability. Perhaps this means medication is a requirement vs a nice to have, but I need to find consistency in my routines and slow down enough to find serenity in the everyday. Perhaps I can do that. As opposed to my 20s and before when I longed for a bit of a crazy, uncertain, constantly changing life, now I yearn for consistency, routine, and regularity. I know I’ve always hungered for the later but a fear of not picking the right route of settling down kept me bouncing from one path to the next. I was terribly lost and only the rush of impractical choice would make me feel momentarily alive and free – but the lack of stability punched me in the gut day after day after day. In my 30s I’ll admit open heartedly that I’m tired of trying to be different and letting a fear of being “just like everyone else” run my life. Maybe being just like everyone else… (even though that’s not really possible anyway) is not that bad.

What’s throwing me off most tonight is that I graduated college in 2005 when I was 21. It was easy to accept 10 years removed since high school graduation — high school was the end of my childhood — but college… that doesn’t seem that far in the past in many respects. In others it seems like a lifetime ago. Still, it was actually 10 years ago. 10 years ago at this time I was in my senior year, falling into a very dark depression that I’d spring out of only after moving to the west coast and pushing through a year of one failure after another, picking my pieces up again every time I fell apart. Senior year of college is a blur – I was lonely, confused, unsure of where I was headed, and just trying to give myself some framework to follow, some sign to guide the way. I had just returned from my first trip abroad, a summer in eastern europe studying and traveling, and continued a relationship with my boyfriend at the time who had moved to a city on the east coast for the year, and who I visited fairly frequently as a treat to escape my life and throw myself squarely into his which I never did fit. It took a move to the west coast and a serious heart-to-heart shortly following the move that we mutually agreed we weren’t right for each other. And there I was, completely alone, with no framework or guide or must-do for life’s next steps. All I knew was that I couldn’t fail – permanently. I had to get up and keep going. And so I did.

Well, so now I’m 31. I have a goal to have my first child by 34 at the latest and the fact that that’s three years away probably scares me the most… especially because 34 isn’t even a “young” age to have a kid and I’d like to have at least two. It’s crazy how fast time flies once you’re in your mid 20s. I guess it’s strange because childhood is this extremely slow moving set of years where you’re growing and learning so quickly that every day can seem like a millennium… and suddenly you’re thrust through a magnetic launcher and boom you’re rapidly accelerating towards the rest of forever and you can’t stop it… you just have to try to breathe and appreciate the sights and sounds and wonder as you rapidly approach the end of your ride. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way at 35 and 40 and 50 and 60 and beyond, and even more so. And miss the days when time was long, the nights where the sun seemed like it would never set, the mornings rushing out the door and chasing after the school bus in excitement because of a certain topic to be discussed in class or an after school activity to be held that day.

My goal for this year is to find some sort of similar excitement in my life again -in a sane, healthy way. I’ve lost a sense of happiness, a sense of wonder, a sense of joy. Life has become a calculator of finances and hours in the day to fill with work and getting stuff done. While these are first world, middle class problems they are my problems nonetheless. I’m looking to establish my own independent sense of adventure and peace with solitude. I know this year will bring about lots of change, perhaps more than the shifts in the last 365 days, and I hope I’m ready for it. I approach my 31st year with wide eyes, an open heart and an open mind. Come on 31, bring it.

 

 

 

 

Her First Grey Hair… and Turning 31

“You have one,” my boyfriend exclaimed in a taunting manner. “I have one what,” I asked, half paying attention. “You have a grey hair,” he said, giggling, knowing that he was pushing my buttons just a few days before turning 31 (to be fair I’ve teased him re: his own grey strands for years now.) “WHAT,” I exclaimed, suddenly feeling the blood rush away from my face, breath stop, and the panic of time punch me smack in the stomach for the nth time this week. If turning 31 wasn’t enough god though to start the decolorization process of my hair as a gift for surviving another year.

Now that I’m about 31 and topped off with one silver grey hair (or, apparently, the start of one in about an inch of root) it’s very clear that in order to accomplish anything in the life of mine I must make haste. It’s so easy to get lost daydreaming about the meaning of all this and coming to yet another lapse of solid conclusion. I think back to the days when I felt excitement for the future, for moments, for all the ups and downs of life… and I try to swallow the memory of those days when there was true unfiltered anticipation and trepidation… today I’ve completely lost that part of myself. I look forward to absolutely nothing.

