Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Older than Keats, and that's OK

I feel old.

It's ridiculous, and I know it.  My birthday is next month, and I'll be turning 26: I'm hardly advanced in years.  And yet the feeling persists.

When I was growing up, my mom never wanted people to know her age.  (She still doesn't, which is why I won't divulge it now.)  As a child, I couldn't understand this.  "Age is only a number!" I told her time and again. Meanwhile, I was very proud of whatever age I happened to be.  7! 8! 9! 10 -- double digits, WOW!  I continued to delight in getting older until around age 21.  After that, aging seemed to be rather pointless, for what reason I don't know (I didn't even go out, much less drink, the day I turned 21).  I enjoyed turning 24 because it's my favorite number and I got to be 24 on the 24th.  I winced at turning 25 because I had decided as a young teenager that this age was "over the hill" (after all, demographic groups are typically split as 18-24 and 25-I dunno? 34?), and I still hadn't shaken that opinion.  I consoled myself with the coolness that my daughter was 25 days old on my 25th birthday.

In spite of my protests at my mom's self-consciousness, I have also been a little too fixated on my own age.  My July birthday ensured that I was always among the youngest in my class, which I maintained as a point of pride all the way through school, as if graduating high school when I was still 17 was some sort of badge of honor.  I have a youthful face, which for years has guaranteed that many folks will mistaken me for a younger age.  The pinnacle of these situations occurred last summer.  My baby's middle name was misspelled on her Social Security card, which meant I had to go down to our local office to fill out paperwork to have it changed.  The police guard asked me what I was there for.  When I told her, she seemed surprised.  "She's two months old," I offered, suspecting that her reaction was age-related.  "Well how old are you?" she asked, and when I told her, she replied, "oh, wow, I thought you were in the 16-18 range." 

I'm ashamed to admit that I was actually quite flattered by her mistake.  Oh, to think, I still looked like a teenager! A high schooler!  My life might have been filled with spit-up, round-the-clock pumping, sleepless nights, and multiple daily diaper blowouts, but I looked young

As a conservative, Catholic, introverted woman, I'm generally not heavily influenced by popular culture (unless it's my girl Rebecca Black -- my heart aches for the return of the "Friday" video).  Many of my beliefs are counter-cultural, so it's not terribly difficult for me to avoid "conforming myself to this age" (Romans 12:2).  But when it comes to our society's obsession with youth, I'm afraid I fall hook, line, and sinker.  It seems like we're always hearing that some movie star or singer or golfer or skater is "only" this tender age or that.  And my reaction is always the same: wow.  Wow, look at that person, who's a few months or a year or five years or ten years younger than I am, look at how successful that person is!

Of course, it never ends there, with simple heartfelt admiration for how much someone has accomplished in a short amount of time.  It always turns back on me.  Why am I not a roaring success?   At various stages during my growing up years, I wanted to be a (famous, of course) writer, musician, actress, and political figure.  Hysterically funny, I know, but sometimes I look at myself and think, really?  In twenty-six years you couldn't get going on even a tiny part of the most reasonable of those goals?  One of my favorite blogs that I follow is written by an absolutely brilliant, remarkably well-read and well-spoken man...who is 18 years old, freshly graduated from high school.  I'm incredibly impressed with his posts, and I have nothing but admiration for him and his writing.  But it's humbling to realize: when I was his age, I couldn't do what he does now. Frankly, I still can't.

I realize that I'm falling into a trap.  Life is not a race, and the true measure of one's worth is not how quickly he or she achieves something. Yes, sometimes when I observe the brilliance and accomplishments of folks who have had fewer years on God's green earth than I have, I am reminded that I have regrets about the hours I frittered away during my younger days when free time was much more plentiful than it is now.  But my response to that regret shouldn't be wallowing in sorrow, betraying the ugly immaturity in my heart which foolishly maintains that 26 is old.  It ain't old, and my life ain't over.  Really, it is just beginning.

I pine for youth, but I shouldn't.  Instead of sitting around wishing I had read more or written more or been more disciplined or willing to take risks, I need to be grateful for who I am, what I am doing, and what my life is, today.  I'm the wife of a a wonderful man -- the perfect man for me.  I'm the mother of a beautiful and exuberant little girl, whose first birthday is just a week away.  I'm a daughter, a sister, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law, and a friend.  I'm a homemaker, a former teacher, and a college graduate.  I will probably never have the time I had as a teenager and early twenty-something to develop myself, but God's plan for my life is shaping and refining me in ways that I never could have imagined.  I always think of my high school and college years as being formative ones, and indeed they were, but how could I consider them more formative than this last year -- my first as a mother?

