Birth, 8, 18, 28, 38 | Reflections on Decades of Birthdays

On Tuesday I turned 38. It got me thinking about where I was a decade ago in life, and a decade before that and so on until soon enough I got out my old photos (all digitized prior to leaving for sailing around the world). I also dug through my journals and I reviewed. 

Birth

I was born on June 13, 1979 in Lackland Air Force Base (which is in San Antonio, Texas.)

My mother and her family are from Texas. My father was from Arizona and had joined the Air Force. He was stationed in Texas when he met my mother, a single, divorced woman with two sons. Rich and James are my half-brothers but in my family we don’t ever call each other half-brother or half-sister, everybody is just full sister & brother, 100%.

We moved to New Mexico (we were always moving because of being in the military.) In Alamogordo, my brother, Chad Michael was born. He is 364 days younger than me. They brought him home on my 1st birthday and that set the stage for all of our birthdays from there on out. We shared every birthday I think until our early 20s. As an adult, though I don’t mention it to most people, my birthday means a lot to me and I think it’s because I never got to have a party that was really just for me as a kid.

Cool baby, but it's my birthday, right?

Cool baby, but it's my birthday, right?

We moved to Tennessee next. That’s my sister Sariah wrapped up in a white blanket. She is 18 months younger than Chad Michael. We were stair steps: ages 2, 1, and newborn! 

So....you're telling me that's another baby?

So....you're telling me that's another baby?

I wasn’t a good big sister to Sariah. I wish I had been. Chad Michael and I often excluded her. I wish we’d been corrected on that. She always wanted to hang out, and I usually wanted to be left alone. I’m sorry about that, Sariah. I’m glad we’re friends now. I wish we had been closer when we were younger.

After Tennessee, we moved to North Dakota. There, my sister, Rose, was born.  Adorable kid, right? 

North Dakota is where I went to kindergarten. It’s where I learned that snow can blow so hard and so much that it covers your front door entirely. At five I didn’t know just how much snow life had in store for me; back then it was pure novelty.

This is my sister Sariah looking out at me, Chad Michael, and our grandfather, my father’s father who was visiting from Arizona.

Then we moved to Alaska. Yep. More snow. 

In Alaska, my youngest sister, and the last sibling, Phoebe, was born. That made a total of seven kids. We were a family of nine when you added the adults.

No, that is NOT Lyra (my daughter) in the photos below, that’s my sister Phoebe. Lyra’s looks, her gestures, and her mannerisms remind me all the time of my baby sister. I was so smitten with Phoebe when she was born. I was 8 and I thought she looked like an angel baby.

Eight

I was in 3rd grade when I was 8. I hated having my long hair combed as a kid but by age 8 I had learned that long hair was valued as a ‘feminine’ trait. I wanted the best of both worlds when it came to my hair so my mom told me about this haircut that was short in the front and long in the back. 

It was a mullet. 

She didn’t call it that and I didn’t know. 

I will tell you this: I LOVED MY HAIR STYLE. So easy. So great! Business in the front, party in the back.

I was raised Mormon (also called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). I’m no longer practicing. I’m a happy Atheist now. But at age 8 in the Mormon church you get baptized. It’s a big deal.

They call age eight the ‘age of accountability.’ You officially know right from wrong, according to them. And when you get baptized, any mistakes you make from there on out fall into the sin category and you have to get your repenting knee pads worn in because it’s all sinnin’ and repentin’ after they dip you in that water.

I couldn’t wait to get baptized. It meant I was part of the club! It meant people would take me and my actions seriously. I held my breath and was fully submersed and rose up anew, as a human who knew right from wrong. I felt powerful indeed. I also probably started sinning that same day. I’m pretty sure it didn’t take long.

I call this photo ‘POWER TO THE PATRIARCHY.’

Also, do you think they knew to line up in that V-shape formation? You think they’d done that before? Or maybe the picture-taker told them to do it? You think they just got into formation naturally like that? Maybe the baptism crew was all about the angles. We’ll never know.

I started keeping journals at age 8 and I have two giant bins now, full of years of writing.  We went panning for gold and since you know me already, you know we didn’t strike it rich.

