Phew. I finally made it.
There were times I wondered if it would happen. But here I am: 30-years-old (and two days). Many of us spend days, even weeks, leading up to a milestone birthday reviewing life. Is this where I thought I’d be? Have I done enough? Where did the last decade go? Who am I to shun tradition? I must admit though, the time I’ve spent on my life review may have lasted a bit more than a few weeks. And I have just two words for the past decade – good riddance! I am thrilled to be leaving my 20s behind. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad – in fact a lot of great experiences have been sprinkled throughout the years. So just what is the hurry, you ask? Haste has very little to do with it. I’m really in no rush to grow old (or up, for that matter). I have my eyes on something much more important: Legitimacy. You see, as of two days ago, I can no longer be dismissed as someone in her 20s. Come on now, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Those 20-somethings know nothing. They’re too young and inexperienced – quite ignorant about life. They just haven’t lived long enough to know better. I’ve heard it all – and then some. Ah, but now I am 30. I’ve paid my dues. I have achieved legitimacy. I am a 30-something. Of course, I do realize that now many will simply dismiss me as someone in her 30s. But hey – it’s a strong step in the right direction. After all, 30 carries a LOT more credibility than 20. For instance, when I was dating my husband, who is 15 years my senior, I stopped by his older sister’s house to pick up Sarah, his 11-year-old daughter. When she answered the door, his 50-something sister greeted me with a smile and said, “Oh, are you Sarah’s friend?” I was 22, mother of two, divorced. When I replied, “No, I’m her dad’s friend,” the word scandalized doesn’t begin to express the look on her face. Shortly after that, still just 22-years-old, I became a mother of six. I may not have birthed them all, but they all are my children. And even now, eight years later, people look at me as if I’m lying when I say that I have a 21-year-old son in college, or that my 19-year-old daughter graduated as valedictorian, or that I have a 21-year-old daughter with extreme special needs. It’s not possible, they say. You’re not old enough. Yes and no, I tell them. Somehow I skipped young adulthood and flew straight into middle age – when I was about seventeen. The last 13 years have lasted a lifetime. As a high school drop out, I jumped into a painful marriage, and followed that with a hurtful divorce. There were times I didn’t think I’d make it to my next birthday. I tell every teen and young adult who will listen – and even those who won’t – that children are worth waiting for. Sometimes though, as in my case, life has other plans. Losing the ability to have more kids when I was just 21, I was so lucky to have already given birth to a beautiful girl and a beautiful boy. It was tough, yes, but I was not devastated knowing that I couldn’t have any more children because I knew that the alternative could mean not being around for the two that I had. It goes without saying, though, that regaining my health was bitter sweet. But then I lucked out again. Four more children – who’d have thought? Not me – not in a lifetime. But it has been a privilege to be their parent these last eight years. And I look forward to the next 50, too. I know that if their mom were still alive, words like pride, love, and admiration wouldn’t even begin to describe her feelings for them and how they’ve grown so beautifully. I have been lucky to fill a small part of the very large emptiness she left behind. As if losing one spouse wasn’t heartbreaking enough, Warren nearly experienced the same fate again shortly after we blended our families. When my body began to fail at 23, and I was faced with complicated, experimental back surgery to banish the rapidly progressing painful paralysis, it was horrifying to say the least. It took several doctors and many excruciating months to find the miracle worker who gave me back my life – our life. The doctors before her simply dismissed me – You’re too young to have anything wrong with you; If you were my wife I wouldn’t let you have this surgery; and the best one: Maybe the pain is all in your head – let me give you stronger meds, and more of them. Call me silly, but I just wasn’t interested in being doped up while trying to raise my family. I wanted a solution to the problem, not a band-aid. Two months after surgery, the eight of us took off on the adventure of a lifetime. We became gypsies – exploring the U.S.A. for a year. Since the trip required a break from college, I spent that year catching up on more than 100 books I’d been wanting to read. Classics, contemporary, adolescent lit – you name it. (Quite fortunate that I was traveling with my own personal professor.) As we made our way through 28 states, we explored historical sites, used bookstores, and museums – thank goodness for wheelchairs and lots of willing pushers. That’s how we ended up here. We left the Rockies knowing that a new hometown awaited us – somewhere. We had two main criteria as we searched: sunshine and diversity. As soon as we arrived in Levy County, we knew we were home. The transition was far from dull. Florida welcomed me with a bang. And a helicopter ride to Shands Burn Unit – complete with a three day, all-inclusive stay. Quite thoughtful, really. Actually, Florida has been very good to me. College was fantastic. (Someday, I’ll go back for another degree.) And for a couple years I had a fun job with UF that fed my wanderlust, taking me all over the state - often several times a month. Then, with my deep esteem for knowledge, words and photography, I fell into journalism – almost by accident, the way I imagine people fall among thieves. It didn’t hurt my journalistic skills, either, that my many jobs and volunteerism over the years have given me a broad perspective on life, making it possible to interact well and relate to others. From the time I was 12 until I was 23, I had a rich and diverse history: recreation, janitorial, retail sales, hospital candy striping, airport security, customer service, waitressing, bartending, food pantries, hospitality, tax preparation, and even a few years with an airline (one of my favorites). Since then, I’ve been a little less flighty, adding educator, youth counselor, and event planner to that list. Then I hit the jackpot. When I was asked to run the Cedar Key Beacon, my first thought was “What’s the catch?” A year later, I’m still waiting. I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. I work in paradise doing what I love, surrounded by people I adore. Bringing the written word to life and documenting every step of the way with photography – it just doesn’t get much better than that. So, here I am. Let it be known that this 20-something is officially a 30-something (and entering my second decade of middle age). Before long, my kids will be all grown up, and I won’t even be 38. I’m thinking that maybe now all this life experience – I’ve barely touched on half of it here – will finally mean something: legitimacy. And maybe not. But it sure has been a wild ride so far. Stranger than fiction. Did I mention I’m a mother-in-law? Kellie Parkin can be reached at email@example.com