I am quickly nearing my 30th birthday, as I often and gratuitously tell both friends and strangers. Everyone, it seems, has something to say.

"You'll end up crying on the bathroom floor the way I did on my 30th birthday. I was fine until that day -- and then it just hit me. But you'll get over it in a few months."

"When are you going to decide about having a baby, anyway? Time's getting short, you know."

"You're that old?"

No, I don't expect to end up crying on the bathroom floor. No, I'm not going to decide about having a baby. Yes I am that old. And no, in case anyone wants to know, I wouldn't want to be any younger.

Extreme youth, I think, is vastly overrated. I notice college students at bars, with their fresh, unlined faces as bland as biscuit dough. And their passionate, idealistic arguments make me feel a bit jaded. Don't they know that we discussed and discarded idealism a good 10 years ago?

There is the popular notion that those years in high school and college are wonderful -- carefree and irresponsible. "You don't know it now," said my high-school band director, "but these are your golden years."

He was right. I didn't know it then, and I still don't know it now. But what I did know was what a teen-age girl was supposed to be (after all, I had a subscription to Seventeen magazine): popular, scatterbrained, sweet and well-rounded.

And I knew what it was like invariably to fall short. To be tongue-tied when I was supposed to be vivacious; and awkward and naive when sophistication was demanded. In years which were supposedly to be spent in an endless whirl of parties and dates, I found the most activity to be in my fantasy life and my sebaceous glands.

It has been a shock to me in my years past adolescence to find that most of us are not marked indelibly by our early years and sent, rank-ordered by high school, into life. Oddly, it seems that the very people who had those golden years early in their lives, who met the popular sterotypes as teen-agers, are those who bemoan the passing years. Whereas those of usf who are politely called late-bloomers may have something better to look forward to -- compensation, perhaps, for early unpopularity.

Unlike the teen-age years, turning 30 involves no golden stereotypes or glowing expectations. In earlier years, I would have imagined myself at this age as having a matronly appearance, two or three children, and a "safe" career in elementary education tucked away for future use.

But, in the intervening years, this stereotype has eroded; 30 no longer arrives equipped with notions of automatic sacrifice to families or the feeling that the best years have passed. Women my age have lived through changes greatly exceeding the mere passage of time, changes which have presented many of us with opportunities and careers we never expected. It is odd that at a time when many of us expected to have settled down and settled in, to have found our choices narrowed, that there are wider expectations than there are wider expectations than there ever were in younger years.

I don't regret the years that have passed, and I wouldn't call them back, either. To be 15 knowing what I do now is, briefly, not to be 15 at all. But to be 30, knowing what I do now, is fine.