At the Age of 37

I read the article This is 55 by Katrina Kenison several weeks ago and I loved it. It made me feel hopeful about the future instead of depressed about getting older and afraid that my time here is getting shorter. It also made me consider what life is like for me today, at 37. So here it is. This is 37.

37 is waking before dawn to the noise of two misbehaving five year olds, one in particular who cannot seem to sleep past six a.m. and who has the infuriating propensity for door slamming and switching on lights before the crack of dawn. Grrr.

37 is a flurry of demands from the children before I have a chance to make a cup of coffee (Mom, help me put on my pants! Mom, I’m done going potty! Get my toys! Button my shirt! Where are my shoes? Mom, Mom, MOM!) and an equal squall of barked commands from me to my children (Put on your pants! Brush your teeth! Do you want to miss the bus? Did you make your bed? Put your homework in your backpack! Put your lunch in your backpack! Brush your hair! NoyoucannotwearatanktopinNovember, go change your clothes!)

37 is standing in pajamas in the snow while the kids get on the school bus, waving at their beautiful little faces in the window, signing I love you and blowing them kisses. It is being thankful that they, on occasion, will look back and blow me kisses too.

37 is quiet. For the first time in nine years, there is a hush over the house at 8:16 and though I’m thankful for this peace, I am also lost in it. There are a million things for me to do, but this vast expanse of time laid out before me has me recoiling, frozen with the weight of choosing where to start.

37 is morning exercise class at the Y with old ladies and other mothers. It is body bars and kettle bells and stainless steel water bottles and the hope that I may be able to do one real push up before the age of 40. It is disappointment in the resistance of my body to change, in it’s refusal to shed all of this extra fat and build firm, toned muscle. It is a daily debate about whether or not I should skip class today and guilt at my laziness when I do.

37 is the company of my old lady doggie, Maya, now almost 14. She is not typically conscious for our days together; she is sound asleep and dreaming of chasing squirrels behind St. Christine’s, but the sound of her breathing and the sight of her legs twitching are comforting in this newly lonely place.

37 is giddiness at the freedom to watch Live! with Kelly & Michael instead of Jake & the Neverland Pirates and terror at the hole full-day-school has left in my world. It is hope that I may return to my own dreams (Could I become a writer? Could I do calligraphy?) with more ambition and motivation than I have ever previously mustered and soul-crushing doubt that any of these endeavors will ever actually become something real and meaningful.

37 is leaving the TV on during the day because the silence of the house is intimidating.

37 is five or six or seven loads of laundry each week. It is the failure to completely finish and put away one week’s laundry before the next week’s has piled up. It is a thin film of dust that settles a day after dusting, challenging my worth as a stay-at-home mother, daring me to just try and keep up. It is a full dishwasher each day, a dishwasher full of plastic plates and cups and little blue bowls but neither sippy cups nor fine China.

37 is mothering now elementary-aged children who cannot control or clean up the globs of toothpaste they squeeze out. It is following behind these children and turning off the faucet they left running, flushing the toilet, picking up the stuffed animals and Barbie heads, putting away pencils and notebooks and worksheets. It is a swell of pride at learning that the oldest, just nine, has challenged a classmate’s homophobia or cared for her bee stung little sister at recess or stood up for her baby brother on the playground when he was being teased for loving the color pink. It is the realization, like a thunderbolt, that she is quickly becoming so much more than a child and the years that seemed an eternity when I held her day-old body in my arms are fleeting.

37 is wondering whether my most meaningful work here is done. Or will it be done when my children are grown and is there anything else worthwhile that I can give to this world?

37 is a little sad. It’s the recognition that I am no longer young. The girl I was has been gone for well over a decade. And I’m no longer a young mother. My days of strollers and diapers (thank God) and rocking babies have ended. I am now on the cusp of middle-age, an age peppered with hot flashes and wrinkles, gray hairs and vitamin supplements,  and, most concerning, a dwindling ability to understand technology.

37 is vainly grieving for my youth for beauty’s sake. 37 is a struggle to believe that physical beauty is foolishness anyway; it is of no consequence and has no value and it is time to let the aspiration of it go. 37 is simply still being unhappy with the way I look. It is feeling so incredibly frustrated that this insecurity has been a part of me for as long as I can remember and I cannot seem to shake it. I wonder when will I come into my own? When will I have confidence? When will I quit putting so much stock in the value of beauty and moreso, when will I stop trying to measure up to something I could never attain anyway?

37 is a 3:15 rush of noise and coats, backpacks tossed on the floor, shoes flung across the hallway. It is the chaos of three little humans vying for my immediate attention (Mom, Mom, MOM a hundred times), regaling me with stories of their day, the volume increasing as each tries to be heard over the other, so that I cannot understand a word that anyone says. 37 is having to yell, “One at a time!” and knowing that in a few years, I will be begging for them to talk to me.

37 is after school snacks of Goldfish and bananas and Pringles at the breakfast bar while I cook (sometimes) dinner. It is vacuuming beneath that breakfast bar three times a day because the kids are incapable of eating over a solid surface and choose instead to turn their heads 180 degrees while dropping crumbs and smearing cheese and dirt over themselves and the barstools and the walls.

37 is helping with homework each night. It is worrying about whether or not each child is learning everything they need to be learning as fast as they should be learning it. Are they smart enough? Are they confident, secure, in tact? Ultimately, will they be okay? 37 is boredom with their homework because, honestly and shamefully, I don’t really want to do homework, but it is also utter joy that one has learned to count to 39 while the other read all-by-his-ownself a plaque that says, “Off to bed sleepy head” and the oldest has written a 12-page ghost story.

37 is worrying about the way they will transform into little people outside the realm of my love and protection. Will their peers like them? Will they have good friends and kind teachers to guide them? Will they be happy? It is both cherishing the things that make them unique and precious and worrying that those things will make them a target of bullies. It is an attempt to find a balance between allowing them to express who they are and protecting them from ridicule.

37 is the earnest wish that Santa Claus and Hogwarts and Nanny McPhee were all real and the knowledge that having young children under my roof is the closest I will ever come to believing in magic, maybe even witnessing some of it. What I wouldn’t give to be able to deftly deliver a working Petrificus Totalus charm mid-meltdown.

37 is the comfort of great girlfriends. Dinners and coffee and book clubs that last for hours and that have me crying with laughter or shared pain. It is sharing experiences and feelings and beliefs that thread our humanity together and create a bond that is life-sustaining in my darkest moments and life-affirming in my lightest. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” Here here, Ralph.

37 is creating a home, building a house for the first time, watching the 2×4’s and drywall go up, seeing the vacant earth turn from a gaping hole into the sacred space where I spend nearly all of my time, where my children will grow and, hopefully, when they are grown, where they will return.

37 is not enough time with my husband, who works too hard and does too much but is still, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best guy I have ever known. It is knowing that our love may be tempered by the chaos of our routines and responsibilities, but it is there, as strong as it was 17 years ago. 37 is the hope that as the children become older and more independent, we will have more time to spend together, time beyond our shared interests in television, the couch and the zombie apocalypse.

37 is catching my breath after being under water for so long. It’s a little tired, a little quiet, a little sad. But it is also magical in it’s own right, watching these little humans grow and learn before my eyes. Mostly, 37 is being content that we are all happy and healthy and under one roof. And it is joy that I get to be mother to these three in this home in this place with this man and this sweet, sweet old dog. 37 is good.

I only wish I could stay with 37 awhile longer.