Because A Little Navel-Gazing Never Hurt Anybody
I painted the girls’ nails the other day. No, not with some chemical-free, child-safe stuff I specially bought just for my daughters’ impromptu mani-pedi days. You think we play nail salon that often around here? Nah, this was some old OPI–I think “You’re a Pisa Work”–I had in the back of the bathroom cabinet. Saoirse had asked that I do her nails, and the next thing we new, Quinn was padding over to where we sat, sprawled out on the kitchen floor tiles, her fingers splayed for attention, too. I managed to get one stripe on each of her big toes before she figured she had better things to do and walked off. For the rest of the day, though, Quinn ran around, hands outstretched, displaying her artwork to anyone who passed. Saoirse, the older daughter, is much more blase about the whole spectacle, and just ended up asking me to take it off by the end of the day. She asks me why I don’t have any polish on my fingernails. I tell her that I haven’t gotten around to choosing a fun color, not that I don’t have the patience for manicures that will just chip off when I’m bringing in the groceries.
David and I were in the car with the girls Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!). We were headed to our local Irish pub for an early dinner dinner and a pint (yes, the girls got milk. Seriously, what do you think of me? Commercial nail polish is as far as I go for what my kids will ingest), and somehow our “personality” ages came up.
“So, how old are you?” I asked David.
“Uh, 32.” he said, shooting me a confused look. We’d just celebrated his birthday this week. And yes, he’s younger than I. (Let’s nevermind how much younger, shall we? All right, it’s by three and a half years, okay?! Three and a HALF.)
“Nooo,” I pressed, because pressing is what I do (I think I’m best suited to be a tabloid “journalist”–you know, the ones that dig through trash, then harass people till they cry. I’d be AWESOME). “What age are you in your head? Like, everybody thinks of himself as a certain age. I know a woman who’s elderly mom still thinks of herself as 19. So…what’s your age? What do you see yourself as?”
“Thirty-two,” David said.
“You think of yourself as your actual age?” I said, incredulous.
“Um, yeah.” David’s the logical one in our relationship, if you hadn’t picked up on it.
“I’m thirty-two. I can’t escape it,” he said. “When I run on the basketball court, and go to dunk–and can’t anymore–I realize…I’m thirty-two.”
Told you. Logic.
I still think of myself as 23 or 24. It’s not until I talk to someone who IS actually in her early twenties that I realize–oh, yeah!–I’m past that. I’m officially at an age where, if someone says “Wow! I would’ve have never guessed you were that old!” I don’t take it as a compliment–I wonder if I need to start dressing differently, or cut my hair, or something (Other 35-year-olds wear Converse, right?).
I don’t want to be 23 or 24 again. I mean, that age was a turning-point time for me. I’d just moved to Baltimore, and didn’t yet have a friend to call my own, but had insisted on finding an apartment downtown, because if I wasn’t going to know a lot of people, I was at least going to surround myself with them. I was scared, because I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life–I’d just left my “career” in publishing and taken a job my uncle was kind enough to offer me at his law firm while I figured out my next step, but wasn’t sure what that step would be. I started running, a lot, down to Inner Harbor and back up through my neighborhood of Mt. Vernon. I grew to be on very friendly terms with the staff of my local sushi restaurant and movie rental shop (remember those?). I learned what it was like to be on your own, truly on your own, and be okay with finding your footing in the world, even if that foothold was in a bit of a lonely place for a while.
And, of course, as it always does when you start mixing thoughtfulness, and prayer, and a lot of hard work, the tides turned. Friends and family came to visit, staying for long weekends, because my apartment was in the absolute perfect location for walking to tourist attractions, and bars, and cafes for brunch. I was on the same street as Camden Yards, and a block and a half up from the Walters Art Gallery, a couple of nightclubs, and the pub where we’d see the mayor–sorry, governor–down massive amounts of Guinness and play with his band. I started milking the city for all it was worth. I made new friends–good friends, the kind that make you so thankful they walked into your lives. I fell in love with a graduate program, then with teaching. I dated a little, then decided I had better things to do than date, then met a guy on a happenstance encounter and fell in love.
