Celebrating Milestones


I’m celebrating a milestone birthday this year. I’m told that it’s a milestone because it has a zero in it, but it doesn’t feel especially extraordinary to me. According to my family and friends, this magical milestone means that my vision will soon deteriorate along with my confidence in driving at night followed unceremoniously by hearing loss (which I suspect my husband will secretly look forward to because my phenomenal hearing has always been my super power).

Over breakfast with my mom and brother to celebrate the momentous occasion, I thought about how slow the march of time can seem. When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to grow up, and it seems as though the big day will never come – but it does in a blink. You spend those first years of adulthood trying to adjust to the responsibility and figure things out while getting mired down in the bills, the ins and outs of health insurance, retirement planning, and full-time jobs. I still remember walking into my first full-time job one sunny morning and realizing that I actually had to go every day whether I wanted to or not. And it would be that way for the rest of my life. The realization was horrifying.

When you’re a newly minted adult, poor choices and mistakes happen as often as great experiences and new firsts. As you learn to navigate these new waters, the passage of time is hardly noticed as jobs change, friends come and go, marriages are made, and babies are born. Then suddenly one day you realize ten years have passed; or was it 20? It couldn’t have been that long ago, hadn’t that just happened yesterday? Those newborn babies are graduating from high school, marriages you helped celebrate are ending in divorce, and dear friends are grieving their own “life milestone losses” on your “milestone birthday.” When you’re in the moment, the passage of time is barely perceptible. But, when you reflect on it, it feels as though everything in your life is actually happening on fast-forward.

In my birthday card this year, my nearly 98-year-old grandmother wrote in her shaky hand, “Life begins at 40!” In my mother’s card, she enclosed a photo of me smiling proudly at three years old with her lipstick smeared all over my face and reminded me that life was knowing when to stay and not stay in the lines. I feel fortunate as I stand at the top of my proverbial hill that so far I have loved fearlessly with my entire heart and have been lucky enough to have been loved in return. I have made mistakes, but I have done my best to learn from them. I feel fortunate to have family and friends who care for me and challenge me on a regular basis. I have wept bitterly and passionately, survived heartbreaks so shattering I thought I would never recover, laughed so hard I almost wet my pants, and tried never to lose sight of my dreams. I try to take care of the body and mind I was given because I learned at a very young age that things last longer when you take good care of them. And I’ve come to understand that life is fleeting and no matter how much time you’re given with someone you love, it will never be enough.

I may have reached this milestone – and according to a dear friend, “middle age” – but to be honest, I feel like a kid who spends her days masquerading as a grown-up. I’ve learned a few things, but navigating adulthood never gets easier because each decade brings its own challenges. Trying to accept things you cannot change helps a person roll with the punches as does giving yourself patience and time to feel, reflect, and enjoy the moments you have. It’s also important to remember to find reasons to laugh and celebrate on a regular basis, even if it’s finally paying off the credit card or the unexpected flat tire that leaves you temporarily stranded in Ireland. It’s also important to surround yourself with people and things you love and not to wait to follow your dreams. At the end of it all, each day is a milestone because we never know how many more we’re going to get.

I may not be a kid on the outside anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to embrace the one I still am on the inside. I still believe that dreams are worth fighting for, magic is real, and Santa Claus exists even if it’s only inside all of us. I can eat my birthday cake for breakfast if I want, not get chastised for having a foul mouth, and stay up as late as I want, though, truthfully, now that I have that luxury I can rarely keep my eyes open past 10:30 pm. Another fun fact that I have recently learned is that Underoos come in adult sizes. Now I don’t know about you, but milestone birthdays, adulthood, and middle age seem a lot easier to face in Wonder Woman underpants.

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Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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