So, a resolution: next time I hear about a blogger, a musician, an actor, a whoever, who is younger than I am, instead of moaning to my husband, "Ughhh that chick was born in 1988!  Aren't those people* still in middle school???" I'm going to smile, delight in how well that person is doing, and remind myself that we each have a unique vocation.  Right now, mine is to be a devoted wife and mother, living a quiet life with a happy little blog whose readers I cherish.

*Readers born in 1988 (or after? oh my): I love you.

8 comments:

  1. I'm always worried that I look old because I have had gray hair since high school! I have to dye it every 8 weeks. It has gotten worse since having a baby!

    I was out with my hubby and ordered a drink, and felt really flattered they asked for my id. Then hubby told me about the new law where they have to card anyone who looks under 40. Oh. Well, they better card me! hahaha. :)

    I love your little blog.

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  2. I love your posts, Louise! And remember, 26 isn't *that* old :D (I'm probably failing at making you feel better. but I'm trying)
    I still feel like a baby compared to my friends, hah. I mean, Kendra is getting married in 2 days and most of my other friends are graduated and living in the real world. Plus I'm the youngest in my grade because I have a september birthday. (Plus I can't believe I'm graduating next year. ahhh).

    Like Sarah, I also love your blog :D

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  3. I will forever think of you as 24, too, Louise. I wonder why that is? But I do always associate that age with you.

    Isn't it funny - I too found quite a point of pride and flaunt-worthy-ness that "I'm in college and I'm only 17! So there!" (even if it was only for 2 weeks before I turned 18. :P

    And, omg, Louise - Not only have they graduated middle school, can you believe that people born in the 1990's have surpassed driving age and are well into legal drinking age? (At first with the placement of your asterisk I thought you were going to qualify that "people" born in 1988 aren't even really people at all. :P)

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  4. I think your second to last paragraph is perfect. You are a wife and mother and those are amazing roles! One of my favorite quotes is this:

    You don't have a better chance of glorifying God by being a preacher than you do by being a bond trader, or by being a missionary verses being a mother. You don't get more credit in the kingdom of God for being a songwriter than you do for being a student. And what does that kind of Christ-exalting life look like? For starters, being the best at what we do, leading in every strata of society, being honorable and dependable, walking with humility, and treating everyone we encounter along the way the same way that Jesus would.

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  5. Yes, yes, YES! Good for you! I struggle with the same feeling all the time, and I try to remind myself that for every 15-year-old prodigy, there is a 40-year-old who just published their first book, or a 50-year-old with a bunch of grandchildren, or a 60-year-old who decided to buy a motorcycle and learn to ride it (like my grandmother did!). Life is amazing, at every stage!

    -Elizabeth

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  6. Sarah, your comment about getting carded really cracked me up! I'm always sad when I'm not carded. I think the law in PA is that anyone who looks under 30 must be carded, but there have been times that I haven't been asked to show ID. Boo.

    Emily, haha, I'm glad 26 doesn't sound *that* old to you! ;) Life is wonderful at every stage. By the time I was a senior in college, I just wanted to be done and move on -- I wish I'd enjoyed the present more!

    Lindsy, I am delighted that you will always consider me 24. I love that number. HAHA, yes, you were 17 in college! You definitely had me beat there. And I just cannot fathom this whole people-born-in-the-90's are adults thing. I'm sorry, Emily! It's not that I don't think of 20- or 21-year-olds as adults, I do, I just can't believe they were born in years that I can actually remember living through.

    Ashley, thank you! That's a beautiful quote!

    Elizabeth, I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling with that feeling. That story about your grandmother is awesome!

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  7. My husband is turning 30 in aug and I can't believe it! I know it isn't old, but we don't feel like we should be there yet.

    I lol'd at you comment about the ss office, when I was pregnant my family always joked about how I look like a pregnant teen. Also I am a youth minister and at our fish fry dinners during lent I had multiple ppl ask what grade I was in! I am sure someday I will appreciate looking young.

    Mostly though I agree with you rebecca black Friday statement. She faded too soon we gotta bring it back!! :)

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