The summer I turned 18, I spent a week in a tiny village north of Rome going through "language camp" before heading off to a stint as a foreign exchange student. While the whole summer had a profound influence on me, that week was, in many ways, the most memorable.
I was the oldest student in the group and that was a strange feeling for me. Between having an August birthday and living in states with August and September kindergarten cut-offs, I have spent my life being the youngest at everything. But here, for once, I was the mature one, the oldest, the one who, purely by my age alone, was the leader of the group.
That lasted for about a day. And then I started feeling young again.
Another girl - her name, like that of the little village, is lost in the folds of my brain - quickly turned into the oldest in the group. She was 16, a New Yorker, and just by looking at her you could see that she had seen and done far more than an almost 18 year old from a small wheat farming town in Eastern Oregon. Everything she did, from the way she dressed to the way she talked to how she shaved her legs, perched on the edge of her bed with a can of thick pink foam and a small bowl of water to rinse the sleek razor in, exuded a worldliness that I could never hope to match.
The sensation of feeling younger than everyone else has followed me around through my adult life as well. It's not good or bad, it just is. I finished college early, finished grad school quickly, had a baby when most of my friends were still doing the bar thing. All my choice, all things I wanted to do when I did them. Just all slightly before others in my age group. And as a result, when I stand in a group of parents of nine year olds, I am usually the youngest in the group.
For a long time I have been a little self conscious about this status. You know how people lie about their age? Well I don't precisely lie, I just avoid telling. I have felt, many a times, that if I came out and said "yeah, that show you're talking about watching as a kid, I wasn't born yet when that was on." I might find myself sans friends. Or at least with some odd looks. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the expression "Oh, you're just a baby!" through the years. As a bride, a grad student, a teacher, a parent. It's the universally nice way of saying "Shit! You're how old?"
This weekend I turned 34. And, for the first time since I was ten, I'm starting to feel the right age. Almost as if my age has caught up to my life. I not even sure if it's a change in the number or a change in the location that I'm feeling. After all, no one is odd here because everyone is odd. I mean, I saw an ancient lady hobbling along our street the other day in a plain brown housecoat and above the knee purple glitter cheetah print rainboots the other day, and also a guy cruising around with a washcloth perched on his head. So having a nine year old at 34 is pretty blase by comparison, ya know?
I haven't quite decided if this whole "feeling my age" thing is a good move or not. On the one hand, I don't feel like I have to pretend to have watched Hogan's Heros (actually, I recently watched that show for the first time, hilarious. And also stupid. But hilarious-stupid) But also, well, I'm starting to realize that it's time to get a move on and do something with my life. I've spent almost a decade being a mom, I've bought my self one more year of being at home because of homeschooling (although I promise that's not why) but after this, well, my kids will be in school and it will be time to get myself a purpose outside of making playdough with koolaid. Not that I couldn't happily make Koolaid playdough all day for the rest of my life, but since there won't be anyone at home to play with it, well, it might get a little old after a while.
I remember this feeling from that summer, long ago. The pre-college, time to decide who-you-will-be-in-life moment. The feeling that you have, what, 6- months? A year? to figure out who you will be for the rest of your life. Its crap, of course, people change who they are many times in their lives, but you feel it nonetheless. And, although I am older and wiser and know that I too, will get to reinvent my life many times in the coming years, I can't help but feel that tick-tick-tick who will you be when your kids are all away at school.
Have you gone through that? I wonder if most women who have been stay at home moms feel that pressure? When I was in college I latched onto careers that were in my family tree. Journalist and teacher. They were familiar and soft and known. But since then I've often marveled at all of the interesting careers out there that I never knew about. Like, you know, Fossil Explainer. Who knew you could be a Fossil Explainer in this world?
Did you return to the career you had pre kids or start on a whole new one?