Yesterday, I went through Z's closet with E, who was thrilled at the prospect of being in her big sister's normally off-limits room. Between the bags of hand me downs that will soon fit and the ones that no longer fit, I found a trash bag full of drawings. It is a huge lawn and leaf bag filled with large, loose rolls of paper on which Z drew her likeness, as best she could.

I had completely forgotten about her self portrait phase. There were a few weeks last fall when, every free moment, Z would lay down paper on the floor and sketch herself in earnest. When our easel paper rolls ran out, she attached regular drawing paper end to end to end. Each roll of paper was filled with drawings of Z by Z. Slightly different by design, most of them were larger than life sized. Her eyes, mouth, clothes and hairstyles differed in each one and going through them today in her room, I remembered asking her about them as she worked so diligently. Why were there so many?

Because I'm still figuring myself out, she said.

I didn't have to ask any other questions.


I am 40 today.

I've long been obsessed with sliding doors-type movies, choose your own adventure books and true stories about life-altering chance encounters. Watching Gwyneth Paltrow's life change completely based on a missed train, I wonder about all those seemingly small moments in my life, the ones that we don't even know are happening when they happened, that determined the path I am on.

I used to imagine myself living a different life. In another version of this life of mine, I didn't move to Maine after college to run a bed and breakfast, thereby setting myself up to move to San Francisco with a college friend which essentially set my entire adult life in motion. Instead I went to graduate school in psychology, got intensely interested in ...... something..... and found a deep intellectual calling.

I have struggled so much with feeling a loss of the life I didn't lead, the sliding doors one where I'm a diligent and respected member of some academic circle. (In true sliding doors fashion, I would have a different hair style and wardrobe, which every American woman knows is shorthand for a totally different life.)

But what stops me cold these days: if I had followed some other path, opened a different door, I would most likely not be here in this house, with these people.

I am still figuring myself out but I know one thing without question: that would be the biggest loss.


Z still draws herself sometimes. But mostly she draws towns, cities, flowers, friends, animals, planes, and rainbows.  I asked her last night what she wanted to do with all the self portraits I had unearthed.

I want to keep a few of the best ones. I don't need the others anymore, she said.

And, once again, I totally understood.


Hillary said...

Happy birthday!

And I know you joked on twitter that this was maudlin, but, like so much else you write, it felt true. Thank you.

Stephanie said...

Happy birthday, far-flung internet friend!

I feel exactly this way about my life sometimes, too: if I had not gotten married straight out of college and worked to put my husband through graduate school; if I had gone to graduate school (and maybe gotten a PhD in literature . . . and become a professor); if I had had a third child; if I had moved to a big city before having children; if, if if . . .

Would I (we) be happier had we followed the other paths? Hard to say. Worth thinking about a tiny bit here and there, too, but probably mostly better to embrace the life we're actually living, which I'm getting better at doing the older I become.

Wishing joy and increasing wisdom to you on your 40th! I'm glad you were born. :)

Ann Wyse said...

Happy Birthday!

I've always enjoyed thinking about sliding door scenarios, too. Except, in the movie and the books there are always good outcomes and bad outcomes and I wonder sometimes if life is really that cut and dry. Or maybe it's just the point at which the story (by necessity?) ends.

Jessica said...

Happy birthday!

twisterfish said...

Happy birthday!

shannon said...

Oh. Wow. WOW. This is exactly where I am right now. This is my favorite post ever. For me, the "other path" aches inside me and on bad days, makes me feel like vomiting, or at the very least, hiding under the covers. On good days, I realize how lucky I am and so very happy to have chosen my kids over my "life of travel and adventure with plenty of time for solitude and self actualizement." I am grateful for you and your blog. I am a complete stranger, but the path you chose makes my path a little easier so thank you for being where you are now and sharing your thoughts and feelings along the way. I think there are great things coming for you that you can't even imagine yet... you'll see! Happy Happy Birthday CBHM!

grammalouie said...

Wow, am I ever glad I gave birth to you forty years ago today.
Yippee to you for being the beautiful person you are!
You rock, darling daughter!

Anonymous said...


(And... I just LOVED this post.)

Emily said...

Happy (belated) birthday! And what a beautiful post to go with it!

k said...

Happy belated birthday to you!

I think sometimes when I feel...adrift or wondering "why?!" and then I remember that I--that you!--have SO MUCH LIFE left. So much more time to make exciting and interesting and thoughtful choices. So much more time to explore and figure out and think. So much more time to figure out what pants look best on my and what lipstick to avoid.

More time! We have it.

Cortney said...

Oh, I'm so late to this party! Happy Belated Birthday CBHM! I'm so happy to have found you and feel so much more connected to a like-minded kindred because of this here little blog. :)

Bronwen said...

Well, if that's the case, then you're welcome. :)

Jennie said...

I am so belated, but I hope your birthday was just the best. You deserve it.

Also, I hear you. I often wonder where I'd be if I'd moved to Spain after college like planned. I met Mike, and he's better than Spain, but that sangria still calls to me sometimes.

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