One of the wonderful things about the holidays is the ability to muse with loved ones on the greater things in life as everyone finds themselves with a day or two of rejuvenating respite from the trials of adulting with work and other responsibilities. This week I found myself reveling in what initially I found to be a horrifying realization about my age and that I’m not only old enough at this point to be the mother of an adult human being but also that being the mother of an adult feasibly means they could also be a parent and therefore I a grandmother.
I don’t know why I was surprised by this realization. As a teacher I was already older than some of the parents before I hit 25 and I knew plenty of grandparents who were my age or even younger. In any case, I shared my horror story with a friend who hit me with an even more alarming landmine with the realization of how old his oldest child is turning in a few months.
I’d say he shut my mouth and slapped my grandma with that tidbit, but this is me and we all know that’s a near impossibility.
He did make me laugh, though, saying he didn’t know how this had happened. Obviously he was referring to the this of adult-aged children not the that of THAT, which was a relief as I’ve never been terribly eloquent at giving the birds and bees talk. “One day I was young, (nearly) care free, and full of smiles,” he said, “And now… (insert sad face).”
And oh how I laughed at our collective commiseration over mere numbers.
Later that same evening another friend and I were talking while we polished off a bottle of wine (relax, it was a small bottle). Without knowing what was already rolling around in my noggin, she talked about the idea that she’d never go back to being younger because she prefers the wisdom and confidence she’s gained as she has aged.
So much grace was in her statement: grace and a beautiful knowledge of self.
That did shut my mouth~!
And it started the wheels turning as I went to sleep so that in the morning I awoke with a new perspective.
Age is arbitrary once you’ve grown up. I don’t mean having grown up in the sense of being a certain number of years on earth. I mean having grown up in the sense of looking in the mirror and suddenly realizing you’re an adult, that your parents were not as foolish as you once thought, and that there are those near in chronological age to you who are children in adult sized packaging. I remember where I was the first time I saw an adult looking back at me in the mirror:
I was in my lovely apartment in Georgia, with the wind blowing in from my screened in balcony as the sweet and heavy rains fell on the live oaks, Spanish moss, and azaleas outside. I was walking from my kitchen with a cup of tea and as I approached the mirror hanging near my door on the way to the veranda I saw a woman with eyes like the ones I had grown up with but without the young face, inexperience, and naivete I had had just a few years before. The sight of her made me stop and take notice. I remember thinking, “Wow… When did you get here?” I also remember thinking, “Hello, gorgeous!” (not that that detail is important as much as it is amusing). I know before that moment I had thought of myself as an adult, but when I saw the woman staring back at me I knew I had been mistaken.
Until you’re an adult, your life is measured in numbers because you have nothing else by which to measure it. Your parents care about the milestones you make, and your teachers and doctors take note of the big things too, but to you all you have to measure yourself is that number. You don’t think:
“Today is my first heartbreak but someday I’ll look back on this moment and smile at the softness of my heart and my tender innocence before life stomped the shit out of me!”
“Oh! He doesn’t love me after all! I am going to die from this pain! Please, dear God, end this! I can’t take it any longer!”
You say to yourself and to the world, “today I’m 16 and I can drive,” “today I’m 18 and I am an adult and can vote and go to war,” and “today I’m 21 and I can drink,” as if those milestones make you someone new. You buy a new car or you move into your first apartment and you tick those boxes off of what you think life is you feel accomplished. You have your first long term relationship, you make love the first time, you get your first new (not new to you but actually new) furniture. Boxes ticked off the list of what you think it is to live and what you need to measure your life by in order to consider your life valuable and full.
Then something terribly magical happens when your brain finishes developing, finally catching up with your “adult” body, and you start to measure your life with other things, bigger things, truly important things.
You begin to measure your life by the rich experiences you enjoy. You’ll take those trips you dreamed of regardless of whether or not you have company. You’ll eat at that restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to because you can. You’ll buy that dress and carry that handbag. You’ll wear the bikini you were afraid to wear when you had that perfect 18 year old’s body. You’ll talk to the person you like because you know it won’t happen if you don’t and the worst that can happen is that it won’t happen if you do! You’ll look at a group of, oh, twelve severely attractive men who keep peeking at you in a restaurant and call them out for looking but not talking:
“Are all y’all gonna just sit there lookin’ or is someone gonna say hello?”
(pregnant pause where none of them move or even dare to breathe but their eyes dart to one another as if they’re discussing telepathically whether I’m actually talking to them)
“Yeah, I’m talking to you…”
(a collective breath is heard as they all turn slowly but synchronously to look at me aghast and with mouths half open)
“That’s pretty ballsy of you…” someone at the end says.
“So at least we know one of us has balls anyway!” I say with wry grin and eyes all a-glimmer.
(they all lose it, some of them blush, and I gloat in my accomplishment: Gwen 1, Boys 0)
You no longer look at every heartache as something that makes you want to die but instead as the end of a beautiful season in the garden of your heart that does something to make you more wild, more beautiful, more enchanting, more engaging, more peaceful, more bountiful in expression and love, and more desirable. You don’t worry as much about being with someone else thinking that you’ll only be happy when you’re not alone but instead realize that you’re happy alone and you don’t need another person to have that peace and joy. Instead you live your life your way and you let the people who want to be in your life to remain and you allow those who want or need to leave to become a memory.
You see the dark and difficult times not as the end but as a challenge to be overcome. Every tragedy, illness, injury, and difficult circumstance is another opportunity to grow and become more of who you will be. You let them strengthen you, rather than letting them break you down. You let them teach you the great truths of life and rather than running away from the lessons, you endure them. You know these things grow you and you let them rather than squelching them.
You know so much yet you actually know that you don’t know it all and you seek more knowledge, more enlightenment, more understanding. When people speak, you listen, you’re touched, you change, and you grow.
Maybe like me your number got higher than you realized without you knowing how it got there. But so what?
Just roll through life, be carefree, smile and laugh, and drip that je ne sais quoi that comes from knowing, experiencing, overcoming, and living everywhere you roam.
Personally, I’d rather measure my life by my je ne sais quoi than by some number that cannot possibly capture the amazing adventure my life has been thus far.