Yesterday, I read an essay by a 38-year-old mom, called “This is 38.” This is midlife, she said. Alarm bells went off. I thought about it on and off all day, and by the time I was getting ready for bed, I had half this post written in my head.
Because something irks me when I read pieces of this sort (even though I think the writer, Lindsay Mead, who blogs at A Design So Vast, wrote some nice stuff). What gets under my skin are the attitudes that linger and lurk behind what seem simply like sweet sentiments about getting older and/or about being a parent as one gets older. This particular essay is an offshoot of a series that the Huffington Post did about various kid ages called This is Childhood, by parents waxing poetic about what those ages meant for them and their growing kids. Nice, I guess, but still I get frustrated and kind of grumpy with the wistfulness around discussions of age, no matter if you’re talking about a 38-year-old mom, or a 10-year-old child.
Because, folks, it’s age. It’s not fixed in time; it’s a moving target. The moment you list all the things you’re nostalgic about, they’re gone. I’m reminded of the final episode of one of my favorite TV shows, HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” Claire, the youngest of the three Fisher siblings, a photographer, is moving from L.A. to New York, and is snapping a photo of her family on the steps of their home before she leaves. Her older brother Nate (who happens — spoiler alert — to be dead) appears over her shoulder and says, “you can’t take a picture of this; it’s already gone.”
The other day, I turned 47. Which feels old, unless it doesn’t. It happened kind of fast, the space between 36, when I had my first child, to now. I remember 40, still changing diapers and driving to daycare, feeling like a blip. I do tend to do a lot of in-my-head adding and subtracting around age, as I wrote about in this guest post, Older Mother Math, over at Caren Chesler’s blog, The Dancing Egg. So, I’m 47 with a 10-year-old, and my mom was 47 with a 27-year-old (my sister, who turns 50 tomorrow and looks like she’s 35, if that 35 year old is in awesome shape). You see? It amounts to little more than an idle mental exercise. My mother grew up with her oldest child; I grew up first, and then had a child. There’s no nostalgia, there are only facts, and the life we’re living right now.
What’s the point of wistfulness about age? What is the alternative? You move forward, because what happened thus far is, to quote Nate Fisher, already gone.
There are places my mind goes when I am tempted to age-related thoughts:
I can say that my kids keep me young — dragging out that old trope about how chasing around two young boys keeps my energy up. But in truth, a lot of the time, they’re chasing after me (I compel them to ride their bikes alongside me while I run, for example, when they’d rather watch TV).
I can talk about winning a genetic lottery — I come from long-lived women on both sides of my family, and we appear to age well.
I can tell a funny story about a young woman I met, a 21-year-old when I was 27 and who gasped — literally gasped — when she found out I was that old. “You look so good for 27! I hope I look that good when I’m 27!” When I think about that young woman, I have to laugh. At that time I looked — and more important felt — far better at 27 than I remembered feeling at 21. I felt more me. When I look at photos of myself at 21, it’s almost as though I can see fuzziness around the edges, like the image isn’t clear, the picture of who I really am.
Maybe that picture still isn’t 100% clear, which may also be why I am not wistful about the passing of the years. I wish I had more years ahead of me than I do behind, sure. I hope, fervently, that I get to see and hold grandchildren and watch them grow. But wistful? As my Great Aunt Nina is fond of saying, age? It’s just a number. Nina, by the way, is the last surviving sister from my grandmother’s family. She is 83. She looks like she’s 65. And acts like she still has a lot left to do. Maybe that’s the key. No time for wistful. Move forward.
The past is already gone. The present is here for a moment only. It’s the future that really counts.