This afternoon I was down at Long Pond swimming with Noah. He gazed longingly at a pair of orange goggles that a little girl had slung up on the edge of the lake, and also admired her glittery flip flops. I asked him to leave them alone, when the girl's mother said, "Excuse me, Miss? It's fine if he plays with any of that stuff. We don't mind at all." I said thanks and managed a few other lines of conversation, but was in somewhat of a daze as my head replayed and struggled with "Miss? Miss?" I haven't been called Miss by anyone in a long time. I think it was in my days as a bank teller when I was always being called Miss by the customers. I connect this lakeside experience to one I had earlier this week when I was carded in line at the grocery store when I brought up a bottle of wine to celebrate with my husband, who has just gotten a new job. I looked at the woman at the check-out incredulously and told her that I'm turning 39 next month. She said she never would have believed it.
Now on one hand, I think 38 is a fine age, and I wouldn't take my 20s back for anything. On the other, I honestly received a small thrill from being seen as younger than I am. What this really told me (other than how I am sucked into the yucky culture that values youth over experience), is that suddenly I am on the side of the line where I know loud and clear that I am no longer young.
I have a partially-burned candle in a kitchen drawer from my 30th birthday, shaped like a gravestone, that bears the words "Here lies my youth." I got it for myself as a joyful good-bye to the decade that had been less than fun to get through. It was wonderful sarcasm, because I was leaving an "old" life behind, and heading into a much fresher one. And my reality continues to be that I enjoy aging, especially in recent years. Becoming a mother has, on the whole, made me feel more young inside. So has has getting to know myself better as an adult and letting youthful confusion and inexperience, and the misery it can produce, slide off me.
And now as I head forward in this time, Noah marches along beside me, his flags waving. This Friday he will turn 2. Tonight as Matthew used a knife to cut cheese for crackers, Noah said "Knife, knife?" and I explained briefly for the fortieth time that knives weren't for babies and that when he was a big boy he would be able to use a knife. A few minutes later we were talking with him about his upcoming birthday, and I told him that he would be 2 years old. He thought for a minute and said, "Knife?" There it was, he had it - the yearning to be old enough, to be able to do life more fully, like he sees everyone doing it around him. Coupled with my yearning to find my own simple truths again. There we sat, side by side on the stools in the kitchen, holding hands. It's another reason why being a mother is so wonderful - this child gives me the roadmap back, while I give him the one forward.