In Brazil, when someone has a birthday, well-wishers say this: “Parabens!” It means “congratulations!” A co-worker wished me “parabens” today and it sounded so strange, knowing what it means. “Congratulations! You’re 28!” It’s like I’ve accomplished something by just being alive, like the act of just being around deserves praise. I smiled, of course, and then thanked my co-worker for her kindness. She also gave me some chocolate.
And eating chocolate, of course, is a very good coping mechanism when you realize that things are turning out a bit differently than you’d imagined years ago, that the plans you’d set out for yourself, or had imagined while watching any number of Meg Ryan’s romantic comedies on a Saturday afternoon, aren’t coming into fruition now or any time soon. For Easter, my students supplied me with a month’s worth of chocolate. It’s as if they knew I’d be spending some quality time with my inner thoughts this week, that I’d really need to cope because I’m getting a year older and clearly, clearly things will begin to fall apart since 28 means I’m nearly 30, and nearly 30 means I’m approaching the time of life when prunes are valuable instead of gross and scrapbooking becomes a means of passing time until I forget I have time to pass.
My students told me, just this morning while we were looking at each other’s essays, that I should write an essay about why I’m not married already. One of my girls later said, as we walked to lunch that if I didn’t get married by the time I was 29, I’d never get married and I would probably die alone. No need to verbalize my inner monologue, I wanted to tell her. But instead, I smiled and told her that I can’t commit myself to taking care of plant; how could I care for a marriage? She and her friend then criticized my inability to care for plants (“It’s so easy, Ms. C! All you do is water them!”) and I knew we’d successfully moved off the M word and onto lesser problems.
So, Sunday I’ll be a year older. Big whoop. I don’t feel any older, although I’ve noticed that I’ve been paying attention to things that sure make me seem like I’m older. For instance, ironing: wrinkly clothes send the wrong message. When I was in college, and in fact up until I moved here, anything that smelled like clean laundry was wearable. But not now. Wrinkles are simply not professional. And because I’m older, I must be professional, and therefore if A=B and B=C, I cannot wear wrinkly clothes.
Another example: bedtime. The more sleep you get, the better you feel in the morning. Gone are the days of staying out late at bars and crawling home to skip my first period of school. It’s all about responsibility these days, all about fulfilling duties that go along with being professional. And marriage? Yeah, that’s a big one. Don’t think I’m not keeping track of all my friends, and I do mean all of them, who are promised to someone else for a lifetime, or who are planning on it. Don’t think I’m not seeing how I compare to the long list of people who are producing little humans left and right. Their children are probably going to be filling out their college applications before I get around to allowing my uterus to produce anything other than the occasional cramp. And finally, the most recent evidence that I’m growing older: fiber. It really works. Who knew that those weird health cereals–the kinds without marshmallows or colored puffy crunchy things in the shapes of monsters, the kind, instead, made up of wirey brown bran that falls apart even as liquid approaches the bowl–would be so cleansing for my body? I’ll tell you who knew: All the people who value prunes. Those people know everything. And I am on my way to being just like them.
I’d like to slow myself down a little bit, hang onto these last couple years of my twenties. They’ve been good years so far, and for the most part, I think, I’ve been foolishly blind through them. But the fact remains, which is why I am thankful for all this chocolate, you can’t go back. Time moves on and sooner or later you come to realize, whether you admit to it or not, fiber is your friend.