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Friday, April 20 Opinion

Well Intended / The icing on each birthday cake is a sweet bit of wisdom

On Sunday afternoon, I happened to walk by the restaurant where I celebrated my 35th birthday. It was empty, not being time for dinner or lunch, but I could see the table where my ex-husband and I sat together a decade ago.

A sitter was home with our children. He had surprised me with an evening away from our center-hall colonial and the life that we were trying so hard to make fit. Thirty-five felt significant to me. I had been living my adult life long enough to question it. We had acquired many of the things that we thought we needed. It was a season of reflection. I had outgrown my idea of myself.

Statistics are meaningful in the analysis of populations, but fail at the individual level. There is no guarantee that I will live to 90, and middle age as the actual center point of my life may have passed years ago. But this moment feels central.

At 35, I believed that I was wise. I had been to college twice by then. I'd read and listened and learned and lived. I had traveled and loved and had suffered and lost everything I thought I wanted. And I had found other dreams that I never knew I desired. I thought I understood myself. I had been surprised by life and by my own resilience.

I believed my stories were behind me and that the rest of life would be spent making sense of them. Fascinated with the possibilities, I thought I had acquired the foundation to develop the understanding that would make meaning of it all. I was ready to tell stories and reflect and to continue to observe and consider everything.

We tend to think that everything that is meaningful has already occurred. The books we read and movies we watch train us to believe that the significant narratives are those that happen in youth. The credits roll on a 25 year old, and we only wonder as long as it takes to throw away our popcorn container and find our car keys what happens next. That's a story. Life doesn't work that way.

I won't tell you what will happen in the years that will come. I have finally learned not to try to guess what life has left to teach.

Next week, I hope the children (who have grown into teenagers) and I will bake a cake and they'll tease me about not having enough candles to represent all of my years. I'll let them squeeze out the words "Happy Birthday" in sloppy icing. Then, we'll sing out of sync -- we never start at the same time. My son will leave the icing on the side of his plate and my daughter will offer to finish it. I'll remember the beloved toddlers they were when I was 35 and will celebrate this moment, when we are sharing a home and learning from each other daily. I will not rush, nor will I linger.

Tomorrow will come and will bring with it new love, beauty, lessons and challenges. And, in a decade, if you ask me, I will tell you how little I knew when I was 45.

Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: kristarichardsmann@gmail.com.