When I look back at that time, though, all I feel is the turmoil of not knowing where you are in the world–my role, my future, the point to me being here. But I guess I also see myself then as young, and energetic, and hopeful, which is strange, because now–well, now, I’m a better runner than I ever was back then, for one thing. And energy-wise, I feel like I use my time better now during the day, because so much more fills it. And hope? Well, it’s fourfold now. I have a husband who’s still striving to better himself, go farther, work smarter. I feel like I’m just starting to use some of the talents I have–funny how simply not being 24 makes you so much more confident, more willing to take risks–and, well, have you met my daughters? My Lord. The possibilities that lie in wait for these two absolutely amazing humans are so exciting I can’t even wrap my head around it.
The world is getting better, people. You just have to make sure you’re along for the ride.
Last night I pulled up to our local MyGym. For an hour, the owners were offering a discounted rate for signing up to their summer “mini camps.” I almost pulled right back out of the parking lot when I saw the line, stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. But I got in line, chatting with the parents I knew. I was laughing, inside. Earlier that day, I’d been in class, one of twenty moms there with her carefully highlighted hair drawn back into a high ponytail, wearing yoga pants, making small talk about her children. Now, these same moms (and dads) looked tired, not willing to put up the “I’ve got this” front, not caring if the baby’s dinner was still smeared all over their shirts. We’re the same parents who used to stand in line for concert tickets (though I’m suspecting I’m the only one in the room who carefully avoided the Dave Matthews bandwagon when it rumbled into town. You know, because I was waiting for the Radiohead one), and now do so for our kids’ recreation. It’s all evolved.
I make so much fun of my world, and I fully admit that part of it is because somehow, despite myself, I made the leap from 24 to married-mom-with-children–stay-at-home mom, at that!–and wonder how it all happened so quickly when it took me 20-some years to get to adulthood in the first place. But I keep thinking of a picture I saw last year of an Occupy protestor, chanting anti-1-percent epiteths in front of a bank’s headquarters. He was wearing a Hollister t-shirt, and I shook my head at the hypocrisy. You can’t exactly lambast the establishment, I thought, when you help support the establishment. Pick a side, I said. But I’m no different, and I realized this last night, standing in line, in work-out gear even though I hadn’t worked out that day, my hair pulled up in a ponytail because I hadn’t washed it, either, adjusting the glasses on my nose (because I got over my self-concsiousness about wearing glasses right around the time I realized that if I could breastfeed, fold laundry, potty-train a toddler, and run up stairs despite c-section stitches all at the same time. Wonder Woman would’ve rocked her glasses, too). I’m the guy hollering in front of the building wearing a Hollister shirt. Just, mine’s from the Gap and has spaghetti sauce on it.
Saoirse has bitten off most of the polish from her fingernails, and Quinn’s is wearing away. By now she’s forgotten it’s there, only intermittenly becoming startled by the flash of bright pink on her fingertips, and then waving them around like pieces of confetti though the air. They love pretending to be grown-ups, these kids. They love the adornments of adulthood: the shoes, the bags, the computers, the paint. Funny, isn’t it? We’re so busy moving, at such a break-neck speed, we forget to like the age we actually possess. We daydream of youth, of growing up, of what’s next, always, always. And then when we finally look around, take note of our place on the map, we have no idea how we got there.
So, I still think I’m 24, even though 11 years, one husband, a dog (a dog?! When was I EVER going to own a dog?!), two children, and a house in the suburbs (“The WHAT?!” screams 24-year-old me) tell me otherwise. Meanwhile my husband’s age, the one in his head, I mean–the years he feels–is the same age as the one on his driver’s license. And he is a pretty content guy, and comfortable in his own (devastatingly handsome) skin. I hate it when he pulls a smart one over on me, but maybe he’s onto something. Maybe he’s actually being sort of wise. For a young whippersnapper, I mean.