I have been 35 for 250 days now. That’s enough time to speculate, evaluate, and confirm that 35 really is the absolute weirdest age of all the ages.
I swear, if I didn’t bear the marks of the before and aftermath, I wouldn’t believe that I brought three children into this world. As close as I try to keep those memories to my heart, they feel distant, like a movie I watched once back in college.
I was as certain as the sun would rise that I would just know when my crew was complete. After our second daughter was born, I remember feeling like I’d just been introduced to the next key character in a play with an unpredictable plot, but certainly not the last. The cast wasn’t quite complete.
After the next one, I thought, then our family will feel whole. Then we had our third daughter, and she was the sweetest little surprise, showing up with a toupee of black hair and precious features. All of that familiar, suffocating love was there, but one thing noticeably was not: that feeling that our family was complete.
There are moments that flitter in like a lost butterfly and stir up questions and scenarios and doubt inside me. Moments that make me skeptical of our grand life plan – the one we designed in our early 20s. Moments that threaten to haunt me in my later years, when, good Lord willing, I have my daughters’ families gathered around my Thanksgiving table.
Talking about fertility at 35 is like looking deep down into the eyes of a desperate child as the ice cream truck drives through the neighborhood. They hear the intrusive melody as it approaches and they know, if they don’t convince their parent, if they don’t get the money, if they can’t come to a decision, if they hesitate in any way, the moment will be gone. The truck will pass their block and the music will get quieter and quieter and quieter, until is it gone and the opportunity for a frozen treat has passed and the only thing left is quiet.
And, in this particular case, I don’t even think I really want the ice cream. That’s the wild part! But it’s so tough since I’ve tasted it three times before and I know it’s so sweet and delicious and now there’s the chance that I won’t be able to have that particular type of dessert ever again. There’s a finality to the scenario that I’m not super fond of. I remember finding out I was pregnant with my first and feeling consumed by fear. Now, on the other side, my soul is swimming, on occasion, in a deep pool filled largely with the same emotions. Maybe that’s the natural bookend. Maybe this is what all women feel.
Could I still have a healthy pregnancy and subsequently a healthy child? Probably. Will mine be classified as a “geriatric pregnancy”? Sure, but whatever. I have no plans to have another baby and in the frantic daytime hours, I’m 1,000 percent satisfied with that. But 35 is stirring up all these really weird, frantic fertility thoughts. I believe they are originating in my ovaries. I definitely blame my ovaries.
When I was a junior in high school, I was invited to go to Naples, Florida with my best friend’s family for Spring Break. In preparation, I did tae-bo in the den every day for the three weeks leading up to the trip, only to be disappointed by the results. I didn’t have the 6-pack abs Billy Blanks had promised. Nor were my thighs Skipper slim and toned. (Little did we know that we’d be the youngest people in the city by at least 30 years, so it wouldn’t matter anyway.)
But when I look back at those pictures now, I see a fit girl in the prime of her youth. In fact, if I looked now the way I looked then, I would rarely wear clothes. I would just sit around in various forms of midriffs and assorted underwear items.
The sun has risen and set thousands of times and three children have entered my life since those days in the den and there are portions of my figure that are irreversibly altered. Thirty-five seems to be the age of acceptance as it relates to the evolution of the body. The backs of my arms, stretched from a 75-pound weight gain the first time around, the tiger stripes across my empty baby apartment, these are now permanent fixtures on my frame. The elasticity retired when it was right in the middle of a break. And I’m fine with that, really. Badges of birth courage and all that. But, also, as a woman staring down the barrel of 40, I feel an urgency to get all the other parts in better condition to counterbalance the perpetual flab and stretchy sections.
The other weird thing about being 35 is that other people are starting to see me as 35. In my mind, I’m eternally 26. I look 26 and I’m agile like when I was 26. When I see a bunch of 20-somethings chatting, I feel right at home stepping in and prattling on about Bachelor in Paradise and Meghan Markle’s messy bun. Until I make a Saved by the Bell joke and they don’t even know who Mr. Belding is for crying out loud. The spool starts to unravel rather rapidly from there.
