Within the next week I will turn 30. “It’s a milestone” I hear, and one that I take on proudly. But through the comments about time flying by and age just being a number, I feel that something is lacking when we talk about birthdays and age and experience. Maybe the English language just doesn’t express it with a word or maybe we try to gloss over it. But age has to be more than just a number.
No matter how much my math teachers of old would say that math is a numerical expression, numbers just don’t communicate or convey life in a meaningful way.
Sometime when I was 17 years old a friend very casually made a comment about “why are leaves always prettiest before they die?” It was a thought-provoking question that I could have taken literally and retorted “because they are losing the chlorophyll that makes green to show the colors underneath.” But I didn’t. For once I didn’t provide an answer, theoretical or otherwise. And I didn’t turn it into a joke or in anyway overshadow the question.
Instead, I sat on it and mulled it over. For weeks I was perplexed and even haunted by the question — or maybe it was the answer that scared me.
An assignment came up in my senior debate class that we were to write an “Original Oratory” speech and it was to be basically the equivalent of our final exam. Of course, like all good years I had finals on my birthday. And in some seemingly tragic coincidence, you guessed it, I talked about death and dying on my 18th birthday.
It’s a miracle that my teacher or classmates didn’t try to push counseling on me at the time, but I think they knew me better than that. There were a few comments about how “dark” my oration was especially as I stepped into my first day of adulthood. And to be honest, it might have been. Who knows? I don’t have a draft or copy and I never presented it at a National Forensics League competition, forensics as in argument and advocacy, not crime.
But I haven’t forgotten the subject.
There have often been times that I regretted writing it. And other times I regretted sharing it in any sort of public space. But not now. Honestly I wouldn’t even be writing this if 12 years ago I hadn’t stood before my peers awkwardly accounting for the idea that we’re all just beautiful leaves on a path towards the inevitable.
I didn’t feel like I was going to die then. I don’t feel like I am going to die now. Though yesterday was a really painstakingly hard day to get through with a full moon and 4 kids under the age of 7.
But I do deeply feel the seasons I am living.
Yesterday evening I stood talking to a couple nearing their sixties. They repeatedly said that “age is just a number” as if they were telling themselves and not me. “You can feel however old you want to be,” they said emphatically. I replied with a very honest “Between having a husband much older and raising four kids, I have felt 30 since Emma was born 5 years ago.”
But all night I couldn’t help but think age is NOT just a number. Age is also very much a color.
Whether we want to look at autumn leaves poetically or scientifically and how they change colors in the fall season, I have come to the conclusion it all represents our lives even more than we give it credit for. Science says that the green fades to show all of the colors underneath that were always there. Art and literature draw a picture that articulates life better than words or numbers. So I have decided that at the end of my life those colors will show and they will articulate experiences in a beautiful manner. That wisdom, those stories, the encouragement, and even the sorrows will show through ever so radiantly.
I want to live the kind of life today that allows my seasons to show through very honestly. And I want to teach my children this too.
Our experiences help define us, they shape us, and those hard seasons of life are written into who we are.
Sometimes I see and remember myself in my kids. They’re full of growth and life and vigor. And they’re that new sprout, lightly colored green! As we grow, we turn into a richer and fuller green through education and that longing to do more and be more.
My early twenties were this fast-paced race to see what I could accomplish in the shortest amount of time. I took pride in it then, now I do see the beauty of getting to lavish in the days of little responsibility and time to myself. It was a season of yellow in my life. Full of optimism and energy.
The last 7 years have been kids.
They have been sleepless, noisy, all-consuming days of children. It’s both a really beautiful and really dark season. I hope in the days of prime, the days when my green is fading, that I will show how deeply vibrant and deeply discouraging these times really were. I hope that the stories, the encouragements, and the memories I have to share from this season are the rich red of the sugar maple. I sincerely wish for the colors of this season to convey the sensitivity and the love that young children bring but also the full gamut of emotions and rawness of postpartum and navigating parenthood.
I am sure that my leaves will contain little black dots.
They will represent days when anger got the best of me. They’ll also signify moments when I chose resentment instead of grace and understanding. And they will be the warnings to my kids and grandkids that our choices do mean something.
Just like leaves that fall to nourish its roots, may mine help strengthen the family tree.
My thirties are bound to bring other colors into my leaves and richly paint my life better than a number could ever express. Hopefully an orange; I hear it represents fullness, happiness, and even courage.
The next time someone surprisingly asks me how old I am as I am walking through the store with all four kids or as I attend a conference and get asked the inevitable age question, I might just respond with a color instead.
In place of trying to defend or offer explanations as to how I got to where I am in life at a young age, I might just give a brief glimpse into the richness that life is currently offering in this color.
And when I look at my children, maybe I can see their color, their season, and their story instead of just their number.
What color is your season and how will you share it when your green fades?
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!