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Telling the younger you how well life turned out is best birthday present possible

Mike Haskey Natalia Naman Temesgen.
Mike Haskey Natalia Naman Temesgen.

It’s my birthday. I’m comfortable claiming the title “grown up,” though I’m not ready to put any adjectives before it. I remember looking hard at my reflection in the mirror growing up, trying to imagine an adult’s version of my face. I couldn’t wait to be an adult. To buy my own groceries. To get married. To be able to drive.

Here I am, looking at my reflection in the mirror and trying to piece together the memory of my face as a young person. Time does strange things to one’s sense of identity. Living in the present is always the essential “you,” and the former you becomes lost, antiquated, revised in your memory. But if I will it, I can sometimes connect a wire between me and pre-teen me in my mind’s eye. While looking deep into my eyes in the mirror, I see her, and today, on another adult birthday, here is what I want her to know.

Driving is awesome. Remember how Mom used to tell you it’s only fun if there’s nobody in front of you? That’s only partly true. It’s also kind of fun to drive even when you have to weave around people that apparently do not think it’s much fun to drive. You’ve still got that 4Runner Mom and Dad gave you when you got your license. Way over 200K miles, but kicking on a daily basis. Good job not totaling it, by the way.

Buying your own groceries was fun, for a while. When you were in your early 20s and living alone, far from home, it was fun to buy your favorite cereals and eat them for whatever meal you wanted — nobody telling you to consider vegetables. It was also cheap that way. It was fun to discover Trader Joe’s for the first time. To try eating dairy free. To try making your first steak in an oven-hot frying pan. Now that you get groceries with the other members of your family in mind, it’s not as cheap and it’s not as appropriate to eat cereal for every meal. But your daughter would disagree.

Yes, you have a daughter. You’re married. It’s not to one of the guys you would daydream about growing up. When you were in Columbus, he was in Houston, then Maryland. You used to sometimes lay in bed and wonder where your husband was in the world — did he like Goosebumps books like you did? Did he speak the same language you did? No, and no. He still doesn’t like scary stuff, and he speaks more languages than you ever will. You did good, girl.

And the big house you imagined is about the same one I imagine as an adult. It’s the “Home Alone” house, or something like it. Let’s keep imagining it. It’s pleasant. And not gonna happen.

The two perfectly trained dogs? Nope. You rescued two shelter dogs. They are insane. But, they are perfect.

And two kids: a boy and a girl. I know, you never really envisioned your kids. But you always knew you wanted to be someone’s mom. That part is still so hard to put into words, I’ll just try this again another decade from now. In short, you could never — not even when you were carrying them — have imagined how deeply you love them. And I think you’ll never be able to stop doing that.

So old Nat, younger Nat, Nat who could hardly imagine what being an adult is like ... it’s not doing what you want all the time, it’s not wearing what you want all the time (Jesus, be a pair of Spanx), and it’s not getting what you want all the time like you predicted ...

But it’s good. So good, all you’re doing on your 32nd birthday is thanking God for every nook and cranny of it.

Natalia Naman Temesgen is a playwright and professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Columbus. Her latest project is a webseries called “Grounds” being filmed in Columbus in January.