On Friday, I will celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday. Janis Ian had things figured out way sooner than I did.
Typically, I don’t tend to have any reaction to birthdays. They come and go without much noise. I don’t get hung up on the number (in fact, for a few months out of this year, I thought I was a year older than I am). But this one has me thinking. Maybe it’s because, as one friend pointed out, I’m halfway to seventy. Or, as another one put it, I’m part of a new age demographic. I don’t know, yet, if I agree with the idea that I’m now “middle-aged,” but that might be because I’m lucky enough to have a still-living, almost-ninety-one-year-old grandmother.
Whatever the reason, thirty-five seems like kind of a big deal. For the first time in my life, I think I’m aware of the aging process. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I think I feel or look old. In fact, from a few feet away, I look a lot younger than I am, and people often mistake me for being in my twenties (until they get up close). But there are things that do affect me differently now that I’m getting older. If I wear high heels to work, my hips will hurt the following day. If I drink too much beer during summer vacation, I’ll start the school year with a few extra pounds. Staying out late on a Saturday night means I’ll spend the rest of the week pining for the sleep that was lost. If I am accidentally tanned in the sun, there’s no such thing as a healthy, youthful glow. Instead, it appears as though I’ve been suddenly wrapped in animal hide. And I’m pretty sure I have my first sunspot. Thank you, Florida.
Also, when did the skin on my neck become loose? I feel a little bit like a turkey.
But what’s nice is that there are some things I’ve come to accept about myself at this age. The front tooth I chipped at seventeen is probably going to stay that way because I’ve replaced the filling too many times. And it’s not like I’m eating rocks or something. The last time, it popped off as I kissed my daughter’s forehead.
I now know that if I re-establish any kind of serious workout routine, my butt will actually get bigger before it shrinks (and, let’s be honest, it will probably never ever shrink) and so my pants will be tight. (But the alternative is much worse. And much squishier.) At least I’m aware of this ahead of time.
Also, I learned recently that women my age who have birthed and nursed multiple children and still have full and even ebullient breasts have had some kind of surgery or “work done.” So I’m okay with being, well, naturally deflated.
I feel like there’s a kind of surety that comes with being in my mid-thirties. And I like it. I have enough years behind me to finally stand up for myself when I’m being patronized. Even though I never meant to be a teacher, I’ve started to undertand that I am, in fact, a teacher, and I might even be starting to feel like I sort of know what I’m doing (it only took ten years). And perhaps, at this point, I’m no longer considered a “young mother,” and so I am free from all of the connotations that come with that term.
The best part about this thirty-five thing is thinking about what lies ahead; if I’m lucky, it’s another whole lifetime. Maybe more. And that’s good, because there are so many things left to do.
I haven’t yet published anything of significant length. Sure, there have been poems here and there, but I was so certain I would have that “book” at this stage of my life. And I’ve realized that if I want to do so (before I meet the next demographic) while working full-time as a teacher and raising three small children, it requires getting up at 4am. So that’s what I do.
And I was always pretty sure my life would resemble some kind of Country Time Lemonade commercial. So far, that hasn’t happened. But I’m working on it. I mean, I still see it. So it must be there.
I’ve never been to California. I don’t know why that matters, but people are often surprised when I tell them that. At some point, I should probably go to California. Maybe touch a redwood tree.
The truth is that, at this age, I am wise enough to be grateful for what has been so far. And maybe still naive enough to be hopeful for what’s ahead.