It’s 11:25pm the night before I turn 35 and I feel like I want to physically reach out and press against time. Slow it down. Stop it, for a moment, for many.
I have been so lucky in my life and I have such high hopes for the future. I should also note that not a single birthday has bothered me. Except this one.
I have some theories.
At the YMCA when I option in my weight and age on the elliptical machine the age given is 35. From here on out, I press the up arrow.
Then there is the little matter of the little black boxes next to the different age demographics on various forms. For years I’ve been ticking the 25-34 box. Come tomorrow, I’ll be checking the 35-44 box.
Please don’t mistake this for an essay on feeling old. Thirty-five is not old. Rather, this is an essay on the passage of time—the ever-swifter passage of time.
Ten years ago, when I graduated to the 25-34 demographic, I was living in a lovely old townhouse in Mariemont with my good friend Jenna. We would go to work, come home, heat up frozen veggies in the microwave for dinner, drown them in spray butter (I know), and follow that up with large bowls of ice cream while watching “Sex and the City” out of order on DVDs we found at the library. I was an editor at Popular Woodworking magazine, looking for misplaced commas and building the most uncomfortable Windsor chair ever built while writing about craftspeople who built the most beautiful things. I was planning on marrying a guy I had dated since my sophomore year of college at The Cincinnati Observatory, a place I also volunteered. Thursday nights at Arthur’s with friends were some of my favorite nights. I listened to Patty Griffin constantly. I was lighter in weight as well as in years and the future seemed so far, so bright, so bold.
And it has been bright. And it has been bold. But now, as I think about my next 10 years, everything feels more settled. And there’s comfort in that, but weariness, too. Some mornings, I laugh on the inside at my face in the mirror. I laugh at this universe that thinks I’m capable—old enough—to be married, with three children, in a house we owe and owe and owe for, paid, in part, doing work I second-guess myself on all the time.
I am told this is normal.
That said, hope for brighter and bolder hasn’t been completely lost. After the one (or three) slices of French strawberry torte I plan to eat tomorrow I have big plans for my relationship with the machines a the Y. I will keep submitting my picture books, even though I’ve been submitting for six years now. I figure there’s still hope when the rejections still sting. The hopes I have for my children are most intense and they are also the reason I most want to slow down, back up, retreat, pause. And yet, at the same time, I can’t wait for them to march through all their years and experience all of everything and so I try to remain present in the now, the 35 and one day, the 35 and two days, and so on.
It just feels not so long ago that I was in the newly-married-new-parent demographic. And before that, the young-adult demographic. And before that, the teenager demographic. Truly, it all seems so recent.
I can think back 30 years, to when I was 5. I remember my blue tricycle with the white plastic basket and my Strawberry Shortcake sheets and the feel of our concrete front stoop. Thirty years from now, I’ll be 65. 65.
And last time I checked, weren’t my parents 35? No?
Age, time—it’s a funny thing, something birthdays inspire thinking about.
Once, while on a road trip with friends, we were playing “Would You Rather” with each other in three different cars, via walkie-talkies. All the questions, of course, were ridiculously fun and then it was my turn. My question: “Would your rather live a great life and die at the age of 25, or live a horrible life and live to be 100?” (I am quite skilled at awkwardly turning light conversation into serious talk.) It’s an impossible question, dependent on so much.
Here I am. Ten years beyond what was then, on a highway with friends so many years ago, several years away. And it’s been great. So my expectations are high, for all the good and not-so-good that will fill the little black box next to 35-44.
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” —Henry David Thoreau