Cue the Steve Miller Band on a mix tape, followed by Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and I am 17 again, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in my white 1980 VW Rabbit with the baby blue vinyl seats, windows down and arm out to catch the wind.
Sometimes I feel like I have to be a little crazy to be parenting a toddler at my age. I’m too old for this crosses my mind daily. Too old for tantrums in the grocery store. And yet… I have a different perspective about it all this time around. I can usually remain calmer through the tantrums. I know now that 99.9% of the time there is no need to fix them. My son keeps me young, even if at 43 I am not so young.
It all makes me hyper aware of age, of aging. I’m not always sure what to make of time, the strange way it moves. How it all seems to exist all at once, in a way. I am 43 and I have an 11 year old daughter and I can also remember vividly being 11. That was the year that nasty bully made up that name he insisted on calling me well into late high school. It was also the year I met my best friend. And it was the year I had my favorite teacher, the one who taught me that, If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I am 43 and my 71 year old father has Parkinson’s disease, and I can remember when he was 43 and the disease had just barely started to show up in his body but I still didn’t know. I am 43 and after dinner, when the kids are in bed, my husband and I talk about how we are saving for our retirement, what we want for our own future care. When I am my father’s age my daughter will be 39 and my son will be 30.
One night during my daughter’s first year of life, as I nursed her in the dark in the rocking chair, she placed her tiny hand on my arm and fell back asleep. As I looked down on her hand and my arm, a flash of future memory traveled through me like a wave. It was a split second vision but so vivid and true. In it, I was in a bed in a peaceful room and I was very old, in my nineties. She sat next to me, in a chair by the bed, and she, too, was older, in her sixties. Her hand was bigger, older, the skin around her veins thinner and more translucent, the veins themselves more pronounced, but it rested still on my arm. My daughter. At the foot of the bed there was another chair and in it sat a man. I could not see faces, but I knew these were my children.
I hope beyond hope that I make it to that moment. It has brought me comfort at times, knowing that I will live into my nineties accompanied by those I love.
I used to think of myself as an extremely nostalgic person. A song or a smell would set me off and I would find myself years in my past as if no time had gone by, deeply moved by the same emotions. I still time travel a lot but without longing for a moment or experience I can never get back. Any song by Journey and I am in middle school again instantly. I heard an NPR piece once about why this happens with the music from that time in our lives – that we are at our most cognitively impressionable during our adolescent years and so those end up being the songs we remain most connected to (and which can make us most nostalgic) as we age. I am 43 years old and happily married to the love of my life and Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is can still bring up a twinge of pubescent longing.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I understand nostalgia differently. I think more than anything, I have always been especially aware of the movement of time; even as a child I had a sense of myself moving forward in time into my future, an understanding that the current moment was fleeting. I paid attention to my parents – to their dynamic with each other, to their moods, to their needs. I still remember the last time I noticed my parents kissing, several years before their divorce. Maybe all 11 year olds are this aware? So much imprinting into my soul during those years. Stories forming.
I was one of those kids who really liked hanging out with grownups. I found them interesting, compelling. I loved going to movies with my mother – she introduced me to James Dean, took me to R-rated films I barely understood: Fanny and Alexander, Chariots of Fire, The Hotel New Hampshire, Hair. I remember Natassja Kinski dressed in a bear costume, some man savagely doing something to his wife from behind, Treat Williams opening his mouth for a sugar cube… I was a popular kid among the parent set, precocious, intelligent, a sponge for connection. When I got bored playing with a friend at her house, I would go into the kitchen and talk to her mother. Babysitting during middle school, I would put the kids to bed and do the dishes (yes, I did the dishes), serve myself some ice cream, and then walk around the house and observe how other families lived. I’d look at the wedding photos in their frames and imagine my own marriage, my own future family. I’d look in the medicine cabinet at pill boxes and condom boxes and diaphragm boxes. Once I stumbled onto a turquoise glass bong, though I didn’t quite understand what it was. It was pretty and it smelled musty.
It moves, time. I think in a way the nostalgia transforms to a longing to have some of that time back. How did I get to 43? What happened in the last 40 years since I started retaining my memories? Or at least, what do I have to show for myself from the past, say, 20 years? What would I do differently if I could go back in time and change some things, make different choices? I was speaking with a nurse friend who is in her fifties, telling her that if I were 20 years younger I would go to nursing school. Or social work school. Or even medical school. I would take all those science classes I avoided that I am now so curious about. My friend replied, You can still do it, you know.
My daughter asked me recently, What’s the one big thing you want to do in your life? Besides motherhood? Write a book. I want to write a book.
I feel the fire under my belly now. The deep need and desire to leave my imprint; a meaningful, lasting, loving mark on the world. Time is moving faster now that I am on this side of 40, now that I am in midlife. There is so much I want to do. Confidence and a belief in myself that I have finally deeply connected to after all this time. Trust in my 43 years of life experience and the wisdom I have to share, which comes from all I have lived, from the challenges and overcomings and life lessons and adventure.
In Montessori classrooms, children learn in groups of three grades at a time. The classroom more closely mirrors the real world, and older children help guide the younger children while learning how to mentor and lead. I don’t think we are meant to connect only with people in our age group. I love my friends who are older than me, who are examples of how I want to move forward in my own life. I love my friends who are younger, for they teach me too. So do my children.
I hope I can teach my children well. Teach them to age gracefully, to grow confidently into themselves, to not fear or dread the passage of time. I hope they will believe me when I tell them that the wisdom that comes with time is worth every wrinkle and stretch mark and crack in their souls. I know from my own elders that out of this wisdom can come ease and grace.
I’ve been writing my book in my soul for a long time. Gathering the pieces of life that have started to form a mosaic. As my best friend since fifth grade once said, Living my life for the story it will tell. For me, at 43, nostalgia has turned into something beautiful: a desire to tell my stories aloud, to write them down into something significant. Sharing stories gives my life meaning. That is the imprint I want to leave behind.