Grown Up

I am thirty-five.

I need a font that represents how I would say that to you if I spoke it out loud – my eyes downcast, my voice low, my hands wringing, probably. Maybe I should write it like this: I am thirty-five. But that feels like emphasis, and that’s the opposite of what I would like. I would like to de-emphasize. Diminish. Dismiss.

Telling you my age feels like a secret I am divulging. It feels rebellious.

But here’s the thing: this isn’t unique to thirty-five. All the other years, all the other ages, I’ve felt a similar sort of shame, though I can’t tell you when the switch from the shame of being too young did an about-face to shame of being too old.

I know what you’re saying now. About my being thirty-five. That it’s not that old. That I don’t *look* thirty-five. That I’m only as old as I feel. There are other things you could say. I know. I say them, too. I’ve heard them. I get it.

I think about my age a lot. Recently I had a crisis of sorts regarding my wardrobe – specifically whether or not I dress appropriately for my age. I had no grown-up coats, I lamented. The crisis was silly and totally doesn’t fit with my world view, with my ideas about decorum. But it happens. These things happen.

Lately I’ve been thinking about being a grown-up. Part of it stemmed from a prompt I read, somewhere. It asked,

When did you become a grown-up?

I’ve been mulling that over, partly because sometimes it hits me that I’m often the most grown-up (age wise) in the room, partly because my eldest child just turned 13, and partly because, well, it’s a loaded question.

My kneejerk response to that question is this: September 11, 2001.

Everyone alive that day has their own narrative, a story that they cannot stop telling. I’ve seen the eyes of many who start to describe that day and their thoughts, feelings, actions. They all get the same glimmer. This desperation to tell their story from start to finish.

My story is this: 9/11 is the day that I first fully realized both my own mortality and the cruel nature of the world we live in.

I was 21. I lived in Seattle. I awoke in time to see the second tower fall. The rest of my narrative is predictable. Fear, uncertainty, trying to go about the day, the week, the month with this new awareness of the fragility of life.

One year later, my usual 40 minute morning commute was interrupted by a radio station. I pulled onto the shoulder of the freeway as I listened to the replay of that station’s live broadcast from the morning of 9/11. My forehead pressed on the steering wheel as I sobbed hysterically and clutched my swollen belly, petrified about the tiny human I was bringing into a world such as this.

Maybe that’s the day I became a grown-up.

The occasional flashes of recognition about my grown-upedness since have been less dramatic. When we bought a new mattress, for example. Usually it’s in an action, a particularly grown-up one, or a purchase like a mattress or a stove, or debating gutters for the house. Parenting, too, adds this weird layer of adulting—and none of us know what we’re doing. Ever.

I am thirty-five. It’s a strange age. And at the beginning of a new year, a year where I will be definitively closer to forty than to thirty, I feel extra reflective. I also find myself, rather than making resolutions, wishing to make peace with time. See, I’m thirty-five and pretty uncomfortable with that, but I’m also more at peace with myself right now than I ever have before.

Thirty-five is a lull. It’s a place of learning and growth. It’s a threshold of sorts. I suddenly have to check a new box for my age range. I have slowly come to consciousness and found myself. I have changed dramatically. Endless superlatives and contradictions and clichés describe me and my life right now.

What this all boils down to, I think, is that I feel something in me trying to break away from the fears and insecurities that I have always associated with my age and (especially) with time. I don’t make resolutions, but I sure as hell have high expectations for this year, and I sure as hell want to make the rest of thirty-five mean something.

If you know me, then you know my other constant narrative: the one about my mental health struggles. It has changed a lot for me, and has further set up these expectations for the year ahead. I remember vividly where I was one year ago, as well as how hard I fought for recovery for most of last year.  

I’m thinking now that thirty-five is not a place, but a state of mind. I’ve hated ages because of what I’ve thought that they represent, but the fact is, age really is just a number, an arbitrary symbol that means only what we want it to. I’m ready for this year and I really like all of the hope that blossoms around the possibilities ahead. I may even be ready for thirty-six (except that was really hard to write, so maybe I better keep working on it).