Friday, March 2, 2012


I have become obsessed with my age. I am constantly aware, as if the number floats around my head. 47. 47. 47. Part of this relates to being a mom, and knowing that, to my kids, I am old. More has to do with teaching. When I started teaching in grad school, I was less than ten years older than my students. We had shared tastes and points of reference. Now . . if I refer to something from my youth, I am pointing them back to the 1970s or 1980s. As my husband has noted recently, when he talks about a restaurant or store he went to in the 1980s, we are now the people who talked to us about stuff from the 1950s. Not uninteresting, but not of our generation. Not only do I come from the olden days, but my tastes and points of reference always went back to a period before I was born -- films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, music from the 60s, fashion from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s. So I am doubly outdated by my own anachronism.

Part of it, certainly, is about the body. I feel the years. I feel them when I worry that if I fall skating, I will break a hip. Or when I buy a new bra because "the girls" seem to be hanging lower all the time. Or, fighting a few pounds, that would have dropped easily even ten years ago, but now cling to me like barnacles on a ship. But, at the same time, I look at my friends and think we all look pretty good, younger than our folks did when they were our age. We don't, on the whole, have the thick middles and pot bellies of earlier generations. We still wear our 80s black pants, cool boots and decent haircuts.

But we also seem less settled, less sure than our folks seemed when they were our age. My folks were almost done with child-rearing then -- I was the youngest of four kids and I was 17, almost off to college when my mom turned 47 (and she was old compared to most of my friends' moms, who had them at 18 or 20). They hadn't moved house in 15 years. They had only changed jobs out of necessity -- the recession in my dad's case. My friends, though, mostly have small kids. Some have long term jobs. (My husband and I have been in the same jobs for 14 years, in my case, and longer in his.) But some of our friends are still looking, changing careers, figuring it out. Most of us do not fully perceive ourselves as adult, or as the same as people we refer to as grown ups." For my husband and I, "grown ups" wear suits, work in skyscrapers and vacation at resorts. We don't.

We do not really want to be grown ups, in that sense, and likely never will be. But our view of them as grown ups, even while we think ourselves old, suggests that we still feel like imposters, kids playing dress up. And maybe all grown ups do. Maybe the guys in suits I see at my kids' school are not any more certain or settled than we are. And maybe our parents were not either.

And maybe that is why I am so conscious of that number, 47. Because 47 doesn't mean what I thought, doesn't mean I am grown up, or complete. It is just another place on the road, no more nor less significant than 21, or 35, or 10. Only now, I can more clearly see what was great and not so great about those stops -- 21, 35, and 10. And only later, perhaps will I see 47 for what it really is.

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