Maybe that is being my bipolar self yet again, perhaps I’m in a depressed phase. Or maybe this is just the way a rational person approaches life. What will the next thing that I look forward to be? A year ago I took a trip to southeast Asia with a friend and I was somewhat excited about that – it seems travel to new places is the only thing that really excites me anymore, yet I don’t like traveling on my own and I don’t actually have time to travel with work. Instead, I just am trying to be heads down, really focused on my job. I know I’m in such a fortunate place where I have a great position in a company where I actually am interested in the subject matter and I like the people I work with and I’m getting paid well. Everything is going so great. I should be extremely elated right now. But happiness is not what I feel. I feel the rush of saving money each month. The rush of knowing that I’m increasing my networth so one day I can be free – but even if I could actually accomplish financial freedom what would that actually buy me? I spent two months without a job and I was miserable and ready to go back to work by the end of the first week.

I am convinced that the next thing I’d be actually excited about is having children and seeing them grow up and go through their own phases of over excitement in discovering their new world. Yet I don’t see a life as a mother and life as a startup executive jiving together. I don’t think I can do both. Sure, some women can, but I’m barely able to handle such a high-pressure job without the kid(s) nagging for my attention and time. I’m pretty sure I’d fall completely apart trying to do both at once, even with the support of a future-husband who would be more than thrilled to stay at home.

And, of course, I shouldn’t rely on children to resolve this emptiness in my life, the hollowness in my heart. I don’t have time for hobbies but I’m sure if I had the motivation I’d figure out a way to make time. I don’t do well in a life without structure yet I’m terrible at making structure for myself. The days and months and years just tick tick tick on and on. Soon more grey hairs will pierce through my scalp, swallowing the vibrant strands which tease as the remnants of youth. Meanwhile I’m watching my always angry father fade away from his cancer and my mother continue to nag as she nags and all of life just slip past as I beg of it to stop so I can embrace it as fully as I once did, back when every moment meant more than it should have, instead of near nothing, a fractured fragment of its absolute worth.

The Thing About Growing Up

You know the feeling of being far from a place you’ve been so real to you that you can’t imagine it’s really gone forever? That is what it feels like to grow up. You may be able to go back to the physical place, but it’s gone no matter how there it is. And time itself is this strange continuum that seems to be on your side until about your mid twenties when suddenly it becomes your worst enemy, pulling you further and further away from the security of your long lost home.

Some days I close my eyes and find myself, as if it was yesterday, sitting in gym class frustrated beyond belief for my inability to climb a rope or run a mile. I can taste the fall air as we would be forced through physical fitness testing, cold on my lungs, as I failed pretty much everything besides the flexibility test. I can smell the leather of my friend’s dad’s car as he drove us to dance class, the burn in my lungs as I chased a school bus down the street in the rain yet another morning of waking up late, the dizziness of being a child and spinning around fast looking at the ceiling in our empty dining room to entertain myself, or lying on the cold floor of our game room pressing start and go of my tapes in order to write down their lyrics. Some moments are crisp while many are a blur, but nonetheless the place feels so real that I can only imagine if I try hard enough I could find my way back to it, despite knowing that I never can.

It’s not that I had a wonderful childhood. I was miserable most of the time. I was bullied by my parents and my friends. I was hyperactive and annoying and constantly trying to figure out a way to fit in. I was lonely and bored and unable to handle my own many imperfections. But there I was safe and free all at the same time. And growing up means letting go of that person you once were, the place where you’ll never truly return. You might as well have blasted off to another planet a one-way trip because that’s life, shooting you fast towards the night stars, whether you’re ready for it or not.

I used to be terrified of death — I’d stay up all night and try so hard to imagine myself not existing for a moment, and I couldn’t find the feeling. In eleven days I turn 31 and I know that life is not forever. I have twenty years ahead of me of either/and a strong career or family, and time is ticking onwards as a little part of me hungers to return to that place I once took pity on myself and hid in my bedroom, looking out the window at the tall trees swaying in yet another storm.

There were things to, like stability, which used to scare me that suddenly are what I long for most of all. I think this is because I grew up with such a theoretically stable life (despite constant wars raging in my household which begged to question if the stability was a benefit or a curse) I wanted none of it when I left home. At seventeen I left for college in Chicago and never once considered returning back permanently. I was running ahead full force, faster than I ever had in those mile runs of the physical fitness testing, trying to find comfort in change, afraid to settle down, afraid to stop before I was ready.

