When Our Children Are the Age We Are in Our Minds
Remember when we were six going on seven. Remember when birthdays were a joy, a cause for celebration, awaited with keen anticipation. Remember the excitement of twelve going on thirteen, becoming a teenager. Or counting the days until we passed that major milestone and turned twenty-one. Ah, the sweet expectations of youth. Then suddenly we were twenty-nine and heading over the hill.
A few weeks ago I enjoyed the Christmas feast with my cousin Shirley and her older son, Tim. While sewing gift pillows for Shirley’s grandchildren, Truth and Titan, sons of her younger son Terry, I pondered all the lost years when Shirley and I lived a thousand miles apart. We never got to watch our children grow up as playmates and friends. So I made Tim a pillow too, a quite large pillow, a consolation gift for the five-year-old Tim I never knew.
In the course of our conversation, Shirley mentioned that Tim had turned fifty. My head whipped around for an astonished look at Tim, who nodded his head, then back to Shirley. “No,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. With my keen analytical mind, I instantly did the math and agreed, “Yeah.” My oldest is forty-five. My youngest is thirty-four. How can that be? I myself have barely reached forty-five. Right?
Wrong. Oh, so sadly wrong. How can my daughter be forty-five? I think I am forty-five. I feel forty-five. I walk into my bathroom. I contemplate the stranger in my antique mirror, faded and spotted with age. The mirror. The mirror is faded and spotted with age. I don’t recognize the stranger standing on the other side looking back at me. The fat old baggage. No, I don’t know that strange woman. I know me. And she is not me. I know what I look like. I remember perfectly well.
I have not changed a bit. Well, maybe a little bit. But just the other day, let me tell you, I felt carried back in time. It happened like this. I was leaving the Big R pushing a cart full of cat chow and wool socks. As usual, the wind at the top of the hill was blowing, teasing my hair and mussing my clothes. But the day was balmy for December, almost like spring. And suddenly I was filled with such exuberance, such a feeling of vibrant youth that I wanted to run across the parking lot. So I did. I jogged behind my cart, hanging on, in case I lost my footing. For a few paces I ran. I laughed that I could do such a thing. Okay, so maybe it looked pitiful. But what if I had ignored the urge and walked sedately to my vehicle? I would have missed the joy.
Remember how our parents used to admonish us, “Act your age.” Did you ever answer back (silently in your mind, of course, so you wouldn’t be backhanded into next Friday), “But I am acting my age.”
A couple years ago I was in Mazatlan, Mexico, with my friends Kathy and Melanie. I wanted to go parasailing. I wanted to parasail so badly that in my imagination I could feel the sensations of flying as though they were real. My friends put up a fuss. “You can’t,” they said. “Remember your banged up leg. If you go, you are on your own. We are not going to nurse you when you break your bones.” Finally the day came when I could put it off no longer. I went up, up in the air, tethered by a long rope to a boat way down there on the water. Oh, it was the most beautiful sensation, flying with the pelicans and frigate birds, just like I had imagined, times twenty. I’m glad I didn’t let my dear friends mother me. Now I parasail every year.
I’ve got to confess this. Sometimes I see a handsome young man and I think, “Oh, if only I were twenty years younger.” Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind the gears whirr, “Look again, Chickie.” “Okay, so what I meant is, if only I were forty years younger.” Thank all the gods that ever were that nobody can read my mind.
So enjoy your gift, Tim, you hunk. Listen, kids, we are not ready for the nursing home yet. Maybe when we are really old, like about one hundred twenty.
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 12, 2011