I woke up this morning to the sound of one child screaming at another child not to wake me up. Then, as my third child burst into my room, I was presented with a birthday gift: a clothes hanger. “Because I know how much you love to hang up your clothes, mom!”, my four year old beamed with pride. My baby honored the day by trying out his new set of teeth on my leg.
And just like that, the first morning of my 33rd year began.
After breaking up a fight between the kids over who got to tell me that they made breakfast, I hid for a while in the bathroom where, under the pretense of washing up, I was checking my email and Facebook. (Oh like you don’t do that!)
A quick inspection in the mirror confirmed that the only wrinkles on my face were the same ones I had the day before. That one I started panicking over near my eyebrow? Turns out it was just a line from my pillows case. The gray in my hair is still at the point it can be considering cute, and not yet matronly–or so I tell myself. I focused on the fact that despite the extra 20 lbs I lug around now, I still look better than I did when I was 23. Hotter, even, if I do say so myself. It probably helped that I stopped wearing my super short bangs. After pouring over pictures I now realize that the six year phase was not my best. I looked a lot less like a dark haired vixen and a lot more like, well, Mamie Eisenhower.
When I finally ventured out to the kitchen, all of my kids were beaming and pointing to the table. My oldest is quite the chef these days and he made french toast, eggs and iced tea. Purple flowers–I’m still not certain what kind–that my daughter bought herself were decorating the table. Finally! my older kids have reached the age where they realized that much as their mom LOVES cards scribbled on the back of scrap paper and covered in sticker hearts, she would also enjoy something that took more than three minutes to make. Granted the younger two still have a ways to go–but I guarantee I’ll make use of that hanger!
It was a beautiful day, despite the fact that my age can now be rounded up to 35 instead of down to 30.
I always promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those women who worried about getting older. I would wear my silver hair with pride, never cover up a wrinkle, and finally be happy with my body-type. Of course, that was when I was in my early 20’s and I could still eat a donut for every meal without gaining a pound, and before I realized that one must go through years with the various stages of “mousy brown” before they could even begin to reach the status of “silver”.
But, here’s the thing about getting older that nobody told me–I still feel 17. Sure, my body has grown a little softer and my mind a lot wider, but I am still the same person. I hate being told what to do, I love funky socks, I get a headache when I eat too many sweets. I have an extraordinarily long fuse with a whole heap of wrath ready to explode on the unfortunate person who pisses me off nearest the end. Really, I’m just still me.
I found myself thinking today a lot about my grandmother. When I was a teenager, after sharing most of my life in the same house, my grandmother passed away at the age of 76. She had suffered so long with an undiagnosed, degenerative nervous system disorder which, after many other insults to her independence, eventually left her trapped silently inside her body; unable to speak, eat, or move. It was harder still when my mom had to finally admit she could no longer care for her alone, and she was admitted to the nursing home. The work got harder as her body began to shut down. It became a world of bed sores, feeding tubes, and IVs. Nearly every day we visited–telling her about our day, wiping her skin down with wet clothes, sometimes brushing her thinning hair into a pathetic little pony tail. We made every effort to show her love, just hoping it would reach through the thick layer of death that seemed to hover about her room, waiting for just the right time to take her away from us. I wonder if she longed for a hot shower and for the taste of water on her lips, and if she missed walking through her favourite garden watching the cardinals carry on.
The wait, for us all, was agonizing. But I had always believed it wasn’t for her. I told myself that she had had a good life, was ready to be laid to rest. So, when my mom came home early from one of her regular visits with the look on her facing telling me my grandmother was gone, I admit that the first thing I felt was relief. I thought she would finally find some peace. We were so close and I loved her so deeply that it hurt my heart to know she was suffering.
Maybe that was all true–that she was ready. That she was sick of being sick and tired of being tired. That her body ached to be released, and her mind to be at rest. That she was happy because had she lead such a fulfilling life and was ready to pass the torch to the next generation.
But lately I can’t help but wonder if deep down, trapped inside a body that was failing her, she still felt 17 too. And if after all, the number which signified her age has a lot more to do with how many years she had been on this planet and a lot less to do with how she felt on the inside.
I guess that might seem a depressing thing to think of on my birthday, right? But it some ways it gives me hope. Helps me to believe in love. Because all of those times I came to see my grandmother and all of the time my mother spent out of her day taking care of her ailing mother–no matter how thankless the job–that was real love. And with all of the words she could not say back to me, I still managed to feel her love. And that kind of love puts everything into perspective.