When I was young, there were things I thought only adults could do right: The way my mother could perfectly braid my hair, the way my father knew how to bargain with a car salesperson…these were “adult” things that I would someday, somehow learn.
A friend recently said to me that he doesn’t reflect much on his childhood, but I do. I think often about what—from my parents and the other adults I grew up surrounded by—I’ve emulated and what I’ve rejected. My penchant for creating meticulous to-do lists is no doubt inherited from my mother, while my tendency to only get haircuts on a whim is definitely learned from my father. There are mistakes they made that I’ve managed to avoid, as well as things—like home ownership—that I’ve rejected outright. And there are countless tiny habits, like rolling my socks in a bundle (which, by the way, is terrible for the elasticity of one’s socks), that I know I’ve picked up without thinking.
The part of growing older that I didn’t really understand until setting out entirely on my own at thirty after having lived with someone for years was that wisdom and maturity and all of those things we spend our twenties waiting for don’t come to us: We have to seek them out, find them, make them. Ultimately, we choose who we are, never mind who we want to be.
At 30, I joked that Manal Sharif ruined my birthday by telling me to do something each year to top the last. I didn’t manage to handglide that year, though Amr and I tried pretty hard. 31 brought dinner and whiskey in Palestine with Dalia (with a bonus bird shitting on my head), and last year, I confess, I was drunk by 11:00, stumbling by 16:00 and in bed by 19:00 thanks to Morgan, Eva and Katherine, but, as I realized yesterday morning after an epic blowout in Berlin with so many of the people I love, each year has been better than the last, and, at 33, I am happier than I’ve ever been.
I still can’t braid my hair as well as my mother can, but I can navigate an airport with precision. I may never need to adopt my dad’s stance in buying a car, but you should see me in a Marrakesh market. I may never grow up, but getting older has meant learning how to truly love, how to be truly excellent to other people, and how to balance my ambition with things that keep me happy and sane. It’s meant trying to learn from every mistake, every success, and every wonderful person who crosses my path.