I turned 37 this past January.
I remember my mother at my age. We were walking down the street; she was pushing my sister in a stroller and I was lagging behind. I asked her how old she was. She turned around and said, “Thirty-seven,” her jet-black hair flapping in her face.
Thirty-seven is a grown-up, I thought. I saw my mother hurry up then, her blue dress, bare legs, and sandals a blur as she turned around, grabbed my arm, and pulled me across the street.
I’m sure there was a lot going on for my mother then. She and my father had separated when my sister was born, and she was suddenly in charge of two young girls. I felt much of the stress of that time; I absorbed it into my bones. But in that moment, I just saw my mother for who she was, her essence—a beautiful, imperfect, strong grown-up, entirely herself, separate from her role in my life.
I don’t remember what happened between 37 and when she began to dye her hair, wear stockings under her dresses, and just…get older.
But that’s where I am now.
I notice my wrinkles when I wake up in the morning after a restless night’s sleep. I lift my black hair to put it in a ponytail and the silver streaks appear, as though they’ve been waiting for me to find them.
But it’s not so much the aging that strikes me about 37. It’s the fact that no matter what I expected or wanted, this is it. I am a grown-up. This is my life.
Two bright-eyed sons, a kind-hearted husband, a rented duplex, a 14-year-old Honda, and a fish named Reddy.
So many things that petrified me when I imagined them as a child have already happened. Sex, marriage, childbirth, raising babies and young children.
I know there are other unimaginable big things ahead of me. I can’t fathom my kids entering the teen years, or leaving home. I have been warned about menopause and other physical changes that come with aging. I am irrationally afraid of getting my first colonoscopy; mammograms don’t scare me for some reason.
My parents dying—now that is one I can’t even think about, let alone prepare for. I am hoping I have another few decades before I need to face that. I’m hoping it happens well after I’m done raising my children. I need them now; they don’t know how much their guidance and experience means to me.
But I know I ultimately have no control over that. I know people lose their parents before they are ready. I know you never feel ready.
So this is me, right now. The kids, the husband, the fish. The iPhone addiction. The hidden chocolate stash on the top shelf of the pantry. The running shoes I’m just dusting off as the snow melts and spring bursts forth. The mantra I will chant to myself as I prepare to run again, as I rebuild my muscles and endurance after a long winter: “I can do this. I can do this life.”
Perhaps the most important thing that has happened to me as I’ve moved into the latter part of my thirties is an increasing ability to deal with the anxiety I have had since I was a child—or at least the ability to give it a royal Fuck you.
My anxiety has ebbed and flowed, spiking at certain times in my life. But even when it isn’t at its height, it often colors my life with a feeling of impermanence. I have spent a lot of my adulthood in disbelief that the gifts that have been bestowed on me—my marriage, my children—are really mine to keep.
I’m sure this is tied in with the fact that I am the child of divorce, and it is hard to have faith that something won’t wreck the good family life I have made for myself as a grown-up.
But I have learned to cope. I meditate. I breathe. All of that helps, but it is the aging itself—the passage of time; the distance from my childhood—that has made it possible for me to relinquish fear, to accept and embrace my life for what it is.
I wonder how my children see me, now, at 37. I wonder if they ever look at me from the outside, if only for a moment, as I did with my mother.
Do they watch me on our walks to school, squinting at the winter sun as we cross the train tracks? Do they feel how deeply I hold onto them as I hold their hands? Do they feel how I am letting them go, each day, as I watch them venture out deeper into the world?
Do they see how flawed, how open, how whole, how broken, how healed I am?
When I was a child, I always said I wanted to get older, and now I know why. They say there is no turning back once you get older, and that gives me comfort. I’m done with the trappings of the past.
I am ready to be here. Myself. Comfortable in my own skin. Because this life—this beautiful, fragile, complicated, awesome life—it’s all there is. And there is nothing else to do but sink into it, hunker down with the ones I love, and never forget how amazingly lucky I am.