I just saw my 7-year-old neighbor driving his parents’ car down the street. I did what any thinking, responsible adult would do. I rolled down my window, scrunched up my face, and asked, “What the heck are you doing?”
“I got my driver’s license,” he replied.
“How is that possible?” I was being nice because, after all, little kids are adorable.
“I turned 16½ last week.” Huh? He seemed so confident in that statement that I had a fleeting thought that maybe I was the one who was going crazy.
Sixteen and a half? How is that possible? When I met him he was 7, shooting hoops on the Midland School playground. Sixteen and a half? I sorted through all the facts I knew about this kid: the last time I’d seen him he was running down the court as a member of the varsity basketball team. And, okay, he’s 6’2.” His story was starting to hold water. If he’s right about his age, I thought, then he’s nearly half my age now…
Of course, it was that particular calculation that slapped me into reality, revealing what my mind had been hiding from me: If he’s not 7 anymore, does that mean that I’m not 34 anymore either?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m completely delusional. But 34 feels like the right age for me. When you’re a kid, every year comes with some sort of milestone like turning double digits, staying up later, or being able to see an R-rated movie. This constant change makes the years feel distinct. The only difference between me at 34 and me at 43 is one more child, lots more Christmas ornaments and, of course, the cruel effects of gravity. If I stay away from old photos and glass surfaces, I can easily convince myself that I’m still 34.
Seeing that boy driving that car reminded me of so many similarly shocking moments. Like when you ask your high school friend how her baby sister is, and she tells you that she’s on maternity leave from her job at Sloane Kettering. How is that possible? Or when you’re watching a romantic comedy and realize that you have more in common with the heroine’s parents than with the heroine herself. To be overly specific, it’s the moment you realize that you’re never going to date Ryan Gosling. If I was still 34 (and single, and the recipient of a television makeover), well, sure. But not now; not at 43.
My friend Valerie thinks that everyone has an inner age. It’s the age you’d say if someone woke you up from a dead sleep and asked how old you were. Her inner age is 28, though I don’t think this means that she feels six years younger than I do. I think your inner age is just the age you were when the glue sort of hardened on who you are going to be. When I was 28, I was a mildly micro-managing and hysterical first-time mom. The glue was still sticky. By 34, I’d figured a few things out, and, in my mind’s eye, I am still her — adjusted for my well-earned laugh lines and a truly impressive mortgage.
It’s time for a reality check. If I’m going to acknowledge that the nephew that I used to carry around on my hip is nearly 21 and that my 14-year-old son bangs his clavicle into my forehead every time he hugs me, then I’m going to have to wise up to the fact that I’m getting older too. And I’m okay with it. I’ll just start with 35.