In a few weeks’ time, I will celebrate my 30th birthday. I mention this preemptively because I sent out an email to our Lisboan friends last night, inviting them to celebrate with us the weekend beforehand. Sending that email made me excited, as I always love my birthday. (Except the singing part, when everyone looks at me. Yuck. Two years ago, I almost had a panic attack while blowing out my candles. Not good.)

At the same time though, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Our original plan was to go home for two weeks at the end of May, spend my birthday and Memorial Day with our families, then come back for our last two months here before moving home. We even went so far as buying the tickets, but eventually we decided that it would be a huge amount of effort for such a short trip, especially when we were moving home for good so soon afterward. So we decided to spend my birthday here in Lisbon instead, and then go to Stockholm for a week at the end of May.

Now that all this is upon us, I find myself both relieved that we’re not doing a fifteen-hour flight in two weeks’ time… but also sad that I won’t be with my loved ones at home for my birthday. I’ve spent plenty of birthdays abroad before, but somehow, they never get any easier.

The first that I can remember was my ninth, when we were living in Oxford. I think there was a freakishly late snow storm that day, as I have a vague memory of waking up to see fat white flakes falling outside my window. I’m not even sure if the snow storm was actually on my birthday, or if I conflated two memories into one. But clearly, whenever it was, the snow made a big impression on me.

Next time was my nineteenth birthday, when I was living with a host family in the south of France. They threw a big party for me, since my birthday conveniently coincided with the annual feria celebrations at the end of May. All their friends came over, along with mine from the exchange program I was on, and they made a massive paella in a pan that was probably four feet wide. Of course with all that attention and excitement, I drank a little too much sangria, and when it came time to blow out my candles, I leaned a little too far… and before I knew it, a lock of my hair was up in flames. We put it out fairly quickly, but I was mortified nonetheless.

The last birthday I spent abroad was my 25th, when I was in grad school. For some reason I chose to celebrate at a Brazilian club near the university, and I was surprised when a huge group of people showed up, including one of our professors. This was not as much a reflection of my popularity as much as the fact that we had been revising for nearly two months, and it was our last big blow out before exams began in early June.

I shared both my birthday and the party with another guy on my program, who was a few years younger than me. At one point he said, “Now you’re closer to thirty than you are to twenty!” Great, I said. Thanks for reminding me.

Five years later, that milestone is nearly upon me, but I can’t say that I dread it as much as some of my friends seem to. Frankly my third decade was damn hard, and I’m not that sad to leave it behind. I learned a lot, as proven by the lines I’m starting to see on my face, near my mouth, under my eyes. But I’ve earned every one of those lines, and wouldn’t go back to my smoother, more innocent state if you paid me. Each of them marks a lesson I’ve learned, a smile I’ve felt, a tear I’ve shed, all of which have prepared me well for my forth decade. I have high hopes that it’ll be the best one yet.

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