{Bringing Up Boogie} Birthdays Are the Worst Days: Bassey Ikpi On Turning 35

By BASSEY IKPI

I love birthdays; mine especially. Every year for the last decade, I've thrown a party called a Basstravaganza! Yes, I am a Leo. Why do you ask? I feel like birthdays are the only holiday that everyone can celebrate regardless of religion or country or culture. You were born! Yay! (Unless you're Jehovah's Witness. Then *whispers* you were born. yay.) I'm always looking forward to my birthday and start talking about it at least a month in advance.

This year, my birthday is in less than two weeks and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'd really like the day to come and go with no acknowledgement. Don't get me wrong: this isn't an age thing in that way that only the most youthful amongst us are celebrated. It's nothing like that. It is the number though. I’m turning 35. I'm no longer under 35. I’m now 35-40. And I feel like I have nothing to show for it. Nothing that feels 35-40, anyway.

I never really pictured 35, so I can't say it didn't turn out like I expected. I do know that I didn't expect this. After living as an artist in New York for seven years, I'm back in my parents' basement, this time with a soon-to-be kindergartner who insists on calling me Mommy hanging around. I'm single. I'm not the jetsetting 20-something with the world at her feet and a career most would kill for anymore.

I've made my mistakes. I can tell you exactly where I went left when I should have gone right. I can tell you when I should have stood still instead of careening off the side of the cliff. This birthday anxiety isn't about regret though. It's about, as Janet Jackson once cabbage patched into our heads, What have you done for me lately?

I'm proud of my life and I'm happy and content, but there are some things that I need to change. I've settled into this comfortable, unchallenged existence. Outside of writing and speaking on mental health issues, I'm playing it pretty safe these days.

So when one afternoon, after I picked up Boogie from school, he went from hyperactive toddler boy to baby Buddha in about four sentences, I had to pay attention. I recounted the conversation on his blog, Boogie Chronicles, but in short, he was talking about a bad dream he had about a giant and how in the dream, he learned that he can't be scared of anything anymore because the things he's afraid of could probably help him. No, seriously. I was really floored by what he was saying because I thought of all the things that I've been afraid of. Bills, boys, bank accounts, brazilian waxes (not really, but I liked the alliteration.).

I've taken all kinds of huge risks my entire life but it’s the small things that shake me. I'm often rattled. I'm the girl who places her hand over the screen at the ATM so I won't know just how much money isn’t in my checking account. The dude I've had a crush on since March? I haven't even spoken to him. The bill from the hospital and the subsequent letters from lawyers remain unopened and stuffed in a drawer in my bedroom. I have over 10,000 emails dating back to 2003 that I'm afraid to delete. I mean, what if someone asks me for something? I need the references!

Sad? Pathetic? True.

It's time to grow up. So, in honor of my new status as a 35-40 year old, I've decided that rather than lamenting what has or hasn't happened or burying my head in the sand,  I would devote one week for the next year conquering an anxiety-inducing fear rather, making friends with giants.  I'm turning over a new leaf. The buck stops here! The early bird gets the worm! If Mohammaed can't get to the mountain then we didn't land on Plymoth Rock!  Or other cliches about conquering shit.

I'm choosing to document this journey so I don't chicken out but also because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only scaredy cat out there. Right? Right. So starting next week, I'll be debuting a new column for www.xojane.com called Making Friends With Giants.

I've been absent from this space for reasons that I'll reveal as we get back into this Bringing Up Boogie groove. I hope you forgive me for the silence. I'll try and make it up to you. Boogie starts private school at the end of August and we're in an epic “What do you mean I have to wear the same thing every day?! What about my Spiderman shirt?? battle. I'll let you know if I win.

We're in this together. Let's go!

B.

Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is also the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi, a.k.a., Boogie. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is writing a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Find more Bassey on her site, Bassey's World.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

11 Comments

  1. Don’t know if this will make you feel any better… but being in my “late” 20s doesn’t feel very good. But when I turned 27, I not only accepted it, but CAME INTO the age. More mature feeling and wiser. Think about how good it’ll feel to turn 37! Great age!

  2. Bassey, my fellow Leo, you always move me with your words. Your words are gifts to many of us. Even if you feel like you have not shared anything important, you have. I know 35 will look great on you!

  3. my birthday was last week and i titled my mournful article the exact same thing, LOL! i’ll trade you boogie for my cat. happy birthday, from one who understands your disenchantment! xoxo

  4. Well, I am gonna turn 37 in August (a fellow Leo, hear us roar!) and I tell ya, I LOVE IT. I don’t know what it is, maybe it has something to do with my state of mind, my complete freedom and my physical wellness (knock on wood), but I absolutely love getting older. I don’t ever want to be in my teens or 20s ever again. I don’t ever want to be 35 again either. It was a difficult year. I travelled. I laughed. But it was painful ’cause I was still mourning my mom’s death. And now, I’m a lot better. I’m a lot wiser. And I get me more. I get life more. Year by year, that happens. And for that, I always welcome birthdays. And growing more into myself. Happy Birthday to you & me!!

  5. I <3 U, Bassey – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  6. I’m only 22 and I constantly feel like my life isn’t going anywhere. I know what id like to do but I feel like I would be wrong and irresponsible to do it. I’m trying to remind mysel that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to pursue your dream and raise a baby.

  7. Bassey, I promise that I’m thinking the same thing. I turn 35 in December. I dont feel 35. I dont look 35. All the things I wanted to accomplish(grad degree, working on Doctorate marriage–alladat)– NOT happening. I feel like a failure at times. The great love of my life might not be. Feels like I cant find my direction at times. The good thing is: I KNOW all of this. So, Im makong concerted efforts to step out of my own way and do things to step out of my box. Scary? Hell, yes. Worth it? Ab-so-freakin-lutely. I’m doing me, so hop on board or get the hell out of my way. :) one of the places I’m going is Basseyworld Live, Part Deux. Lol!!

  8. Dude, I’ve been running the air conditioner all month long and my con ed bill (that came in the mail last week) is still unopened on the kitchen counter. I’m a scaredy cat too. LOL. We’ve all been there — made mistakes, etc. It makes us into the people we are though. And self-reflection works wonders.

    Glad you’re back, Love!

  9. I will try not be crass…What does it matter that you’re 35 when I will be 38 on my next birthday?$#@!*& LOL…Just kidding…Happy Birthday…

  10. yaaaaay for LEOS!!! *does the running man* i hear you loud n clear on what you said throughout this post. since i hit my 30s, i have been feeling the same way: what do i have to show for all that ive done in my life? too many fears, too much pain n hurt, too much love not returned. sigh. it’s gonna get better.
    p.s. y not put the spider-man shirt under the uniform? just a thought :)
    missed reading u.

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