I was in lots of plays. Here I’m dressed up as a royal messenger. Hey, I just worked with what I had in my closet. Me and my mullet and my costuming abilities. A year after this photo, at the end of 4th grade, I was at that boy on the right’s house with another friend of ours, also a boy. I’ll call the boy on the right, ‘Bob’ and the other boy who was with us, ‘Gabe.’ Bob had milk crates full of Archie comic books in his room. Gabe and I were reading them with him. I got up to go home and when I got to the foot of his bed, Bob said, “you should lift up your shirt, Charlotte.”

“What?” I asked, confused.

“Yeah. Lift up your shirt.”

I had zero in the way of boobs at that time. Not even breast buds. Hell, boobs weren’t even on my radar. The most awful, icky, uncomfortable feeling washed over me. The other boy, Gabe, who I had a crush on, just looked back and forth at us, also not sure what was happening. I exited stage right almost immediately but I still remember how violated I felt with just the way that prepubescent 4th grade boy was looking at me.

Not all men are creeps, but the ones who are, never leave you.

Life goal at age 8: to be a teacher when I grew up.

Eighteen

A decade later and so much had changed. (I’m starting to realize that that is what you can expect from 10 year time spans.) I moved out of the house at 16 and moved in to live with my oldest brother, Rich. Rich took care of me and for a short time, my younger brother Chad Michael, without any financial assistance from my parents.  You can read this post here where I exposed my father for sexually abusing me and my sister. Massive trigger warnings if you haven’t read it yet.

My brother Rich stepped in and he became the supportive father figure I needed during my later teens and early twenties. He is an amazing human being. We used to throw the most incredible costume parties. Life was good living with Rich.

At age 16 I got a job bussing tables after school and for my junior and senior years of high school I worked to help Rich pay the bills. I still graduated with a 4.3 GPA and got an academic scholarship to the University of San Diego where I majored in International Relations and double minored in French and Spanish. I was the first of my seven siblings to get a BA. My youngest sister, Phoebe, also got a BA and then went on to get her masters in Geography.

Me and Rich at my high school graduation, 1997

Me and Rich at my high school graduation, 1997

Despite those accomplishments, age 18 Charlotte is not someone I’m really impressed with, and that’s because I just re-read my journals. Yikes. Are all 18 year olds super myopic? My writing focuses on guys, sex, and physical appearances and I found it pretty nauseating to read. 

I struggled with eating disorders after being abused by my dad. First I didn’t eat for two years, then when I did, I obsessed with controlling what I did eat. I calorie counted and calorie restricted and used phen-phen (remember phen-phen? and Metabolife, aka Metabacrack). I occasionally purged and I exercised obsessively. I have never had an accurate image of my body. This all started wayyyy back when I was sitting on my dad’s lap and he patted my belly and told me I “was getting kinda big.” 

Still. Reading my journals, it’s hard to believe how vapid I was at 18. Geez Louise. For as much as I continue to deal with loving myself and my body the way I am, I’m very glad that years of therapy and work have gotten me away from where I was at that age.
   

Senior prom, 1997

Senior prom, 1997

I went onto have a successful first year of college. 

I worked two, sometimes three jobs during my four years at USD and graduated Magna Cum Laude. No sororities for me. I was not super connected to the students or culture of the campus. My life was off campus and while I loved my education, I was ready to move to the next parts of being a grown up.

Life goal at age 18: to work as an interpreter at the U.N.

Twenty Eight

June 2007. A decade after 18 year old Charlotte and I was finally starting to figure out who I really was. I had started blogging on Rebel Heart only a few months prior. I was documenting mine and Eric’s process of moving from land to our sailboat. A month after turning 28 we were officially liveaboards and Eric proposed to me.

In this photo, we were headed out for what I thought was a regular date night. Eric’s palms were sweating because about an hour later, he proposed.

One of the happiest moments of my life, just minutes after his proposal. He’s so handsome, isn’t he? I love, love, LOVE this man.

Twenty eight was a year of discovery. It was the fomenting of my life as a liveaboard and sailor. I spent a lot of time getting to know our vessel, and my sewing machine!

My mother taught me to sew as a child and I’d make my own patterns and clothing for dolls. It wasn’t until years later, and living on our boat, that I decided I needed to get out my machine and start sewing again. Eric eventually bought me a Sailrite and I learned how to sew boat interiors and exteriors, marine canvas, and sailcloth. I had a knack for making my own patterns and designs, a good thing too because all of boat work is custom work.

