As I was detangling my ‘fro, a silvery fleck of light caught my eye.
It was a silver unlike anything I had ever seen in my natural black life.
It was a gray hair.
And, with a quickness, I was mad as hell. I was so mad, I couldn’t even mash the numbers on my cell phone to call my mother. And, of course, I’d want to call my mother. Because who else can make me feel less old than the woman who gave birth to me?
When I recalled the story of uncovering my first gray hair to my mother, she laughed. Loudly. In my ear.
“I mean, Erika, what do you expect? You ARE thirty, now.”
Whew, and she’s right. I’m now officially at that age that I used to clown when I was in my early twenties, whenever I had managers or teacher’s assistants or whomever who served as an authority figure to me. “You’re thirty? Where’s your walker? Where’s your caaaaaaaane? You got your tube of Ben Gay on deck?”
And, here I am. Thirty. No walker. No cane. No ben gay. No denture glue. Just a lot of guilt, and a gray hair – I made thirty out to be so old, but it doesn’t feel old. What I DO feel… is smarter.
Well, sort of.
In the middle of my mother’s laughter – trust me, it went on MUCH longer than it should’ve – I had some time to think. Thirty is a milestone birthday, and I did nothing to celebrate it. Nothing. No dinner party, no celebration, no twer— uh, dancing, nothing. My thirty came and went like a sparkler – a little “ooh, shiny” moment and then, gone. Fizzled out in a flurry of “HBD” wall posts on FB.
I’ve missed the mark for celebrating the day the world was graced with my epic dopeness (or some such), but can I commemorate it here? How? And with what?
Just about any writer who reaches a milestone birthday does something list-ish for their birthday. Perhaps I’ll do that. 30 things you can learn from my 30 years of growing, changing, fighting to be better, and screwing up. Basically, these thirty things amount to “Erika did that, so you wont have to go through that:”
1) Carry the condoms. Not because you’re a ho, but because you’re a woman who is proactive about her self-protection and her health. Even a committed partner can make the mistake of forgetting them and, if he’d call you a “ho” for keeping them in check, you’ve got to think twice about whether or not you should be with him. He just might not be ready.
2) Learn how to kiss. Not just how to do that weird tongue flick thing that you always see in “the movies,” but how to really fall into a deep, passionate kiss… how to smell your lover’s breath and feel it shift the hairs on your face, how to breathe in the same air together and breathe out the same heat. Learn how to enjoy the intimacy and the oneness embodied in that kiss. And then treasure it.
3) Be choosy. Not just with yourself, not just with your time, but with your energy. Gossiping isn’t nearly as prosperous as complimenting someone else. I guarantee you you’ll feel much better after complimenting someone – “Oh, I love your shoes!” “Oh, that makeup looks lovely on you!” “Your earrings are so dope!” – than you would in knowing “Soandso just got evicted from her apartment, but she’s walking around in Louboutins…mmhmm.” If anything…
4) Be compassionate. Feel bad that she feels she needs shoes more than she needs shelter, that she never learned how to healthily manage her money, or feel bad that somewhere, something went very wrong. Don’t hold things against people. You never know how they got where they are, and you don’t know what it might take to get them out. Besides…
4b) Don’t exist in a world of shame. Don’t try to use people’s pasts – or presents – as a means of silencing them or forcing them to disengage. It’s cruel. If someone’s wrong, you can debate them on the facts alone. If you feel like you need to resort to shame to end a discussion, you’re better off being silent. Speaking of which…
5) Silence is a virtue. It’s hard to fight the desire to constantly be talking in a world that encourages us to vie for attention. But whew, you learn soooo much simply by choosing to remain silent and listen to the people around you instead of engage them.
6) Define your look and own it. Go to a makeup artist and learn how to style your face – neutral, nude, night faces. Follow hair and style blogs and experiment. Keep your eye on styles and trends that excite you, and own them. I might like a nice suit and tie, but I also like my kicks and my drawstring joggers. Both make me happy.
7) You’re not missing out on anything by skipping the breadbasket. Besides, why the hell would you fill up on free shit before the meal you paid for shows up?
8) You’re not missing out on anything by skipping that grocery store cake, either. Unless it’s butter creme frosting. Mmmmh, buttercream.
9) Self-care is a revolutionary act. The world today demands that we focus all of our time and energy on someone else, especially as women. We’re supposed to self-sacrifice for our jobs, for our husbands (or wives or in-betweens), for our children… who’s encouraged to sacrifice for us? No one. It is a revolutionary act. That’s exactly why it’s so hard to commit to it. You’ve literally got to fight for the right to love yourself.
10) Admire the pretty pictures as art…and nothing more. The ads, the commercials, the runway shows….all of it. Edited to the got damn max. If it isn’t walking in front of you regularly on a damn-near-every-day basis, you can’t guarantee its validity. Don’t compare yourself to it, don’t define yourself by it, and for damn sure don’t run yourself broke trying to live up to it.
