I’ve been thinking a lot about the passage of time lately. Struggling with it more than thinking about it, if I’m honest with myself. It’s because it’s almost my birthday, and this seems to happen every year. A little birthday present to myself.
This year, though, I’m particularly sunk into my reflections and questions. Why? Because I’m a perfect storm of hormones and turning thirty. Oh yeah. The big 3-0. Or should I say the big 3-O-L-D?
But, as I find happens with every year and with every big life event, suddenly what used to seem like a sure sign of being grown up or being old doesn’t seem old or grown up at all. I think I decided in high school that I hoped to be married and have my first child right around the time I was 30 because that seemed like such a solid mature age, one where I would surely feel like I had my footing in life, know what was going on, be mature enough to “handle things.” Now that I’m there, actually married and having my first child as I turn thirty, I feel like that high schooler was psycho.
30 is totally not old enough to be doing anything like this or have a handle on anything! What was I thinking?! Maybe I should’ve shot for 40?
But seriously, I think some part of me always believed that by age 3o I would feel grown-up. And I don’t feel grown-up at all. When I think about it, I can recognize that my life must look fairly grown-up from the outside: married, having a baby, starting a business, writing a dissertation, and a column, taking care of a house, grocery shopping, cleaning toilets, and such and so. The times when I really recognize that I must in some sense be grown-up are the little moments like when we get home late and have guests and somebody needs to make up the beds and I realize that there isn’t a mom there to get everything set up for you. There’s me, and I’m the one who gets out the sheets and extra pillows and towels. That to me is the clearest indication so far of grown-up-ness. But I still don’t feel inside like I’m grown-up. I feel like I’m in process.
Which, I suppose, is simply the reality of all of life. No matter how old or young, we’re always in process. And I guess that’s part of why I get so confused by the passage of time. Each day is just its own little package of activities and being what you are that day, but now and then something urges you and you look back at the collection of all those days and you realize that a great deal has passed and maybe you’re quite different than what you were the last time you really checked. But at the same time you’re the same person. Sort of. You know?
I felt especially confused and overwhelmed by this this last week because I was looking through my baby album to find some photos I needed. Sitting on the floor with a big old belly, a vaguely aching back, and a brain that’s only firing on one cylinder, I found myself quite unable to comprehend how the tow-headed baby girl in the photos, giggling in a johnny-jump-up, looking bewildered at a bottle of beer held jestingly to her lips, bawling on a diaper changing table, how that baby was me, a woman looking through photos and preparing herself to have a baby of her own.
Perhaps I’ll understand it down the road when my brain is less foggy. Somehow I doubt it. It may be that it’s all a big bewildering thing that we have to live out, in spite of the fact that we can’t understand it.
I read somewhere just the other day, though I can’t remember where now, an admonishment to remember that “the good old days are now.” It struck me as a rather good thing to remember when one is indulging in navel gazing and nostalgia around the time of their birthday. I have so many fond memories that I cherish from my childhood, teenagerdom, young adulthood. And the unhappy memories get softened and made sense of over time so they too become rosier. And so it will be again on down the line whenever we are lucky enough to have aged and be able to look back at where we came from. The good old days are now.
Apropos of all this, a memory suddenly came back to me the other day of how much I used to love going to this terrible Tex-Mex restaurant that used to be open in this old brick manufacturing type building down near the water. I would order a taco salad every time, one of those deep-fried taco shell bowls larger than a child’s head, stuffed with iceberg lettuce, insipid tomatoes, barely flavored ground beef, and generously dressed with ranch dressing. I’m pretty sure I always got a virgin strawberry daiquiri too. I loved it so much, I would even request to go there for my birthday.
The memory came back to me because I had decided to make “taco” salad for us for dinner. It turned into “taco” rather than taco because I had no tortillas or tortilla chips to add to the mix, and Joel insisted that it could not be legitimately called a taco salad without them. But, the tortilla chips weren’t missed because the salad was plenty without them. It was a colorful mix of roasted chicken with crisped skin spiced with chili and cumin, burstingly juicy cherry tomatoes, golden caramelized sweet corn, and generous chunks of avocado, all piled onto lettuce we picked fresh from our garden.
We ate it sitting outside in our quiet backyard in warm evening air and the glow of setting sun, drinking homemade strawberry lemonade, and it felt totally obviously that even though I don’t understand the passage of time at all, these really are good old days.
- 4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- salt and pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- pinch of cayenne
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- ½ red onion, diced
- ½ jalapeno, seeded, and diced
- 1 cup sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen work)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1 avocado, cut into chunks
- about 6-8 cups lettuce, chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1½ Tbs. fresh lime juice
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 Tbs. shredded Jack cheese (optional)
- Heat your oven to 425F. Rub the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, the garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Roast the chicken in the oven (or grill) until cooked through, about 30-40 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool just enough to handle, then cut the meat away from the bone and cut into chunks, leaving pieces of the crispy, spicy skin attached.
- While the chicken is roasting, add 1 Tbs. olive oil to a medium saute pan and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the red onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the corn and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is cooked through and starting to caramelize on the outside, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a large bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, and cilantro with the lime juice, 3 Tbs. olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Divide this between 2 or 4 plates. Divide the corn and the chicken between the plates as well, scattering it atop each bed of lettuce. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired. Serve while the chicken and corn are still warm.