Even now I’m restless in many ways, probably more than the average person, but I still need the stable base in which to build from. I’ve found that in my boyfriend who has been there with me for the past nine years. He’s level headed and calm and he has no desire to run away from stability like a man running from a loon wielding an AK47. With a childhood where he had never-married parents who didn’t know how to handle their accidental child, he is perfectly comfortable with a planted life. And, despite not knowing each other in our childhood, we can look in each other’s eyes and still see that person we once were. For a second I am able to transport back to my home, but locked up in the arms of someone who wasn’t forcing me into a box of something I’m not, jabbing at me at every opportunity. With him I have acceptance of the girl who never got that as a child. With him, despite being lightyears away from where I’ve been and can’t physically return, I’m more home than I ever was.

 

Playing it Safe vs Taking Risks: Fighting the Fear

A few weeks ago when I was in my home state my father was kind enough to drive me to a friend’s birthday party dinner about an hour away. As he drove me to this party (which, by the way, was a dinner at a respectable venue, not that it should have mattered) he, with much paranoia, told me to stay safe and shunned my plan to be driven to the airport after the party was over so I could sleep there for my 6am flight.

I didn’t realize how paranoid my father is about any sort of risk until I grew up. I always thought he was just logical – that it made sense to be worried about all of the horrible things that can happen to you if you test the waters a bit, even if those waters mean arriving at the airport early and spending the night uncomfortably sleeping on a chair.

When I look at the success stories of my peers in the tech industry I look at a bunch of people who thrive on risk well beyond an early arrival to the airport. These are school dropouts, people who believe in themselves so much that they make shit happen whatever it takes. They don’t second guess themselves. They don’t worry that despite their instinct that getting to the airport early will be more convenient than sleeping four hours, catching a cab for 30 minutes and getting to the airport equally exhausted and probably late.

I wonder for these types of risk takers if they grew up in families that supported this type of risk or if they were rebellious and went off and did their own thing anyway. I also wonder if my parents – my dad especially – would have been different with his kids if they were male. Would he tell a 31 year old son to be careful? Maybe. It probably wouldn’t be the same.

Before you say that it’s sweet that he cares so much about me, it really isn’t like that. What he really should be worried about is my killing myself for all of the mental health issues his abuse of my mother and emotional abuse of me over the years has caused. Not that I’m going to kill myself, just saying – on the days I think about it, I picture his reaction, of course not thinking it has anything to do with his behavior and how I’m a mental wreck largely thanks to it.

I’m an adult now and I can make my own future. But I’m still so scared of so much. I want to be someone I’m not but I’m tired of trying to be that person, whoever she is. I’m a scared, timid, shy and weak person in a lot of respects. I’m not a risk taker. I hate risk. I like stability, I like routine – to some extent. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. I just want to be that person who can be bold and confident and amazing. I hope if I ever have children I can raise them to not be afraid – to not feel criticized for every little thing they do. To be able to have opinions and to learn that there is no such thing as a “right” opinion (that’s why they are called opinions.) To always allow a reasonable amount of forgiveness before making someone feel like shit for making a mistake.

I’m having a difficult time with growing up. Being grown up. I’m turning 31 this month… in less than 15 days. I’m a real adult now and here I am still kvetching about my parents. That’s what therapy is for, right? I didn’t have a terrible childhood in the sense that I wasn’t neglected or beaten to the point where I was unable to walk the next day. But I’m still mentally shot over the barrage of paranoia and criticism from both my mom and my dad – to this day they continually judge me for everything I do or wear or think to do. That’s why they’re fairly removed from my life right now, though I wish they didn’t have to be, because I know they won’t be around forever and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with them, even though it can be quite painful.

The other day watching Shark Tank with my mom she made the comment “why don’t you come up with a brilliant idea?” I’ve never been encouraged to take risks, that’s why. Entrepreneurs are some of the world’s most productive risk takers. But my mother doesn’t get that in order to get to the point where you have a successful pitch on Shark Tank or to any VC you needed to take a ton of risks. You need to not be afraid and to trust yourself and your ideas. You need to not be afraid.

I wonder who I’d be today if I didn’t grow up in that environment of neurotic paranoid fear and hyper criticism. Would I be a very different person? Would I be able to stand up in front of a room and speak without stuttering, without the ums and the likes? Would I have the respect of my colleagues because my presence garnered respect just by walking into a room vs having to build it slowly and painfully through hard-earned results (and sometimes it being too late to get those results with all the lost respect?) I just wish I was someone else. I wish I was a confident, well adjusted woman. I’ll have to make due with the actual woman I am because that’s just the way it is.