I’m 37, and I have some thoughts.
I started the day by staying in bed until 8:30. That was my husband’s first gift to me. We had coffee and a teeny breakfast while we watched the girls play, and he said something to the effect of “Go do whatever you want today. Come back whenever, but please come back.” This was my husband’s second gift to me.
Before I left the house, I opened presents from my sister-in-law and mother-in-law to include a book of folklore from my SIL’s recent trip to Scotland, a middle grade novel my MIL recommended when she visited over Labor Day, a loose leaf tea made in our hometown of OKC, and my favorite thing—a book of verse from the library of Marjorie Currie, Scott’s grandmother who passed a few years ago. Inside, I found her maiden name, “Marjorie Johnston,” and the words “Christmas 1938.” Scott’s people—my people—are unmatched in their thoughtfulness.
Before my parents left for Italy a week ago (in celebration of their upcoming 40th anniversary in January), my mom brought another perfect gift—now dubbed my 37th birthday dress. She knows that if I have to spend my birthday in public, it needs to be in…not pants.
So, after taking a long, hot shower without any interruptions (well, technically one kid came in to pee, but he didn’t need anything from me, and he flushed, so score), I dressed in my birthday dress and made a to do list for the day.
While I was getting ready, Will sat on my bed to tell me a story. There’s a new kid in sixth grade, and he’s a little quirky. At the beginning of the school year, each kid had to share a stereotypical “What I Did This Summer” speech and project. Will told me this new kid stood in front of the room and talked about his July birthday and how it was his best birthday ever and how he wore his birthday suit (which turns out was a green shirt and khaki pants). Will said he kept talking about his birthday suit, and I asked him if he told the kid what that meant. He said, “No, no one else seemed to notice, so I figure it’s best to let him figure that out when he’s older.” Something about Will’s answer feels so gracious.
I left the house in my birthday dress (not suit). The first thing on my to do list was to take some hangers to my best Belleville friend’s house. We’ve been working on minimizing at her house. I had four grocery sacks to drop off at the thrift store, so I was happy to load her seven garbage bags of stuff that she’s been collecting throughout this process. If you are confused about why the first thing on my birthday to do list was a stop at Goodwill, let me tell you how much getting rid of things sparks joy in my life.
After the junk drop, I headed to lunch at one of my favorite Thai places. Look—I don’t eat out much, so when I do, I try to eat things that I wouldn’t make at home, and I don’t care how many times Jen Hatmaker tries to convince me that suburban white ladies can totally throw together a great Pad Thai on a Thursday, I can promise you it’s not happening at the Johnson house.
Next I went to the mall. This is clearly not my happy place, but some sacrifices have to be made if you want a Great American Cookie. After trying to decide what kinds of cookies to get (I figured if I was abandoning my family for the day, the least I could do is bring home delicious dessert), I thought—why get a bunch of individual cookies WHEN I CAN GET A COOKIE CAKE? So I did. It’s round, and it has the number 37 on it.
I also ran some other stupid errands made 83,520 times better because I did them without having to load any children into strollers or carts.
And now I’m writing because that’s what I actually want most out of this day. A little quiet to make my day better in an effort to maybe just maybe make someone else's day better.
Every year, I study the new number I’m tacking onto my age. The only thing I could think of off the top of my head is that iconic scene from Clerks, and that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to celebrate this year (if you haven’t seen it, don’t worry about it). So I hit the information highway and as always, the internet did not disappoint.
The human genome has somewhere between 20,000-25,000 genes—almost all of which reside inside the nucleus of our cells. I say almost all because scientists have identified (you guessed it!) 37 genes that reside outside the nucleus in the mitochondria—the place where energy is stored in cells. We inherit all of these genes from our mothers. Scientists are currently experimenting with methods to remove faulty mitochondria from cells and replacing them with healthy mitochondria to stop babies from inheriting diseases in the brain, muscles, and heart. They do this through a process of mitochondrial gene transfer resulting in a child that has two mothers in a broad sense. Given the fact that this past year brought two children who have another mother into our home, this feels a little magical.
Here are some other things I learned about 37:
- The human body is at optimal temperature at 37°C.
- In the tradition of gematria, Hebrew letters are assigned a number, and practitioners of Kabbalah use this system to interpret biblical texts. In Hebrew and Greek, the numerical value for the words word, silence, sigh, grow, and flame is the same: 37.
- 37 is a centered hexagonal number, which results in these beautiful patterns, and is helpful information in materials logistics management when packing round things into round containers (like with vienna sausages, as one person pointed out). It looks like this:
A couple of weeks ago, I found a lump. It was large. In my left breast. I started referring to it as Lemony Snicket because of his brilliant Christmas book about a lump of coal. After a series of unfortunate events, I was finally able to see a radiologist who confirmed that while lumps are not generally awesome, mine was not something to worry about at this time. (I have another mammogram and ultrasound scheduled in six months to make sure everything still looks friendly.)
This is what 37 feels like some days. In the last seven years, we’ve known three men through Scott’s Air Force career who have become breast cancer widowers. They are raising seven young children without their wives. So while I tend to be under reactionary and grounded in the real (no history of anything in my family, I’m relatively healthy), I can’t say that I wasn’t a little bit worried that I was that weird, wonky statistic.
This week, Scott’s Uncle James passed away after an eighteen year fight with carcinoid cancer. Scott and I have been together for almost 17 years, so I never knew James without cancer. He loved college football. He loved rescue dogs. His collection of books made my sizable hoard seem puny. In reading the comments from friends on his obituary page, it’s clear that he was loved by family and friends—and that he played the cards he was dealt with more enthusiasm than any of us would naturally imagine. Scott’s Aunt Marcia is easily one of the most loving, kind, and gentle people I’ve ever met. She’s the aunt that everyone should be lucky to have, and we mourn the loss of her husband with her as she learns to navigate her new normal.
Between my tiny health scare and losing James this week, I’ve been in a bit of a morbid but clear mental state. As happens with the death of loved ones, I took some quiet moments to reflect on the state of Leia, and I have to be really honest.
I am living my best life.
And it’s not because I’ve had a wake up call that forced this perspective—it’s the exact opposite. I want to live a good life for the sake of a good life, not just because I’m scared into it.
Scott and I wake up every morning choosing to love each other. I am mothering four children which feels like the thing I’m best at most days. We do not take for granted the blessing of having my parents living in the same city as us. I am surrounded by friends who love me as much as I love them. My body has not failed me yet. I have a breadth of work through Somebody’s Mama and ONE that makes me proud to be human. And I have the luxury of a support system that allows me to leave time for intentional, regular self-care, so I can make sure the ship doesn’t sink.
Much of what I do with my hours is wild and risky, but good gracious—look at the rewards.
I am living my best life.
Happy birthday to me. And now some cookie cake.