T he sugary crumbs of the creamed meringue sandwich my husband bought are long swallowed; the jello the kids gleefully prepared and then savored after supper has vanished. On the table, a single rose of deepest mauve reigns over haphazard piles of papers, papers, papers (the schools obviously have a target number of trees to use up each semester with inane communications), random items of stationery, and lovingly curated sticker albums.

Last night, with the darkening sky, an inner rush of excitement, and my parents’ punctual mazel tov phone call, my birthday began; now it’s over. My siblings may still remember to call from different parts of the world to say Happy Birthday, but knowing them, they could do that next week too. The big day itself has passed —and the night after feels… heavy somehow.

That’s because this birthday was 30 — a big, round, number. Three-Oh feels so solid, like a firm, rounded platform breaking up a precarious but exhilarating spiral staircase. Thirty says you are a whole decade away from teenage angst and insecurities and finding yourself and big dreams to change the world. Thirty says you’re no longer fresh-faced and slim, no newcomer to adulthood. You’re not breaking in, proving yourself, still discovering new secrets and strengths inside your personality.

Thirty seems like a plateau. And I fear it.

Hitting the mall with my sister-in-law once, when I was 18, we laughed as we held up sweaters, shrugs, and knits under bright lights. I exulted in a short brown number, and suggested my sister-in-law try it on too. She shook her head. “Nah, I can’t wear this and pretend to be 19. I’m in my thirties now. It’s a different style.”

The words come back now, a bell tolling in my mind. I can’t pretend to be 19 anymore?

Exaggerating my youthful naïveté had been my standard way to deal with Israeli bureaucracy during all the years we lived in Israel. Generally successful, it remains a favorite strategy when requesting information, favors, refunds, and the like. I have a special voice that says, “I’m young and I didn’t know about all this. I deeply respect your age and experience, and I’m sure you can do me this favor.”

But at 30, maybe the game’s over. I can’t pretend anymore to not know the rules, to be overwhelmed by their implications, to be too young to count, to be invisible if I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If I can’t pretend to be 19 anymore, who will I be? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 575)