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  1. Culture
3 April 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 1:05pm

Turning 30 takes on a whole new meaning when you have a parent who died at 62

By Eleanor Margolis

Wouldn’t it be great to turn 30 without the fanfare of an existential crisis? If I were a cooler person, I would. I’d slip from my third to my fourth decade on this earth without a sound. I’d go to the pub. I wouldn’t be writing this. 

About ten minutes before I turned 20, I flashed my tits at a stranger driving his car down the disgusting street of my disgusting university house. It was a bad decision fuelled by the insecurities that come with levelling up a metric age bracket. He could’ve crashed his car (I have great tits).

He was going too fast for me to see his reaction, so I’ll never even know if he even clocked the drunk 19 year old raging against the ever disinterested space time continuum with her bare boobs. All I was left with was immediate regret and a further closeness to the age I so feared. I was basically living out a post-watershed Cinderella, where I had to get in as much partying as possible before the clock struck midnight and I turned from a teenager into… a hag? Is that what I thought a 20-year-old was? 

In a month’s time, I do something incomprehensible to that 19-year-old: I turn 30. If you’re worried this is going to be one of those “I can’t wait to turn 30 and stop caring what people think about me” pieces, don’t be. I don’t believe that finishing my twenties will somehow break the spell cast by the many and varied embarrassments of the past decade. I hope it will, but even as someone given to magical thinking I struggle to have any faith in this particular miracle. 

The one specific thing I’d love to leave behind (but doubt I will) is the obsession with what people my age have achieved. Because there’s nothing more eviscerating than those “People Under 30 Who Are Better Than You”-type lists that we’re either genuinely obsessed with, or the likes of Forbes have told us we’re obsessed with and we haven’t thought to question whether or not this is something genuinely worth obsessing over. Likewise though, there’s nothing more narcotically reassuring than the equivalent lists of people, say, over 50.

But whether or not I magically shed these insecurities, turning 30 takes on a whole new meaning when you have a parent who died at 62. She didn’t know it, but when my mum was my age, she was halfway through her life. Unlike me though, she already had two kids, a career which required her to dress nicely, and a mortgage. In pictures of her at my age, she’s wearing shoulder pads. I’m not sure what the 2010s equivalent of shoulder pads is, but I know for certain that I am not wearing it. And the feeling that you’re disappointing a dead parent is – let me tell you – crippling. When someone isn’t alive to tell you you’re doing fine, you second guess their expectations and – inevitably – fail to meet them. 

In a tangle of contradictions: I’m glad my mum isn’t alive to see just how disapproving my imagined version of her ghost is. I’m almost certain she would disapprove of this level of disapproval. But when you’ve held someone’s dead hand and made promises to them – not to be overly-dramatic – those promises can either spur you on or halt you entirely. I’m not sure I’ve ever had an entirely lucid idea of where I’d be at 30, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to be so familiar with death. Or, more specifically, to have discussed my life goals with a corpse. I thought I might own an ironing board, maybe. I still don’t. 

If my mum were alive, I think she’d tell me to “fuck my 30s in the arse”. In a positive, consensual way, of course. Something like that. She was that kind of mum. I know the exact face she’d make if I were to say, “I’m getting old”. She’d screw up her eyes. She’d swear. She’d tell me to go and make us both a cup of tea. She wouldn’t worry about my career or my “biological clock”. She had a level of faith in me that I don’t think I’ll ever understand. “You’re a kid,” she’d say. Because whether you’re three or 30, you’re always your mum’s kid. 

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