At the end of the week, I’ll turn 38. I remember when my parents were 38. I was in junior high. They were in the suburbs.
I’ve been on a quest lately to not think too hard or long about what it means to quickly approach an age that ends in zero and rhymes with Lordy. I’ve forbidden myself from trying to tailor my life’s choices to some kind of pre-ordained timeline because literally nothing I’ve ever pictured myself doing has been completed by the age I expected to, and it’s all worked out just fine. I have no intentions of reading or writing a blog post titled “The 38 things you need to get done by age 38″. I’ll do things on my own watch, thank-you-very-much, and I’m guessing you will too.
I’m not going to take cheap shots at my new age with self-deprecation and tired rants about ticking clocks. I’m not going to congratulate myself for how much I’ve figured out (girl, please) or chide myself for not having everything my childhood self would have anticipated my 38-year-old self to have by now. I’m not going to hyperbolize by spending too much time addressing the subtle lines framing my mouth, the extra fold of skin above my eyes or the elegant bunions on my feet. I’m not going to insult 38 by making it sound old when it simply isn’t. I’m also not going to lie and say that my brain functions much differently than it did when I was 22, because unfortunately (fortunately?) it doesn’t.
I’m not going to generalize too much because 38 probably looks different on me than it does (or will, or did…) on you. I don’t know what 38 looks like to you. But this is what it looks and feels like for me.
Thirty eight is 25 years of wearing makeup and still not understanding how to apply eye liner so it doesn’t smudge all over my face. It’s searching high and low for the magical concealer that will erase the purple beneath my eyes without creasing at the corners of them. It’s wearing clothes that fit the season and my body type, and almost never the latest trend. It’s being in good physical health, and never taking that fact for granted. It’s putting on a wide-brimmed hat and looking exactly like my mother.
Thirty-eight is not fully understanding why, but finding a small, peculiar thrill in menial tasks like refilling soap dispensers and throwing out an old sponge in exchange for a new one. It’s opening the fridge and feeling gratitude for its fullness. It’s appreciating that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck anymore, that we’re actually doing all right, that we’ve hit a smooth spot in the road where we can just cruise for a while. It’s feeling like we’re not just two kids trying to figure it out anymore, but two smart, capable grown-ups who are making plans and getting things done.
Thirty-eight is right in the thick of it, job-wise. It’s working hard and taking pride in getting up each morning knowing I have somewhere to be, and something to do. It’s living within our means and saving for our future; skipping the labels and status symbols because no one really cares what we can and can’t afford, anyway. It’s tightening the belt in a million ways while saving room in the budget for good bread from the bakery and Sunday brunch with fancy lattes, because life’s too short to be joyless, and weekends are too precious to waste on sad oatmeal and drip coffee.
Thirty-eight is having more friends who are parents than friends who are not. It’s loving their childrens’ laughter and big hugs and silly songs, but also feeling excited to go home to my quiet apartment, just my husband and me. It’s seeing friends far less often, but treasuring time with them even more. It’s sifting out who and what’s important, and adjusting plans accordingly. It’s fewer acquaintances, deeper connections, richer conversations. It’s being more comfortable saying no. It’s giving up on the idea of pleasing everybody and making good on the promise to always be true to myself.
Thirty-eight is fewer people calling me kiddo, and more and more addressing me as ma’am. It’s being practically invisible to 20-something boys and a sweet juicy peach to divorced 53-year-old men. It’s identifying with the parents in sitcoms instead of the kids. It’s getting excited over things like fancy vegetable peelers and front-loading washers and dryers. It’s passing groups of teenagers on the street and thinking, “Was I ever that loud?”. It’s spending Friday nights at home and feeling completely satisfied.
Thirty-eight is one month away from my 20th high school reunion in Texas. It’s not dieting or working out like crazy to prepare for it, but shopping for a nice dress that fits me well and is impervious to pit stains. It’s hoping they have fried shrimp and name tags because fried shrimp are delicious and I’ve forgotten a whole lot of names. It’s getting excited to reconnect with my first girlfriends, the ones I met in pre-school who’ve grown up to live with their families in beautiful houses but who live on in my mind as pretty 16-year-olds leaning against their first car on 103rd Street. It’s thinking about how simple things were then, but also reflecting on how pretty great things are now.
Thirty-eight isn’t the beginning, and it hopefully isn’t anywhere near the end, and there’s no way to measure if it’s hovering around the middle. It’s having some things set in stone and others completely up in the air. It’s lingering a little too long in the station between comfortable security and total freedom, and being caught in a weird head space of wanting to tuck roots underground while still fantasizing about running away to a muggy tropical island or a village in the south of France.
Thirty-eight is being curious about my future but constantly homesick for my past, being ready to peek behind the curtain to reveal what comes next while wishing I could yank back the trembling hands of that eternally ticking clock, so I could start at the very beginning and do it all over again.