How Old Are You?

On Aging

“How old are you again?” Toby asked me the other night. “Mommy, are you old?” I’m 38, so maybe a little bit? Here’s what has surprised me about being in my late thirties…

How I know I’m getting older:

Sometimes I see a photo of myself or glance in the mirror and am surprised that I look older than I feel.

Lots of wrinkles, and gray hairs that stick in all directions. My knees are also doing something weird. Not really sure what’s going on there.

I’ve realized that I now see young guys in movies as my sons instead of my love interests. Like, if a guy dies in a WWII movie, I’m sad as if I were his mom, versus his fiancé back home.

Everyone and their brother calls me ma’am.

I don’t understand Snapchat. Technically or philosophically.

If I borrow someone’s phone, I’ll sometimes press a key by accident and need them to reopen the screen I was on.

College students look like babies to me. Like, tiny infants who should be rocked to sleep in a bassinet.

But what I like about aging:

I feel comfortable in my body. I don’t mind that my arms are a little soft. My body can take my kids on bike rides and kiss my husband and tap tap tap on the computer. I love laugh lines; they exist because of all the times you’ve laughed at funny things. And frown lines are good for freaking children out just enough at bedtime.

I still feel really young. Maybe everyone does? “I’ve never got used to the Queen being grown up,” writes Margaret Atwood in Cat’s Eye. “Whenever I see her cut-off head on the money, I think of her as fourteen years old… The Queen has had grandchildren since, discarded thousands of hats, grown a bosom and (heresy to think it) the beginning of a double chin. None of this fools me. She’s in there somewhere, that other one.”

You learn things over the years. I now know the Grand Canyon trick. How to drive a stick shift. How to nurse a baby. That hard work pays off. That I don’t look good in bangs. How to listen. The joy of a female-only articles club. Which gelato flavor to order (i.e., the yogurt flavor sounds like the worst but is actually the best).

I have mantras. I used to lie awake beating myself up at night about how I might have done some random thing (socially, work-related, parenting, etc.) better or differently. I wouldn’t be able to get over it. Now I think, “I’m learning,” and it feels productive and calming, and nine times out of ten, I’m able to put it (and myself) to bed.

My brain has “mental furniture” — poems and books and conversations that are part of me now. I understand how much older ladies can sit by the window and just remember the past. You’re all your ages within one body. It feels good.

Life goes in chapters. Sometimes you feel stuck or lost or heartbroken, but things always change. I’ve been a bookish little girl; a ballet-loving teenager; a college student in love; a brokenhearted new grad; a miserable law student; an anxious twentysomething searching for a path; an intern, an assistant, an editor, a boss; a happy friend; a blissed-out newlywed; an exhausted new mother; a late-thirtysomething woman writing this post. Hard times can feel endless, but they always always end. Who knows what lies ahead?

What about you? How old are you? Do you feel that age? Funnily enough, I’m actually looking forward to turning 40. :)

P.S. Wise words, and Frances McDormand on aging.

(Photo from Instagram.)

  1. Catherine says...

    I will turn 69 in a week. Still feel like the same 16 year old me. While I can’t believe I am nearly 70, it is the circle (and cycle) of life. Yes, I look older but I try to take care of myself, look my best and enjoy life. I have been married to my wonderful husband (and best friend) for 50 years. We have two lovely children and four grandchildren. It has been so rewarding to see our children grow into kind, caring, good hearted (and successful) adults. Grandchildren are one of the great joys of being older. I am also enjoying the company of my 96 year old father who lives on his own, uses an iPhone and IPad and just recently stopped driving! (Thank God!)

    Yes, there have been ups and downs. Raising kids and pursuing careers. Good times and not so good times. In my opinion, the tough times make the good times that much sweeter. Overall, I am good with being 69 but sometimes I wish I could go back in time and snuggle my newborns. I wouldn’t mind looking 45 but being my 69 year old self! Old age ain’t no place for sissies – so you better have a sense of humor and close girlfriends!

    P.S. While I know menopause is different for everyone, for me it wasn’t a big deal.

  2. Karinny says...

    Yep, it feels this way ;)

  3. hanneke says...

    this is beautiful. love it.

  4. Rusty says...

    An article/discussion about menopause would be great. My friends and I are going through so many different versions of the same “stage” of life and NONE of us really had a conversation with anykne about it prior to it happening to us!
    I’ve forged ahead with starting conversations about menopause with younger women friends because NO ONE TALKS ABOUT MENOPAUSE!
    Younger women have all, without exception, thanked me for the prompt and information, because they want and nedd to know what could happen and to be ready and prepared.
    We all talk about puberty, so why the hush-hush and fearsome silence about menopause???

    • CS. says...

      Good point!

    • Yulia says...

      Rusty: what do we need to know about menopause? (Gah!)

    • Dana Wilson says...

      I agree! My life went sideways when peri-menopause hit me early and I had no idea what was happening! After 20 years as a labor and delivery nurse I decided I wanted to help empower women across the entire lifespan. I went to grad school in 2016 at UCLA to become a nurse practitioner and I hope I can change the culture of silence around this life transition.