I was amazed at how much more confident I was at age 28. I felt more at ease in my own body and I felt very at home on the water. At last I’d found a place I felt I belonged. Living on a boat and being a sailor is like being in a very cool secret club. Not a lot of people know about the lifestyle and those who do are all members or former members of the club. There’s an incredible bond between sailors. I found this especially so between other female sailors.

At 28 I had no idea what the next decade had in store for me. We had a plan, sure, to leave in five years and sail around the world. We had agreed to have children, and raise them on the boat, and take them with us, but we didn’t know what that would be like. There was no way the Charlotte of 2007 could have envisioned all that would happen in the decade that would lead her to 2017. 

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life played out the way it did. As it does. As it should.

Life goal at age 28: to be the next Lin Pardey, but with kids.

Thirty Eight

Now we arrive at present day. I’m two years shy of 40. I am a landlubber. It is so bizarre to say that. You could call me a CLOD too, or a Cruiser Living on Dirt. 

I have two incredible children, ages 6 and 4. Really, these kids are rad and I’m truly lucky to have them in my life. 

After being raised as a military brat and never living anywhere long enough to have friends from childhood, I can finally say that I have some ‘old’ friends, or perhaps better stated, lifelong friends.

Me and Mele, Devil's Postpile, November 2016

Me and Mele, Devil's Postpile, November 2016

And I’m lucky enough to still be meeting new people and making new friends too.

Me and Rosanne, Speakeasy Gala, May 2017

Me and Rosanne, Speakeasy Gala, May 2017

While I may live on land, I’m deeply immersed in the elements living here in Mammoth. Just like living on a boat, when you walk out into the cockpit each morning, you are dealing directly with whatever Mother Nature is handing you, so too is life at 8,000ft altitude. Outside my door I have no choice but to deal with the elements too.

I learned how to ski this season. It felt really good to be 37 and learning something new. I’m not too old for this. I can do hard things. I can learn new skills. These were just some of the thoughts going through my head as I flew down the mountain on two sticks.

Couch-locked after day 3 of ski lessons.

Couch-locked after day 3 of ski lessons.

I also learned how to snowshoe. There’s not a lot to learning to snowshoe, not like there is with skiing, but it was still two new things in a season. You can teach a 38 year old new tricks!

Snowshoeing toward Mammoth Rock Trail

Snowshoeing toward Mammoth Rock Trail

Eric and I went on our first date in November 2004, so we're 12 1/2 years and running. I’m still totally into this guy. Hook, line, and sinker.

Together we have each broken cycles of abuse and we’ve forged a new path raising our children and creating our family unit. It has not been easy, but it has been worth it. May our children know love, support, encouragement, safety, and security throughout their entire childhoods.

Mammoth Town Clean Up Day, June 2017

Mammoth Town Clean Up Day, June 2017

At 38, I see the path that many women (and sometimes men) take when they have children, that of allowing their life to be subsumed by the raising of their offspring. For some, I believe this happens because they have never truly evaluated what they wanted for their own lives, so raising children becomes the role they slip into: a seemingly natural fit. For others, it becomes the path of least resistance, of not wanting to rock the boat.

But I also see what happens to those women (and sometimes men) who find themselves at the end of a long 18-25ish year time span of raising children, then entering middle age, and only just beginning to sort out who they are and what they finally want to do with their lives. I choose not to go that route. I choose to pursue my passions now, while my children are young. I choose to try to make sure I’m fulfilled as a human, independent of my role as a mother. I believe that if I’m happy as a whole person, I’ll be a better mother, and I’ll set a solid example for my children about how to stay true to themselves.

So I write. And sometimes I leave. I go on retreats. I travel without my kids. I focus on keeping myself healthy and whole, and for me, that means periodic breaks from parenting. 

Writing Retreat, San Miguel de Allende, May 2017

Writing Retreat, San Miguel de Allende, May 2017

I do so wonder what the next decade has in store. Some of my readers have now been reading my blog for TEN YEARS. First on Rebel Heart, and now here. Whether you've been with me from the very beginning, or you've just recently started following, I thank you for the support.

Life goal at age 38: to raise my kids the very best I can, to relish my relationship with my husband, to nourish and enjoy my friendships, and to write lots and lots of books.