Jumbo Steps: 12 going on 20

I’ve never really been one to broadcast when it’s my birthday. In fact, I’ve always tried to downplay the annual occasion — the last time I planned a birthday party for myself was when I turned 12. It’s not that my birthday isn’t special to me. It’s just that I’ve never been compelled to parade about exclaiming, “Guess what day it is? MY day! Aren’t you going to sing to me?”

Growing up, I’d learned to soft-pedal my birthday because there was never a need to announce when it was. Everyone who was important to me — my immediate family and school buddies — knew the date.

But studying at Tufts means those people are not around for my birthday; my immediate family lives in California and no one else from my high school has attended Tufts in more than half a decade.

Last October, I was hesitant to let people know when it was my birthday. I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to host a party or get me presents. Nor did I want them to feel pressured to remember the date from then on.

But I did end up letting a few people know. And my birthday last year was nothing but spectacular. My Tilton floormates threw me my first surprise birthday party. My next-door neighbors baked cupcakes for all of us and decorated them with the number 19.

This past Saturday was equally spectacular. I spent the first hour of the day on the phone with a childhood friend. I spent the next three hours with a suitemate who is also from California. We recounted the best and worst parts of our high school careers, then stayed up until 4 a.m. looking at Google Maps aerial views of our high schools, our towns and — of course — our favorite beaches.

Five hours later, I woke up to have brunch with a different suitemate, took a nap (a birthday present to myself) and then walked to Mail Services to pick up some presents my family had mailed to me.

My favorite present was from my parents. They made this cardstock fold-out that listed 20 things they loved about me — one for each year I’ve lived. After tearing up over that, I opened the remainder of my heartfelt gifts. I ended my birthday with the boys, kicking back and watching a movie on our suite’s projector.

And thus began my official advent into the unknown world of adulthood. I’m no longer considered a “teenager.”

And that’s weird for me.

To be honest, I’d never bought into the whole, “I feel so different now that I’m a year older” idea. After all, I’m just 19 plus a few days old. I still have no idea what I’m doing. I’m still pimply and awkward. And I am still frightened of what the future holds.

But that’s also exciting.

Turning 20 just means that I’ve been armed with yet another year’s worth of experience. I’ve had 19 years to prepare for my first trial run at officially “adulting.” And it really is a trial run to learn to be more reactive to and responsible about life’s hurdles. To become more mature. To fail harder. I’ve been given another year to learn more. To love deeper. To do more.

Isn’t that one hell of a gift?