On 29 years of life + 6 years of Zookeeping.

I’ve been wanting to write a “29th Birthday Post” for quite some time. One month and six days, to be exact.

So, why haven’t I done it? Well, as I always say I suppose, things have been busy. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that when you’ve just released a Halloween themed book, October turns into a CRAZY month! 

I had a big cup of coffee and a diet coke at first aid training this evening though, so I’ve decided I have the energy to write this post now. 

Last month, I turned 29. That means I only have 11 months left in my twenties. I wrote a post a while back about those once trendy articles tired “Blah Blah Blah number of things you MUST do to be successful/happy/fulfilled in your twenties.” I hate those articles. Because everyone’s twenties are so very different. But I will say, turning 29 definitely made me reflect on mine.

I’ve grown a lot in this decade. How could I not? The twenties sort of thrust one into adulthood, like it or not.

 In my early twenties, I did a lot of traveling. Between ages 20-23 I visited Botswana, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Austria and Spain. How many countries have I visited since age 23? None. That’s because I started working at the Zoo, shortly after I returned from that last little European vacation.

I remember taking out a loan to study in Australia and thinking to myself one day I’ll have the money, but I’ll never again have this kind of time. Kudos to the foresight of 21 year old Carolyn! Because now that I’m 29 I don’t have the money or the time! It was a loan well spent. 

From ages 23-29 most of my traveling has involved going to and from weddings in neighboring states. Working weekends, and very little vacation time have definitely restricted me in a way I sensed, but really couldn’t fathom when I accepted this job. 

I remember the day I got a call from the HR department at the Zoo offering me a part-time keeper position. I was excited, of course, but in some ways I felt my world narrowing. This was it, I thought. The start of adult life. It was scary. 

I turned to my sister and said something like “But zookeeping will be an adventure too, right?”

She agreed that it would. And it has been.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my first day as a zookeeper. Yesterday’s weather was the exact weather we had here six years ago when I started in the Children’s Zoo. A cold, grey October day with a relentless, constant downpour. I worked goats that day. I remember being soaked and shivering. When I got home I had a fever and later found out I had the swine flu (but that’s another story.) 

On that day with the goats I remember having one very specific thought. It’s a nice life, making a good home for goats. And it has been a nice life, that is, trying to make a good home for all kinds of animals. 

It has been an adventure too–lion cubs, bear visits, hyena breath and flying macaws. This job is hard. It is so, so hard. Physically, emotionally, mentally just hard. It is stressful. There are deadlines to be met every hour of every day. It is a lot of responsibility. Releasing lions and tigers into public space will wear on your nerves day after day. But it is also an adventure. There have been so many moments when I just stop and think wow, this is my life. 

It truly is my life, and has made up the brunt of my twenties. So, did I spend those years 23-29 globe trotting and being wild and crazy? No. But I like to think I fulfilled a lot of what it takes to be an adult. 

One of my favorite quotes about adulthood comes from one of my favorite authors–Barbara Kingsolver. In her book of essays, Small Wonder, she describes all of the things “grown ups get to do in this howling hoot of a party.” 

Stand on your own two feet, get your heart broken, get over it, vote, drive a car, not drive a car, get dog-tired doing something that makes you proud, play the radio station you want, wear your heart on your sleeve, dance on the table, make a scene, be ridiculous, be amazing, be stronger than you knew, make a sacrifice that matters, find out what you’re made of, cook a perfect meal, read a perfect book, kiss for an hour, fall in love for keeps, make a baby, stand over your own naked child weeping for dread and wonder at the miracle.

I can honestly say I have done every single thing on that list EXCEPT that last kind of weird one about the baby (I’m saving that for my thirties, yo) in my twenties. And, probably, that cook a perfect meal one too (though I do have some pretty good skill with the crock pot). 

But the line that resonates with me the most is to get dog-tired doing something that makes you proud. 

Because that is how I believe i have spent the last six years and the majority of my twenties. I am literally dog tired every single day. Every one! From zookeeping, from writing, from simply trying to keep up with adulthood. And, yes, I realize that I will probably eat these words in my thirties when I have kids, I know that. But that doesn’t make it any less true right now.

So, have I gotten to travel the world in the latter half of my twenties? No. But I have had the opportunity to work every day at something that makes me proud. And that is special too. 

I hope to make the last year of my twenties one good, solid adventure. So far, I have some very exciting plans. I’m going to be an aunt! I’m already signed up to run the Boston Marathon. I get another week of vacation, so might get to do a bit of travel. And, in the words of Cheryl Strayed, I want to “write like a mo*&#$ f*#&er.” 

Here’s to the beginning of the end of a decade! And all that the next one holds too.