Hello, 30

Published May 3, 2007

Sometime during my mid 20s, I made a list. "Things to do before 30," it began. It included things as small as "start wearing sunscreen every day," and as huge as "have a baby."

I look at the list now as if it were scrawled in crayon by a naive fifth-grader. Two weeks into my 30s, I look at some of my then-goals and don't know whether to chuckle or sob.

I'm still not wearing sunscreen. And I'd rather go to concerts and parties than change diapers.

How did my 30th birthday creep up so quickly?

For years, I thought 30 sounded like perfection. You're not going through the awkwardness and intensity of post-college life, but you're not wrinkled and arthritic either. Most women I've met in their 30s seem awesome: confident, settled, interesting, clever. If you take care of yourself, you can still look and act like you're 25 while having the wisdom to know better.

But there's also something scary about turning 30. You're no longer at the age where people say, "Ah, you've got time." You're no longer considered an up-and-coming young star at work. Now you're an account executive or somebody's mom.

It's the first milestone birthday people dread, whether they admit it to themselves or not. Some shy away from a big celebration, opting to ring in the new era quietly and meekly, as if to either ignore or deny it.

Not me. I chose to dive into my 30s with the wildest, most indulgent week of my life.

This is the way you do it, people.

The biggest week ever

I didn't just cut out of work early for the big day. I took a 10-day vacation around it.

I didn't just have a nice birthday dinner at Bella's or Bern's. I flew to California to eat at one of the top restaurants in the world with some friends.

I didn't just plan a small keg party or happy hour to cap the celebration. I threw a humongous party with bands, a DJ, open bar, fog machine and fireworks.

I invited almost 200 people, some of whom I met just weeks before I turned 30.

"You're throwing your own party?" some asked. "Why aren't your friends or husband doing it?"

Because, I explained, other people won't do it the way I want.

And this might be the biggest difference between 20 and 30: Somewhere along the way, you start yanking your own reins. All of the things you're timid or worried about in your early 20s - saying something stupid in a meeting, making huge financial decisions, looking foolish in front of your peers - don't seem like that big of a deal anymore.

If throwing a huge party in honor of myself sounds extravagant and self-absorbed, it was. I didn't care. This party was going to be the best night of my life. I wanted lots and lots of people to drink, dance and have a ball, all in honor of me turning 30.

For months leading up to it, I was out of control. I demanded that the Unitards, a band made up of St. Petersburg Times reporters, play at my party and learn a song by my favorite band, the Pixies. They appropriately picked Where Is My Mind. I had a friend harass the Stick Martin Show, another local band, until they also agreed (for a fairly steep price).

I rented space at Transitions Arts Gallery, a funky little concert and art venue that's part of the Skatepark of Tampa. I sent the manager, Matt Welch, a steady stream of annoying e-mails. He told me the one toilet would be enough, but I arranged to have two portable toilets delivered anyway.

I forced my friend Stephanie to watch me try on 18 dresses at the mall. I couldn't decide between a classy green lace-and-chiffon number or a sexy black-and-white club dress, so I decided to wear both at the party. When I almost bought a $60 Swarovski crystal tiara, the look of fear in Stephanie's eyes stopped me. I was teetering on the edge of Way, Way Too Far.

For the weeks leading up to my birthday, all I could talk about was the party. When people asked how I felt about turning 30, I instead blabbed on and on about my dresses and guest list and bands.

"Quite frankly, Emily," my friend Leah told me one night, "you're becoming kind of a bore."

The party's over

I'm slightly embarrassed to say what the whole week cost, especially in print. I will say that flying to California wasn't cheap, and a French Laundry dinner for two can famously reach four figures. (Not saying that's what we paid. Just sayin'.)

The party, of course, was pricey. The open bar hit the credit cards pretty hard. The invitations alone cost $300 to print. My husband and I will probably eat Ramen noodles for the rest of the year, and it was totally worth it. It truly was the best week of my life, and the party was one of the most surreal nights I've ever experienced.

I wish I could relive every moment and detail of the bash, but some of it was a blur. There were a ton of people. There was music and dancing. There were sparklers. There were people I didn't know.

The next day, I had no choice but to emerge from this cocoon of craziness I had wrapped around my birthday, which I now realize was my way of hiding it.

I wish I could say that with that one week, I managed to get all of the wild out of my system so I can now focus on being a mature, responsible 30-year-old. I think I was hoping I'd be ready for sunscreen and kids.

And maybe I will be soon. But not yet.

At 30, I'm not as perfect as I thought I'd be. But I'm getting there, I think.

I'm making a new list. It's called, "Things to do before 40."

Emily Nipps may be reached at nipps@sptimes.com.