We reach a certain age, and all we can do is wonder how we got so old. My friends and I talk often about how we still feel like our 35-year-old selves inside, no matter how many years have passed since. What causes this disconnect in our sense of self?
I’ve read that as children, we often feel older than we are – no doubt because we’d like to be. But at around age 30, we reverse our thinking and begin to feel younger than we are. I’m not sure that’s because we want to re-live our 20’s, however. For me, it was more a disbelief that I could actually be a full-fledged adult.
I still remember that moment when I realized there was no going back. I was 33 or 34, and I’d recently moved with my husband and toddler into our first single-family home. (Oh, the automatic garage door opener! The basement! The walk-in closet!) We’d both earned tenure at our schools, and he’d moved into administration. We’d even gotten a dog. All the trappings of middle class.
One morning as I stood at the vanity mirror, eyeing my increasing gray hairs and daubing on make-up, the smells of toast and coffee wafted upstairs, and I could hear the sounds of “Sesame Street” from the TV in the living room where I knew my child was curled on the couch with his blanket. All of a sudden, I felt kicked in the gut with the realization that I had become my mother. An adult. I’d finally made it. Somehow, up until that moment, I’d felt like I’d been just play-acting, practicing for the real thing. Then BAM. Here it was.
The mid-30’s is where I’ve been ever since, though 20 years have passed. Sometimes I even step backward from there, regressing to helplessness: “No, I can’t do this! I’m still a stupid kid!” At those moments, the reality of my 55 years seems an utter absurdity, an impossible time-warp, as if someone had opened a portal and forced me to look at my future self. Then I imagine myself at my little blue desk from grade school, maybe in 1972 or so, on the cusp of teenagerhood, granted the gift of sight and seeing my own hand writing “2015” on the date line of a check made out to a mortgage company. I reel in disbelief. Wow, I’ll have a mortgage in 2015? Wow, there will BE a 2015??
(Funny how now it seems the oddest thing about that scenario is that I actually still do write paper checks – ha ha. Can you blame me for not wanting to give Chase access to my bank account? I recognize that this paranoia makes me seem even older than I am.)
But it’s these time-warping moments that make me think we aren’t as tied to time as our calendars tell us we are. Maybe, inside, we’re just us – age 5, 15, 35, 55 and 75 all at once. Our bodies fool and then betray us, trapping our timeless spirits in shells that eventually crumble away.
Now I’m on the countdown to retirement, and I hate to admit it, but I’m ready. I’m tired of the grind. My eyesight’s going, my knees are bad, and I’m sick of dying my hair in an attempt to remain relevant to the kids in my classes. I’ve been at this teaching gig for 30+ years, and I have other things I’d like to do with my life. By my rough estimate, I’ve worked with nearly 8,000 students and graded about 250,000 – a quarter million – pages of teens’ writing, only some of which has been remarkable. Plus I’ve read The Odyssey well over 100 times — though somehow it never gets old.
And yet. Retirement? Me? Really? Wasn’t I just a newbie at my school, being mentored by those who paved the road? The years are one big blur now. The thought that scares most of us is that time will continue to speed by faster and faster until that inevitable moment when it stops altogether.
None of us should complain to have been given the gift of aging, especially those of us who can afford to retire. Still . . . Damn! How did I get so old already? And how is it that most of my friends are old people, too?
We’re growing mouthy and eccentric, my friends and I, like Violet, the old dowager countess on Downton Abbey who mutters non sequiturs and says out loud what everyone else is thinking. Maybe that’s the best part about aging — we finally stop caring about what other people think of us. So we might as well have a little fun as we skip off into the future, knees creaking and saggy arms flapping.
Illustration credits: menstrupedia; burbed; flashback summer; levkonoe.livejournal