Today's my 36th birthday and it's the first time I can remember being like "oh, wow. I'm how old again??" It's not that I think 36 is old, and it's not that I feel old in my body or my spirit. (Actually, sometimes I worry I still try to live like a younger version of myself.) It's that I'm over halfway through my 30s with 40 looming on the horizon and I've noticed a shift in my body, habits, and mindset.

Hangovers officially suck. I've got a two drink max or else I'll definitely feel something the next morning. That really stinks for someone who enjoys socially drinking and sipping wine while she cooks and eats dinner. In the old days I could wine at night and coffee in the morning. Now that combination spells trouble to the tune of 'dehydration' and 'irritability.' But YOLO right? ;)

That youthful spirit of invincibility? Gone with a capital 'G.' In fact, I've never felt so aware of my mortality. I see our parents and grandparents aging and it worries me. I see my daughter growing up and I feel this panicked determination to make sure I'm here for her as long as possible. The other day I almost caved and cooked myself the really-bad-for-you instant ramen. (Sheesh, I had no idea how bad it was until like a month ago.) I was setting my water to boil, looked at Harlow's precious face, and threw it all out. I can't be as cavalier with my health choices anymore. The stakes are too high.

I'm learning to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I know what I like and what I don't, what works and what doesn't for the most part. I'm embracing my laugh lines and crows feet even while blasting the shit out of them with anti-aging serums. I don't worry about fitting into tiny bikinis or buying the new 'it' bag each season. That competitive drive to keep up with the Joneses is long gone.

But I still play the comparison game, the criteria have just changed. I see women and moms killing it with their businesses and financially supporting their families and it makes me feel an inch tall. Like why haven't I been able to do that so far? I'm so self-conscious about it. I used to look at women with the best bodies and clothes and feel jealous. Now I see women who live in beautiful homes with weed-free Irish green grass and I'm like HOW????

I'm growing more comfortable in my role as a mom. I've never been one to feel like becoming a mom means walking away from your identity as an individual, as a woman. Over the last year I've found a circle of women who feel the same way and it's awesome. They're killing it with their businesses and they're kick-ass moms. I see that they have the same ups and downs, wins and fails that I do and in my mind that validates my own experience.

It's funny though. By 36 you've pretty much established who your real friends are. Friends come and go, relationships ebb and flow. Yet when you become a mom, it's like you're the new kid in school trying to find your friend group. Again. You feel like you're auditioning as a person and as a mom. Your personality, your style of dress, your effort, your parenting style...it's like everyone's watching, sizing you up. Optics are HUGE in American-style cultural parenting. And even if you pass the eye test, it's still hard for anyone to find time to hang out because everybody -- and I mean everybody -- is so darn busy. Coordinating calendars with mom friends is an Olympic sport, requiring will and determination to see it through to the end.

I don't know if we're done growing our family. At 36 I'd be a high-risk preggo and I struggle with the statistics. I realize "older" women have children every day, I just don't know if my mind could handle the worry and stress if I were the one in however many that had the problem. I'm still trying to put all my thoughts on the subject into a post. TBD.

But here's what I DO know.

So I'm not the financially independent woman I saw myself becoming when I was in college. Well, college Brooke, what if I told you that you married a hottie hot hottie, you'd be living back in Asheville, and your daughter is the most precious, beautiful being on the planet? That you lived in New York City for awhile, you went to New York Fashion Week, you traveled all over Italy, France, and England, and that long hair you always wished for is available for purchase for the low price of $195? (Man, did I want Jennifer Aniston's long flowing hair in the early 2000s.)

At 36, I still feel my life is changing, growing, evolving. The foundational questions -- 'who will I marry,' 'where will I live?' -- have been answered beyond my highest expectations. Now I'm in the building stage, figuring out how to cultivate, enrich, and expand on this wonderful life I'm blessed to live. I don't care about popping bottles and shopping for Louboutins in Vegas on my birthday like we used to do every year. Now I just want to drink a cold beer on my back deck, watching my daughter play in the cool evening air of the Blue Ridge mountains. (Though I wouldn't mind some new deck furniture and hiring someone to power wash the pollen off! My, have the indulgences changed!)

I pray that this next year will be as good to me as the previous 36 have been. With the love of my family and friends, and the guidance of the Lord, I have no doubt that it will be.

To 36!