I feel old.
My daughter asks, as we read a book of numbers with her sister, after she’s seen herself, 6!, which one I am. She pauses before I can answer, remembering, oh! you’re 32, spitting the words out like something she doesn’t like to eat, squash or raw potato. Not as old I remind her, as my father, 71 and kicking, able to take their affection, even at 7am.
She asks what old is, arbitrarily plucking 89 out of the air before her. She tastes the number, rolls it around for a bit, then quietly asks will I live to be 89? I’d like to be 89? and of course I answer it’s a fine age and she will see it, maybe even with a few or 5 of chubby grandchildren around her, and suddenly, I can see and imagine it, my baby beyond me, my legacy in her arms and lips, something around the eye of daughter 2, or in the way her grandson holds his arms when angry. I swell to see those children.
I can glimpse her future, slightly.
Lean to the left, and I see her, another her, at 35 maybe, alone, pleased to be there, her hands in pockets dirty and worn as her feet carry her to another passion, a world away from mine, her children those creatures or words she keeps safe, her life circling itself, drunk on the beauty she savors and protects. I am proud of her here, of her strength, of the will I’d like to think she kept of the things I bequeathed her, of her beauty itself, the beauty she never sees, busy for the trees and the people in her path.
She’s breathtaking at any age, and she makes me feel mine, even at 6.
I want to believe, closing my eyes and burning it in to my brain, that I can still go anywhere, be anyone, dance on the moon, eat rice in Nepal. But at 32, rapidly setting in on 40, I know that any adventures I have now, at this adult age, will not be those I’d have had at 17. They’re different with the world and a mortgage and people who rely on your bank account waiting for you. I know I could go-I know we could sell everything and disappear into the masses of somewhere else, but freedom isn’t the same when ultimately, your decisions decide someone else’s future.
32 doesn’t feel so far removed from 17, but dammit if it doesn’t feel so scarily close to 40, which is SO fucking removed from that teenage girl who still lives in my chest. That teenage girl who is so eerily like this 6 year old wondering, how old are you anyway? Are you really that old? Is it old? Why are you old?
Why am I old? Am I old? Is this number an excuse to keep me tethered, to warn me, to hold me to a promise I don’t recall making? Does age come with the tears that flow when you imagine your firstborn daughter in labour, birthing her firstborn? Does age matter when you can see the people your children might be, a mechanic or physics teacher, working away at their lives? Does age come with the wrinkles that come crawling up my hands, the droop in the skin, the pop in my joints that makes Vivian ask what was that noise!?
Who will we be with age? Who will we be for them, as we leave-what message will our age leave them? Do we bemoan our wrinkles, our grey hair and dropping paunch, or do we embrace them as signs that wisdom has collected and called? Do we stand tall and state these numbers-32 or 45 or 66 and remind our daughters that age is as it should be. We desire to grow up, we desire to be aged, we wish to no longer be the pretty fickle things our youth gave us, instead turning to the women we rightfully should be, strong and proud and not quite so foreign.
Why do we hide our nature?
I tell Vivian, clearly when she asks, 32, I am 32 now, and I don’t mind, not one bit. 15 was fun, so was 23, 26 was pretty damn cool, but growing up-that’s how life is and how we should dance with it. We should embrace that age, this age, our age, and teach our daughters to grab it by the horns and honor it. My adventures-my experiences will be different at 45 than they were at 20, but who is to say that they won’t be richer for that difference? Who decided age came with liability or dishonor?
She saw my Motherless Mothers book on the way to bed, asked what it meant. Because my Mommy was gone when I was 11 I answered. And I have no idea what a 12 year old girl looks like because of this, and the book will help me understand age. At least, I hope.
Are you going to die when I’m 11?
That question I’ve been awaiting for 6 years. The tears I struggle to reign in. The price of disclosure I suppose.
No. I will live long. A long time. Until you’re 89. She’s not old enough to know that’s a lie yet.
I feel old now, my mother’s 43, or rather, the 37 or 38 she would have been when I was 6, weighing on me, like a noose. All the things she never did, the horses that never ran through dark fields for her, the sweet granddaughters who never graced her lap, the love in my veins for her, they dangle on the honor of my age just now, and I feel heavy.
I won’t die. I whisper. I have far too much to do.