By the time the newest royal baby is old enough to legally drink, I’ll be approaching 50. This is what my latest birthday means to me: perspective. Not so long ago, I was appalled to find that I empathised more with Lorelai than with Rory. Now I think Emily probably had it right. Death must be soon.
I don’t care very much about 30, academically. I’m not married, and I don’t own a house, and I don’t mind very much about those things. I want them one day, but that I won’t have them on my birthday, milestones to check off on my fingers, I don’t care very much about that. Of course, you don’t write “I don’t care” three times in a single paragraph without giving away the truth. I care about everything, including Madeline McCann and the fact that they don’t make Vinegar Blast Munchos anymore, and my parents’ separation. I never stop caring. It’s part of my charm.
I used to be much more strident about milestones but in the opposite way. At 15 I was vocally, vehemently, against the idea of having children. I didn’t want to be a mother, not because I didn’t think I’d be good at it (I thought I was good at everything, including waterpolo, even though I nearly drowned every time I played) but because it seemed the antithesis of everything I wanted to be: thin, beautiful, rich and, ideally, a widely lauded author. I also, up until far too late, strongly believed I would one day develop magical powers, and would indulge in fantasies about thwarting robberies and saving the lives of the teachers I liked best. I let some of them die.
I’m Facebook friends with loads of people I went to high school and university with. I recognise fewer and fewer of them as I scroll through, sometimes because they’ve changed their hair, and sometimes because they’ve changed their names. I care about some of them, but not most of them. If I had magical powers, and witnessed them in mortal peril, I would probably try to save them. If I could move things with my mind, I’d stop the bus or the knife, conceivably. But I’m not keeping watch.
I don’t really know what they see when they scroll past me. In a perfect world, they’d seen an enviable life, with good hair and expendable income and expensive travel. They’d see me surrounded by glamorous international friends. They’d see me succeeding. That’s what I curate my feed to represent, after all, so if that’s not what they’re seeing then what? Someone far away from some of her friends, and most of her family. Someone who’s not quite where she could have been (Where are the bylines? The books?). Dragged her heels, settled, revised her own expectations for herself, and then again, and then again.
People are constantly posting lists of things they learned by 30. Usually 30 things, as if there’s a designation of one important learning per calendar year. What if you lock down something essential on January 1st? Do you have to refuse to learn anything else for another 364 days? And what if that becomes a habit?
I think, in all honesty, I haven’t learned a single thing. Or, to put it another way – I haven’t learned anything I couldn’t potentially unlearn. I’m constantly revising, myself and my life, and my expectations. There are plenty of things I’ve learned that I would have considered certainties, that I now question, or completely rebuke. There are no hard truths that you learn as your hair gets grey and your skin softens that you didn’t likely already know at 12, covered in freckles, with a sunburnt nose.
Wear sunscreen. Be nice to people. Save money if you can. Be stingy with trust. Be generous with love. Wear shoes that fucking fit.
I’ll probably be a mother, and might even be a good one. 15 year old Scarlett, with streaks in her hair and orange foundation on her face, and all kinds of doubts in her brain, for all her many wisdoms, would have laughed at that. 15 years on, though, I still trust most of her judgments. Eat vegetables. Be wary of boys. Brush your teeth. Let your blisters heal. Read all the books, then read them again.
I haven’t developed any magical powers yet, but there’s a certain kind of magic in that, too. They might be just around the corner. They might be brewing, yet, in the tips of my fingers.