Sun 24 Jan 2010
i am 38 today.
i remember my mother’s 38th birthday. i was in grade 10. i have no recollection of what i bought her, what she might have liked at that stage in her life. i have even less sense of what i might have thought she liked at that stage in mine. it was only a few years past the birthday i bought her the Kids from Fame tape, with my own money. in hindsight, not an altruistic purchase.
38 seemed close to 100 to me, then.
it seems like last week and yet a lifetime ago. and my mother? seems oddly younger to me now. a 23-year age difference between parent and child is so little, really. but at almost fifteen, any age or power differential is a chasm. when my kids are fifteen, i’ll seem old to them. hell, maybe i’ll be old. maybe there’s no difference between the two.
something about postponing having children – and, y’know, any kind of stable career arc – until, uh, “later in life” has created a surreal sort of plateau in my sense of my own age. the fact that i drag my carcass to bed by midnight even on Saturdays has far more to do with the shining faces that wake me at 6 am Sunday than it does with any sudden maturity or rejection of 3am raucousness. inside, i don’t feel terribly different than i did ten years ago. and beyond the extra softness that three babies and bedrest have wrought, i don’t live in my skin all that differently than i did twenty years back.
clearly, i am high on delusion. my own private fountain of youth.
but it is running out, slipping from me. 38 seems to be to youth as 14 is to childhood: the point at which you suddenly, irrevocably find yourself on the far side of the line. i catch myself in the mirror in woolen pants and high heeled boots and shiny jewelry, and i realize that i have, belatedly, grown up. my hair is sedately mid-length. my old, beloved army boots sit unworn at the back of the closet, gathering dust. i have entered my professional years. i am a few years late and my edges still need ironing, but here i am, securely and blatantly smack-dab in the middle-aged middle class, no matter how that makes me laugh at myself. i no longer live on the outside of much of anything at all.
i blink. i am Dorothy in Oz, bedazzled by her own shoes.
from the time i turned 14, or maybe even a few years longer, i’ve been peering forward, gazing ahead, trying to get to some indefinite point at which my life would actually, y’know, happen. i’ve spent my adolescence and entire “adult” life in a haze of vague, infinite possibility, afraid i’d miss something.
but when your field of vision is too wide, you can’t actually see.
apparently, for my birthday, i got bifocals. because for the first time in my life, i feel like the things i want – the goal things, the apply yourself and work towards it things – are in focus. i see paths, where once i saw the whole damn mountain. it feels heady, this 38. it feels like i am just, finally, maybe, hitting my stride.
i have no model for this kind of aging.
if i showed you pictures of my mother at 38 and today, you would see little change. her hair was fully gray by 30; by 38 she’d found the style that has become her signature. she had a job that paid the rent and exhausted her; she has one now. her hobby is the community life of her church, alpha and omega.
when i went away to college she was a month short of 41. i am her only child, her one dependent. i pushed, then, for her to go back and finish her own degree, started a lifetime before and abandoned early in her marriage. but she could no more see her way clear to that kind of upheaval, that kind of change and debt and longterm planning than she could up and fly. she had she formed herself, and was, and thus remains, eternal.
she is no coward, do not misunderstand. she has the strength to endure and abide and stare down what would crush most people. she has lacked only luck, and family. those who risk are usually either headstrong or sure of someone to catch them. she was not made to be the first, and has never had the latter. wings are a privilege.
i have been headstrong since i turned 14. and once i left home my mother, without recriminations, gave me every inch of wingspan she could. i have believed, that entire time, that i am different from her.
it occurs to me only now that i’ve been full of shit; that i am only maybe beginning to differentiate now. my mother is the stablest foundation i could have asked for. in relation to her, it has been easy to be the wild young thing lo these many years.
but in clinging to that sense of myself, i too have been unchanging, her younger opposite and doppelganger, all in one.
it occured to me, late last night, that i don’t want to be the wild young thing for the rest of my life. it occurred to me that if, at 61, i am as able and as busy and as fulfilled as my mother seems to be, i will be happy. both these realizations came as a complete surprise.
it is in the years in the interim that maybe our paths will be truly different, my mother and i. as she would want. as i am beginning to be able to bring into focus.
damn, this wisdom with age stuff. bring on the prime. and the cake. i’m 38.
me, stunned to realize i have reached the age where people crowd your birthday cake with candles and then make jokes about seeing it from space. yeh. bring it.