So turning 35 is a strange thing. Intellectually, I know that I am supposed to be crying into my pillow about my wrinkles and my biological clock. I can hardly believe that I am old enough to have a fifteen year old child, or that I am now well past the age considered of optimal sexual attractiveness in women, or that there are these adults around who are a whole generation younger than I am and who are too young to remember major things I remember like the Iran hostage crisis. These things should be upsetting to me.
Emotionally, though, I still like the feeling of getting older. All my life I have enjoyed getting older. I remember on my tenth birthday reflecting that I was so happy that I was old enough to understand how the world works. I had hated that feeling of helplessness and confusion when I was a very young child when I didn’t know how to read and didn’t know how to tell time and didn’t understand what the grown-ups were talking about. And all through adolescence and college and my twenties, I had the feeling more and more every year of understanding the world a little better and being more in control and in charge of my own destiny. And even now, well into my thirties, I still am conscious of and take pleasure in the fact that I am an adult and that because I am an adult, I know things and I can do things. Every year, in fact, I feel a little more capable and a little more knowledgeable.
Every year, I also feel as though I am taken a little more seriously by others. Being respected by others has always been huge for me. The more I am viewed as an experienced professional rather than a young ‘un (and view myself that way), the happier I am.
In fact, I am now fully trusted by my own society to do virtually anything. Not only am I old enough to drive and vote and get married and rent a car, but I am now -- as of this birthday -- finally old enough to become President of the United States.
Part of me exults -- genuinely exults -- in the fact that for the next fifteen years to twenty years, I will be in what’s considered “my prime,” that age when I am supposed to be at the height of my power and productivity both out in the world and on the home front. Younger people are still figuring things out, and older people are cutting back but those of us born between 1956 and 1971 are where it’s at. I can see it in all my friends and in the people I know. I can see it in the way Generation X is coming into its own and influencing the culture, and in the fact that I “get” what’s current in a way my parents really don’t. (Of course, my parents are really un-hip so maybe they're not a good example.)
Of course, there is pressure in being in one’s “prime.” (What if this isn’t what I am supposed to be doing? Is this all there is? What if I screw everything up? What happens when my parents start to get old and sick? What if I realize when I am an old lady that I spent all my time on all the wrong things? And can I really maintain all this hard work for another 30 years?) But the pressure feels good and vital and motivating in a way that I didn’t feel at 25 when life just seemed to stretch ahead endlessly.
And, of course, I don’t at all mean to imply that life ends at 50 or 55. I hope to be active and with it and doing things for decades beyond 50. But there is this sense at 35 that I am in the thick of things, and also a sense of being powerful enough to handle it (even with all sorts of doubts and worries and self-castigation that I don’t usually share on this blog).
It’s also kind of interesting to actually have some years under my belt. My childhood in the seventies seems really dated now. It’s weird to think that I remember things that now perhaps qualify as “historical,” like the U.S. Bicentennial or waiting in gas lines during the oil crisis or seeing Star Wars when it first came out.
I don’t mean to imply that the down side doesn’t exist. It was easy to deny the subtle changes in my appearance between 22 and 28. The differences between 22 and 35 are a bit more striking. Every once in a while, I’ll catch a glimpse myself in a mirror and think, “Oh man, what HAPPENED?!?” Also my 22-year old self could beat the crap out of my woefully out of shape 35-year old self, and certainly lap her numerous times in any track race. But I remind myself that my physical aging doesn’t matter that much since I am not especially concerned about having kids nor am I in a youth-oriented profession.
The worst part is probably going to be this Saturday’s mandatory celebratory dinner with my parents. My father is quite likely to bellow something about my biological clock, which he assumes is an all-consuming fixation for me. Anyone want to go in my place?