A Birthday Reflection

I’m thirty-two this week. Thirty-freakin-two. Old enough to drive — twice. Old enough to drink. Old enough to know who Dick van Dyke is, but still just shy of being able to receive social security benefits. Apparently, I’m old enough to have two kids, but still young enough to melt down like a two year-old every now and then — just ask our microwave about that one. Or my cell phone — may it rest in peace. As a kid, imagining myself at thirty-freakin-two, I’ll admit that I foresaw two very contrasting futures. In the first, I’m giving birth to Child #6 — have I mentioned that Cheaper By the Dozen used to be my favorite book? Yeah, I thought so. Well, I was ten. 


Anyway, in this imagined/fabricated life, I’m packing lunches and slathering peanut butter on bread, high-fiving my kids from the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey as I drop them off for soccer practice, and joyfully wiping up the spilled milk with a Brawny paper towel — all while well-rested and smiling. Yes, my life was going to be a mom commercial. Later that evening, my imaginary husband — who looks nothing like the real one, by the way — and I sip tea and smile knowingly at each other as our children doze at our feet. In other words, I’m wildly successful.


In the other, I’m Leslie Knope-like, the first female president of the United States. In between meeting with heads of state and visiting my hometown to oversee proper construction of the many statues of me, I’d find time to party like a rock star with my secret service agents — sounds like they know what’s up. I’m humble and astute. Charismatic and thoughtful. Judicious and pretty. Open-minded and fast. I’ll leave the rest of that daydream alone for fear of getting too partisan and alienating half my readership, though I’ve probably already done that with my CPS “jokes.” Just know, though, that in this life, I’m also wildly successful.


So how about my real life? Let’s put things in perspective here according to age. 


At the age of twenty-eight, Niels Bohr, published his theory of the atom, Alexander Graham Bell was about to invent the phone, Friedrich Nietzsche published his first book, and Michelangelo — the Renaissance artist, not the Ninja Turtle, believe it or not — had completed David and the Pieta, and was about to begin painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Huh. Good for him. Also, at twenty-eight, Elizabeth Taylor was the highest paid actress in history. Congrats, Liz. By the age of thirty, Alexander the Great was dubbed the King of Kings and had conquered half the world. Ok… Eli Whitney had patented the cotton gin. So? Donald Trump was able to borrow $80 million for the purchase of the Commodore Hotel. And Bill Gates? Yeah, he was already a billionaire at thirty. So that’s nice. And, looking ahead a bit, at the age of thirty-three, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic alone. BFD. Also, at thirty-three, Jesus of Nazareth was…well, Jesus. Ok, hard to top that one — I won’t even try. 


And then there’s me. Since most of the above people are dead, with the exception of Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Jesus — on Easter Sunday anyway — I don’t fear making them feel badly by comparing my accomplishments to theirs. My accomplishments on a day to day basis are just as admirable. 


They include: successfully distracting Nate while Sam finishes his lunch, thereby saving Sam’s life; saving Sam’s life yet again by keeping him from running into the street; preventing Sam from swan-diving out of his high chair at every single meal; correctly addressing Nate as the super-hero du jour — lately it’s been Raphael — the Ninja Turtle, not the Renaissance artist; mopping up all our tears and spills of the day with only one ShamWow!; and staying alive and awake until both Nate and Sam are asleep in bed for the night. All in a day’s work! Now that’s a BFD. Take that, Amelia Earhart! The Atlantic Ocean isn’t even the big one. Try the Pacific next time — oh, that’s right, you did. I guess we all feel the need to disappear sometimes. 


So, according to the standards set by Bohr, Bell, Michelangelo, Elizabeth Taylor and the rest, I’m right on pace. But what about the next thirty-freakin-two years? How will I end this life? How can I stay on top? And when you’re on top, everyone is gunning for you. I have a bullseye on my back, so I gotta up my game — especially since Nate and Sam are now armed as they patrol the house. As long as I stay vigilant and don’t get complacent, this is how I foresee the rest of my life playing out. 


First, I need a knee brace. My left knee in particular is starting to get sore and, much like my septuagenarian lawyer friend, I don’t want to deal with the recovery of knee replacement surgery. A knee brace will suffice. Second, I need to develop a daily regimen of hamstring stretches. I gotta stay flexible so I can compete with my pint-sized foes. And they have the advantage of growing bigger by the day. Note to self: stop trying to feed them a healthy diet of protein and fruits and vegetables. This is self-defeating in so many ways.


Ok, that covers my physique. I figure Legos and jigsaw puzzles with Nate will be enough to maintain a first-rate, high-caliber brain. I’m no spring chicken anymore. I’m thirty-freakin-two. My future accomplishments won’t come without a lot of hard work, and a twenty-four piece floor puzzle of a farm is just the kind of hard work I’m cut out for.


Here’s the rest of my plan. Once Nate and Sam turn four, they’ll have grown out of naps and be ready for boarding school. Yes, there are such schools with highly-esteemed pre-k programs. And fortunately, most are in former Soviet republics, many time zones away. Ceausescu really had a lot of great pro-natalist ideas, even if many education experts in the West would dub these programs “orphanages.”  


Anyway, with a superior mind, limber hamstrings, and more free time, I’ll be able to broker a peaceful compromise in the Middle East. You’re welcome, world — I know that issue’s been a real thorn in your side for a few centuries now. Next, I’ll be able to solve world hunger. I’m actually already working on this one, and I’m pretty close to a solution. I need to re-work some calculations, but I’m pretty sure the answer has something to do with the “flat” kind of frosted mini-wheats as opposed to the “crunchy” kind. This distinction was a crucial finding in guaranteeing a successful breakfast at our house, and I’m confident we can extrapolate it to the rest of the developing world. My resumé as a mom is no joke.


Now, don’t think I’m a totally callous mom just because I’m so career-driven and success oriented. I understand that children need “engaged time” with their parents, and their mother specifically, so I’ll be making regular trips to Romania to visit Nate and Sam. I’ll check in with them on their schooling, making sure that their history tutelage is accurately pro-American, that their hamstrings are properly stretched, and they’ve moved on to more challenging puzzles, perhaps a three-dimensional cityscape of Baltimore.   


And eventually, when Nate and Sam have matured into rational, self-reliant, less messy adults, they are more than welcome to come live in our time zone again. Note that I said “time zone,” not “house.” We will have dinners together and discuss things other than ninja training, poo-poo pee paw, and ketchup. Perhaps we’ll even venture to a restaurant besides McDonald’s or José Peppers — you know, one without a play place or “free balloon” policy or that doesn’t serve Teddy Grahams with each kid’s meal. We will take family vacations and not fear Sam crawling under the seats to the front of the plane or head-banging the innocent people in front of us.


Both boys might even give us grandchildren, whom I will visit regularly, messing up their houses in the process, as revenge for what they’ve done to me, to our kitchen floor, to our coffee table, to our area rugs. My mom always threatened this, too, but she’s never actually followed through on it — unless you count cooking meals from scratch, dusting our ceilings and baseboards, and scrubbing the tiles in the shower as “messing up your house someday.”


I’ll laugh as Grown-Up Nate and Sam get poked with foam swords, comb peanut butter from their hair, and do over thirteen hundred loads of laundry in a single week. Then, I’ll hug them both, as I slip an envelope of cash in their hands. Yes, cash money from my Nobel prizes and Pulitzer awards — money that I’ve been saving for them so that they can enroll their own children in a highly prestigious boarding school. At that moment, it will have all been worth it. But the money I earn from beating Ken Jennnings’ streak on Jeopardy!? I’m keeping that for myself — and my real husband, I guess.