Monday, July 03, 2017


For almost three months, I have been 40.

I'm not going into my whole life story, but I will say that I've been a late bloomer; it's taken me longer than many to grow into my body, my mind, my strengths, my self.  And though the wrinkles and so many other physical changes -- creakiness (ha) and grey hairs, and all the rest that no one said would start in my 30's -- keep on coming, each age mile-marker feels like an invitation onto more solid ground.

I wasn't sure how to mark my 40th, but being back in California, it made sense to integrate my old California friends and DC sisters.  Initially it was going to be a camping adventure with Trail Mavens in Big Sur with hikes and hot springs at Esalen, jade hunting in Jade Cove, long nights around the fire talking.  But California rained this year.  And rained.  And parts of it flooded, and roads, including Highway 1 through Big Sur -- and our campsite -- closed a month before my birthday.

I scrambled and fretted and second-guessed myself, and finally, after realizing what I most wanted was all of us in one beautiful space, rented a beach house with winding stairs up to a roof deck, and living room windows full of ocean.  Amazing what you can do when you divide it by 12.

One reason I haven't written about the weekend is that it was too full, my gratitude so swollen, it's felt tender.  But I realized today what I learned there.

I tend to be a doer.  Though I'm pretty good at asking for help when I've smacked into my own limitations (often), I feel much less comfortable receiving when I'm not desperate.  I'd rather just get 'er done.

Most years, I throw my own birthday parties.  I love bringing the people I adore together over good food to celebrate and thank them; it's only fitting since they're the reasons I survive the all the days between my birthdays.

Thinking about it now, nothing here is surprising, but I was surprised the days leading up to the weekend by how hard it was for me to shake off the impulse to pick up the reins -- to over-ask questions, to run to Costco, to coordinate.  I knew there'd been planning meetings, spreadsheets even!, menus, coordinated food shopping, and a house decorated for celebration -- all without me.  I was just going to show up (and I didn't like it).

The night before we left, I lay in bed feeling naked and anxious that I hadn't made cards or gifts for my friends. I hadn't planned toasts or words or anything that I usually would do -- I hadn't done anything at all.  I'd picked a date and found a house to rent.  That was it.  Ben kept saying, don't worry -- go and receive.

But that's not what I do on my birthday.  And I was surprised that the feeling I had, even just thinking about it, was near shame.

When I got to the house, it was already full -- a kitchen unpacked, a mantle redecorated, roses from friends' gardens as if it were a wedding, our names taped to bedroom doors, a dogwood branch (that my CA friends didn't associated with April, but struck me with DC spring), bowls of candy, magazines out -- a zillion details.  And that was only the start.  All weekend long, people read poems they'd picked and told us why they'd chosen each.  Everyone rallied for a djembe lesson.  I heart butter shirts appeared.  Friends stood over a hot stove stirring huge pans of paella (which I didn't know I loved).  There were bottles of Lambrusco at lunch, a breakfast Toast Bar with ricotta, figs, honey, jam, avocado, prosciutto -- make your own.  There were hot afternoon cornmeal cookies and tissue paper flamingos perched on our margarita glasses.  We took walks through the neighborhood, down the cliffs, on the sand.  A friend led yoga, another gave us good words in the morning that lasted all day.  We rotated through an art table gluing, painting and pasting poems into the book they were giving me.  We played raucous games and a friend took beautiful pictures.  We stood all together in golden light, friends' faces golden too in the late afternoon, and much to my surprise, I cried.

Usually, in a group like that, I speak.  I don't really cry.  But that weekend, for so many straight hours, I'd received -- which really means I'd been loved and known and spoken aloud.  And all the sense of strength and doing, being and presenting, cracked, and I just got to be with.  That, it turns out, is a powerful gift.    

What I discovered -- besides the wild fun and deep love of these people (not really a new discovery) -- was this:  my 20's were all about cracking -- the end of rosy childhood and nuclear family scaffolding, the discoveries of carrying my own weight, of partnering with someone, working a job, doing my own taxes, finding boundaries, lacking boundaries, starting the work of untangling and examining self,  -- a lot of fun and fumbling and finding my sea legs.

Then, my 30's: a decade of babies and building a family, of moving across the country with them twice, of finding my edges, of building communities, of getting-my-hands-dirty marital work and healing, of taking responsibility -- the years, in short, of becoming an adult.  What also happened during those full 30's was a lot of spackling and caulking.  I'd done the cracking already, and now, in the years of infants, toddlers, and small kids, the years of immediacy -- sloshy and incredibly bonding, exhausting and delicious -- I was cleaning it up.

(and I said I wasn't going to tell my whole life story...)

I didn't really know I'd done that until my birthday weekend, when showing up without any caulk felt so vulnerable.  I was bare, and still we celebrated more than I'd imagined.

What I hope is that my 40's are a decade of walking around without the caulk, of trusting people a little bit more, of stepping out the door when I'm unraveling, even if it means embarrassingly trailing knotty yarn through the neighborhood, of daring not to sink on the couch and close the blinds.

Thanks, friends, at this weekend and not, for walking outside with me, no matter.


Laura said...

Beautiful Bronwen! YOU are such a gift. Miss you!!

Jessica said...

Lovely words! So so happy for the beautiful celebrating of beautiful you!!!!