When I turned 30, I decided to celebrate my new decade by trying snowboarding.
I didn’t think it would be too much of a stretch. After all, I had been skiing since I was ten years old. And 30 is still young. Like, way young, right? I was going to be awesome at this.
As I was getting fit into my rental equipment the snowboarding rental dude asked if I wanted a helmet. I snorted internally: a helmet? OMG, no. Like, I have been skiing for 20 years and we never wore helmets even when I was 10 and look at me. I’m fine. So no.
“No thanks,” I answered, inwardly rolling my eyes.
After my second fall – which was on my first time down the bunny slope at a Pennsylvania ski area which could probably entirely qualify as a bunny slope – I had to literally dig packed snow out of my right ear.
I decided that maybe I could use that crash helmet after all, and dragged myself back into the lodge to get one.
It turned out to be a stunningly accurate metaphor for what my 30s would be like. So that’s a big YES on the crash helmet.
Thirty, in Roman numerals, is XXX. When I turned thirty, that’s what I put on my timeline. Facebook still started all of our status updates with “(Your name) is…” so it read, April is XXX. Triple X, baby. That’s me. I mean, I had a three-year-old and was still in the coursework phase of my Ph.D., and I felt the snowboarding for at least a week after I came home. Like, I felt it everywhere. But still. XXX. Hear me roar.
Forty is XL. When Lou and I realized this yesterday we shared a thoughtful nodding moment. Hmm. Yes. XL is appropriate in so many ways. April is XL. Roar.
Yesterday I took my very high strung chihuahua-miniature pinscher dog out on a long walk in the hills of the park near our house. The only time this dog is peaceful outside of our apartment is in these hills. No pulling, no frantic food-searching, no barking maniacally at other dogs (or small children, or dead leaves, or the wind, or whatever else he feels like barking at.) Something about it makes him feel safe. I think it’s the trees.
We walked to an area that overlooks the Hudson River, just north of the GW bridge. It was a crystal-clear blue sky February day, and the wind was just strong enough to make you feel exhilarated, not strong enough to be frightening. I saw what I thought at first was a drone flying down the Hudson – so smooth and straight, I thought it had to be a mechanical device of some kind. It certainly wasn’t one of the many hawks that frequent that area — they don’t fly that steadily.
As it got closer I saw the white head and white tail. It was a bald eagle. It was so high I could barely make out any details, but the colors were clear. I had heard there were eagles that frequented that area, and peregrine falcons, but I had never seen them. I stood watching it soar along the cliffs of the river until it faded from view, beyond the bridge.
A few hours later Lou and I were driving up by the Tarrytown reservoir – we had driven up for my favorite Greek restaurant – and clear as day, another bald eagle sitting in the branches of a tall deciduous tree of some kind. This one was so close I could see its beak, the outline of the white feathers of its head, and… how stunningly large it was. How wild and present and free.
Eagles, I have been told, symbolize intuition, spirituality, and creativity. These last few weeks, as I’ve been preparing to enter the next decade of my life, I have been making decisions that reflect those three things. I come out of my 30s bearing some serious, and beautiful, scars. None of us get through life unscathed. (Heck, none of us get out… alive, really.)
I had no idea what my 30s were going to throw at me but I find myself, today, immensely grateful for the person I have become, and am becoming.
So. The tattoo. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was worth it. Let me tell you about the symbolism.
Wildflowers have long been symbol for me for God. I see them all over the city when its warmer – they will grow anywhere they can find and make it beautiful. They will crack sidewalks and road surfaces if left to their own devices. I don’t care much for manicured and cut flowers – I feel more connected, more at home, in an abandoned lot or rural meadow, filled with dandelions and Queen Anne’s lace. Rose gardens are not for me, but wild roses and honeysuckle I will stop to smell and admire any day. That is how I started with wildflowers for this tattoo.
If there is a text that defines my thirties, I think, it is the poem “Integrity” by Adrienne Rich. Adrienne Rich’s works held me and inspired me and challenged me this past decade, and came to feel like some of the sacred scriptures of my life. There is a line in that poem that reads, “Anger and tenderness: my selves.” It is one of my favorite lines ever written.
So I have petunias, which are the only flower that symbolize anger. And I have violets, which symbolize tenderness, and specifically love between women. They also happen to be my birth month flower, purple, the same color as my birth stone, amethyst.
And then I have that dandelion, because I have always had a soft spot for dandelions, for their garish yellow, for the way they make themselves so available for children to string into necklaces and crowns, for their seeds that we can sit in fields and blow like bubbles into the breeze. Dandelions, I learned, symbolize overcoming adversity and freedom. So, at the top of my wildflower bouquet, there is a dandelion with its seeds blowing away. The seeds will catch the wind and, of course, to the chagrin of suburban parents everywhere, grow more dandelions. The dandelion does not care about your well-manicured yard. The dandelions will not stay off your lawn. There are those of us who appreciate that kind of tenacity.
Here’s what 40 looks like on me. This selfie was taken just as I was about to sit with a group of teenagers for half an hour to eat potato chips and gummy worms and talk about Satan and the concept of good and evil. They all sang to me when I walked in the door of the room and later said they all kind of felt sorry for Satan, kind of wanted to give him a hug.
What I didn’t say was that that is probably the only “weapon” one can use against such a foe. And oh, my thirties, you gave me plenty of foes. Many of them lived within me. I am so grateful to be 40 now, to be through that decade, and to have learned how to embrace them all.