I remember they start drinking at 11 p.m., 2 hours past my melatonin meltaway. I have laugh lines and the beginnings of carpal tunnel; they still put oil on in the sun. I can’t do jumping jacks without wearing a diaper; they go to trampoline fitness classes. I need control-top pajamas; they wear high-waisted denim. I’m discussing the lifecycle of a water heater; they rent. And, perhaps worst of all, they didn’t know about the reboot of 90210, let alone watch the untouchable original. If you can’t have a deep discussion about Kelly and Brenda wearing the same dress to prom the same night Brenda lost her virginity to Dylan, we have big problems. Our bond is starting to stall.
My response to those uninformed about the most important zip code of my youth is the same elevated response I get from some of my older coworkers when they talk about David Cassidy, The Blue Lagoon or The Talking Heads. It’s a missed connection.
Typically both sides recognize the glaring differences almost simultaneously, and things dissolve organically. And I’m always left thinking, “That is so weird! I’m so young!” or, in the latter cases, “I’m not that much younger.” And it’s true in both instances. Because I’m not entirely young, or old. I’m not in the spring or the winter of my life. I’m in limbo, somewhere between summer and fall, which is, ironically, my favorite time of year. But it leads to a lot of social false starts and short circuits.
Ah, the workforce. The jungle. The true-life version of The Office that won’t be canceled for 30 more seasons. I am fortunate enough to truly love what I do. I get to write. I get to tell stories. I get to be creative. My speciality – social media – is a young person’s game, but it order to do it at a corporate level, one must possess a certain level of experience and restraint.
In the corporate world, I’m not a girl, not yet a boardwoman. I know my stuff but I succumb to seniority on a daily basis, as that is the expectation. There’s a certain way I like to do business regardless of age, which is with respect for all of the opinions in the room and with the collaboration dialed way up. But that’s not always on the lesson plan in the old school. And when it’s not, I’m very aware of the professional gap in which a 35-year-old career woman resides.
I don’t need a ping-pong table in the breakroom, but I need to splash some water on my creative roots between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. It can’t be just a paycheck. I think my generation was one of the first to really call out and name the notion of work/life balance, but there’s a lag in implementation in larger corporate environments. If I reach out, I can almost touch it. Almost.
I wrestle with when to assert myself (something I’m probably not doing often enough) and when to let a more experienced soldier win the war. I have peers who have climbed the ladder and peers who are still on the second rung. We’re in a weird place professionally, at 35.
Being in your mid-30s means having both all of the time in the world and no time at all. If I’m going to Beyonce the situation, I’m done. It’s over. The window for me to reach my potential has been closed, nailed down and sealed shut. Beyonce left Destiny’s Child in 2006, when she was approximately 26 years old. We all know where the story went from there. She’s basically Oprah with a better set of pipes and a killer Instagram profile. I mean, her pregnancy announcements alone, come on! When I was 26, I still had vintage cigarette posters on my wall, and those were my “sophisticated artwork.” In comparison to the Queen Bey, I have already failed at 35 and there’s no coming back.
If I compare myself to, we’ll go with Jane Lynch, the view is a little brighter. She didn’t land her breakout role in Best in Show until she was in her early 40s, and then she just went full out beastmode from there. If I think about Jane, I’ve got a little space to breathe here. Not enough to slack off, but enough to keep plugging away at my dreams.
It’s a mind game I play with myself a lot lately. Do I have enough time to [fill in the blank]? Did I wait too long to [fill in the blank]? Should I have [fill in the blank] years ago? I’ve passed by so many opportunities and yet I have so many punctuating the road before me. It’s confusing as the driver. I’m 35 and either my best years are behind me or the best is yet to come or a little bit of both.
All of this is to say that 35 has been just so weird. I mean really freaking great, but weird. At least the 250 days of it I’ve experienced so far. I’m confident that, when the time comes, I’ll mourn my 30s (including 35) just as I mourn my 20s in some ways.
In the words of the great Jimmy Eat World:
It just takes some time
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be all right