How can 42 be the answer to the ultimate question regarding life, the universe, and everything when it’s so damn old? Seriously, my face has actually begun to slide away and I have three witch-like chin hairs that regularly appear there. I usually notice them when I’m already out of the house, which is why I now carry tweezers in my purse.
I grow old…
I grow old…
I can no longer buy cute cheap bras at the discount store because most of those bras no longer hold me in. I have to go to Macy’s or Penney’s or somewhere and try the damn things on. I hate trying things on. And yet, teasing allusion to Hitchhiker’s Guide aside, I’m finding I rather like this growing old business. The signs are clearer along my path and pulsing with more urgency (perhaps because death is more imminent).
In my ninth grade English class today, I had five different girls show me poems for the poetry anthology they’re putting together. Every single one of them was about the agony of unrequited or undeclared love. One of the girls stayed after class to add (her poem being about undeclared love) that she was sure her friends planned to tell him. She said, “I don’t like that at all,” but her eyes said maybe yes?
The trouble with the romance of youth is you wind up spending a lot of energy trying to get and keep love, the romantic kind and the friendship kind. You’re very insecure and unsteady in it all, which can have all kinds of devastating consequences, because there are vampires out there.
I’ve grown old and continue to grow old. Yet, amazingly and in spite of chin hairs, in this forty third year of my life I’ve wizened up in an important way.
I won’t detail all the little steps it took me to get there (that’d be a book). It’s the shift that matters.
A self-sacrificing woman raised me, taught me to serve. An illustration of that point comes by way of the fact that for my birthday she game me a charm bracelet with my wedding photo inside a silver heart and hand-dyed a beautiful towel set, hand-embroidered the edges. They are beautiful and must have taken her hours. At twenty-one, I had a baby and being a mom filled me with a sense of purpose I had never had. There’s nothing I’ve done in my life that brought me more joy and fulfillment than raising my son.
But that son is raised and I’m in a second marriage with a man whose kids are not yet raised. It’s taken me some time to get a clue as to how to be in this situation. My default is to serve. So, I tried. I tried to serve as if they were my own children. I worried and expressed that worry to my husband, as if we were equal partners. I wanted to be a part of helping them get good grades, so I logged into their online grades and emailed teachers. I tried to forge a friendship with their mom over email. I took charge in finding perfect birthday gifts, and made long mental lists of likes, dislikes so that I could pick up certain things at the store. I behaved as if I too was their parent. This served to create much unhappiness in me, because not one person in the entire situation appreciated my efforts. Most, at times all, resented them. A wise friend of mine had warned me as much in a letter before this chain of disappointments began, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It was so easy to fall into these familiar patterns of concern and sacrifice. Those of you who’ve been there could read this story with all it’s dramatic irony. Stories like these are why fairy tales are rich with evil stepmoms.
Here I am, forty two years old, and my greatest purpose in life has been to serve. While that may be fine for someone–it is not fine for me. This is what I now realize.
I was babysitting my sweet niece Minerva yesterday (3 months old). My stepdaughter had just spent fifteen minutes cuddling little Mini on the couch. I was standing, holding her, rocking from side to side, because movement seems to soothe her. I made a comment about how good babies smell. My stepdaughter is famous for her did-you-knows, which range from truly fascinating to what the fuck is the Internet doing to our children. Did I know, she said that women’s brains actually produce dopamine from the smell of babies’ heads?
So, I looked up this study, because something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. What I found is that men were not included in this 2013 study, so the doctors could not be sure that this was not just an innate human response. Still, article after article boasted “Women”, showcasing women holding babies. This, folks, is why feminism still matters and how gender inequality is endemic to our culture. My twelve year old stepdaughter is of a generation supposedly enlightened on the politics of gender identity, yet she believes it is a fact that she is biologically programmed to be addicted to babies because she is a girl.
What I’m getting at here is that while babies are awesome and compassionately serving others goes a long way in building up our spirits and our humanity, I have gotten pretty good at these things already. What I am not so good at is not apologizing for every little thing, asking for what I want, and diving deep into my own adventures guilt free. These are the things I’m looking to practice this year.