My 25th birthday was a melancholy one.
I didn’t do much on my birthday ten years ago. I remember going to see a movie by myself in downtown Boston. It was the start of my second year of grad school and I’d just returned to New England from a summer in Sacramento.
Maybe because 25 was just starting to feel old. Maybe because one month earlier I met the girl who I’d eventually marry and had just left her in California. Maybe because I was already a third of my way through grad school and time was moving fast.
Whatever the reason, I remember not being in a cheery mood and spending a couple hours in a dark theater sounded perfect.
The evening was overcast when the movie ended and I took the T back to Harvard Square. An hour later I caught a friend online and he briefly coaxed me out of my slump.
“It’s your birthday, man. I’ll buy you a drink.” We both had a Johnny Walker Black and I sulked back home.
Twenty-five was off to a dreary start.
My 35th birthday could not be any more different.
Ten years later I’m all grown up: I’m married with a house, two kids, and a dog. So my birthday involved all of it.
I woke up and took my dog and youngest daughter for a nice long hike in Briones Regional Park. She loves the backpack and fell asleep after about 30 minutes.
We walked along an oak-lined creek, past dry grass meadows and up to a summit with a beautiful view of Mount Diablo. We walked past horses and stepped over cow pies and nodded at other hikers with their dogs. Norah grunted and sang and slept while Blue sped ahead, occasionally looking back to check on us.
We made our way back down the other side of the hill and drove into downtown Lafayette to get a smoothie and lunch at Vitality Bowl, a favorite of ours. Everything is made to order and really slow, so Norah crawled around while I answered a couple of work emails.
We drove home where my wife was starting her lunch break after working in the morning. I made a big salad for lunch and Norah had some of the smoothie bowl we brought home for my wife. They played in the side yard while I finished up the only work I’d do today. I just did inbox maintenance. No real work on my birthday.
At four o’clock we all drove to my older daughter’s preschool. We let my younger daughter crawl around and interact with the kids who all were excited to play with a baby. We packed up the car again and drove to Susie Cakes in downtown Lafayette, another of our favorites. My family sang Happy Birthday to me while I ate a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting.
I took my younger daughter to BevMo to pick up some whiskey for the evening and met my wife and older daughter at a children’s bookstore. I called in a sushi order to eat at home. After that we met up with our neighbors and all rode out to the last fruiting blackberry bush in our neighborhood.
I helped get the kids to bed and invited several of the neighborhood dads over to join me down by the creek in my backyard to drink scotch and smoke cigars. Midnight came fast and we broke up the party. I went to bed tired and happy.
Thirty-five years is a long time. I’m ten years passed grad school and nearly twenty years passed high school. I was very ambitious back then and sometimes I wonder if that 25-year-old self would think I’ve plateaued or underachieved.
I probably thought I’d be a multi-millionaire by now, at least regionally famous, and cavorting with my other rich and famous friends. I’m none of those things, and I’ve learned in the last ten years that it doesn’t matter.
What matters is finding happiness and it comes in many forms. I do think having enough money to cover the basics is important. We’ve managed to do that. But more important than that is finding a sense of community. We’ve done that too.
I had high hopes when we moved to Contra Costa County a year and a half ago. It’s been better than I imagined.
Two healthy kids and a wife who loves me. A little house at the end of a court, with a creek and dozens of oak and bay trees. Some really great neighbors that help pass the time in those toughest of hours between dinner and bedtime.
That’s the American dream and I’m fortunate to be living it. It’s all I should have hoped for at 35.