11) Those fat burner pills will kill you, yo. You’re better off drinking an espresso shot before you train.
12) Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day of exercise. Or, even a week. So what? The more of a stink we make internally about missing a day, the harder we make it on ourselves to get back into it. Be gentle with yourself. That’s why…
13) You should never say anything to or about yourself that you’d never say to your child. When I look at my daughter and think some of the things I think about myself… and I cry? That’s how I know I’m being too hard on myself. I deserve to be protected from my own negative thoughts just as much as she does. And, yes…
14) Negative thoughts are unavoidable. They’re a part of living in a society that profits off of making you believe you can’t be whole without buying a product from someone. Negative thoughts will always find a way to surface at one time or another. That doesn’t change the fact that you still have an obligation to actively protect yourself from them.
15) Live for good experiences, not just good times. The bar with friends might be a good time, but can you step it up a notch? Can you go hit up the bumper cars? Can y’all go mini golfing? Can y’all go walk a bridge together, laughing and talking? Hell, if y’all go to the bar together, you might not even remember the night the next morning. Pardon my reductiveness, but that ain’t worth the calories, babe.
16) It might not be cool to admit you’re a feminist, but it for damn sure becomes interesting when you realize how much less you’re being paid than a man who does the same damn job as you. Let go of that stigma and acknowledge it, babe.
17) While everyone’s hunting for a partner who’s already fit, there’s little better than finding a partner who wants just as badly as you to learn to live a healthier life…why? Because that means you can explore the world together looking for what’s going to make you both fit and happy. And, that’s great! because…
17b) There is little better in life than fit and flexible sex. Got damn.
18) In all things, get a mentor. A mentor for work, a mentor for your relationship, a mentor for your career path, a mentor for your sorority life, a mentor for your sport, whatever. In all things, lean on the guidance of someone who has been there and looks forward to helping the newer generation fight their way through it. Besides, this frees up your brain space to focus on getting your field farther in its craft, as opposed to bogging you down with reinventing the metaphorical wheel.
19) Don’t worry about people staring. People will always be staring, whether you’re super dope or whether you’re awful. You can’t control anything other than how much you let it affect you. If it helps, imagine they’re staring at how awesome your hair is, and say to them (in your mind, of course), “I woke up like this!” Speaking of which,
21) Make time for the little things. Not just for you, but for your loved ones. As little as it might seem to you, I promise your world will not collapse because you took out 10 minutes to play Uno with your kid[s] — or, hell, with your spouse.
22) Learn how to dance. Even if “dance” means “wine ya body to da beat,” do it. Even if it means “just not stepping on your partner’s toes,” learn. There’s nothing more fun than a late night on a crowded dance floor and a partner you trust. Besides, you can start a lot when you put an arch in your back.
23) Good food doesn’t make you wanna gorge on it, binge on it without regret; good food makes you want to savor it, breathe in the scent, taste the textures on your tongue, listen to the way it breaks against your teeth, feel the way your knife cuts across it, observe its bright and beautiful colors. Good food is an experience, not a scarfing session. And it’s okay to experience it shamelessly.
24) Don’t be in the business of chasing anyone that doesn’t want to be kept. When people don’t show you that they care enough to be in your life regularly and to your satisfaction, don’t feel bad about replacing them with people who do. If anything, you’re doing them a favor – they’ll come around when they’re ready, and if they never come around, you’ll be too busy surrounding yourself with more friends to notice.
25) That goes for potential partners, too. It’s totally okay to make the first move – it’s totally not okay to be the only one making moves. If you feel like you’re carrying the brunt of the load of creating the connection between the two of you, then that other person isn’t interested in creating the connection at all. And, quite frankly, there’s too much dick out there for all that.
26) Find a safe way to lay off some steam. Get a good fiction book. Go for a run. Take a bubble bath. Practice your bakasana. The world is stressful! Fight the pressure by putting on a boxing glove. Or a leotard. Or a wet suit. YOLO.
27) Ignore people who clown you for still saying YOLO. You do what you want.
28) Learn how to fall asleep unassisted by substances. No alcohol. No medicine. No nothing. If you need, go train super hard with a fitness DVD or make some chamomile tea…. at least that’s infinitely better than getting drunk to fall asleep.
29) Be patient. Antsy is for people who are insecure about their efforts towards their goals. Patience is for the people who know they’re working hard, and their hard work will pay off with consistency when it is time. Nose to the grindstone, head to the stars.
30) 30 might be old to a 20-something, but who cares what they think, anyway? They still smell like Similac.
All jokes aside, so much about getting older is realizing that you need to care less about how your actions look to others, and more about whether or not your actions make you happy. Besides, who’s responsibility is it to make sure you’re happy? Yours!
(And nothing made me happier than to yank that gray hair out of my hair! The three that replaced that one, though….I just colored them with a sharpie.)
What lessons have you learned the hard way?