I was 17 in 1984. (Life was not, thankfully, like 1984.) I was a junior in high school, starting to think about college; I dreamt of going to Brown, my best friend to Duke. (Pre-calculus intervened and we wound up, both of us ultimately quite happily, at our safety schools.)

17 years ago, I was 22, living in Manhattan in a $900/month one bedroom apartment on East 13th Street. I was working for a literary agent, and starting to think about graduate school. My boyfriend and I applied for different programs in the same cities. I didn’t get into U.C. Berkeley’s English department, but he got into San Francisco State’s film program, and I figured San Francisco was a good place to live while I reapplied to grad school. Berkeley’s Comparative Literature program accepted me, my boyfriend and I broke up, I earned my Ph.D., and here I am.

I spent 17 hours in labor with my son Eli, some of it (the time I didn’t spend moaning) thinking about what kind of child was making its way to me.

Now the most significant 17 in my life belongs to my niece and goddaughter Mariah, who is 17 today. She’s thinking about a lot of things: music and writing, and where to go to college, and when to get her driver’s license. She’s quiet and interesting and funny and brought tears to my eyes at the Christmas Eve service when she sang the solo in “Once In Royal David’s City” (if I’m this sappy about my niece, what’s going to happen when my own kids start doing stuff?)

She seems a whole lot more pulled together than I was either at 17 or 17 years ago. I’m happy to be spending her birthday with her, and I’m glad to report that I just took her birthday cake out of the oven.

Happy birthday, Mariah, and many, many happy returns of the day!

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