Tonight is the night of the old dude surprise party. And I figure that’s as good a segue as any into something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.
Sometimes, I feel like I’ve missed my chance at being a young wife and mother. I’m already 28, and I have all these dreams slotted to come true shortly after my 30th birthday. And I don’t think 30 qualifies me as young anymore, at least not in wife-and-mother-terms.
My parents got married when they were 32 and 40, and had me nine months later, at 33 and 41. Then they had my brothers; by the time Martin was born, my mom was 39 and my dad was 47. (They had originally wanted four kids, but that would’ve put another three years on each of them, so they ultimately decided not to go for that dream.)
When I was younger, I used to think of my parents as old. I was actually a little embarrassed by how long it had taken them to find each other and get their family started – neither had been married or had any kids before us. I vowed that I would not do the same thing to my kids; in fact, I planned to make up for their delay, reasoning that, while my mom and dad could never be young parents, at least they could be relatively young grandparents. I even started fantasizing about sticking pins through condoms at the tender age of 18. (Considering that I wouldn’t lose my virginity for almost another year, I don’t know what good I thought it would do me.)
I spent the next five years in school, and enjoying my new sexuality, and so was able to put babies out of my mind for a while. When I got married at 24, it looked like I was on the right track to popping a few out before 30, and I was pleased with myself. Once married, my ex-husband and I decide we would start trying – or if not exactly trying, at least gambling – right away. It was the day that I told him maybe he should buy some condoms that I knew it was over. (And the fact that we never used a single one of those condoms… Well, the proof is in the pudding, isn’t it?)
After my miscarriage, at 26, I knew I was signing up to be an “older” parent when Doug and I decided not to try again right away. I will not become a mom in my 20s. Chances are, unless I’m able to conceive on my honeymoon and squeeze one out just a few weeks before my birthday, I won’t become a mom until I’m at least 31.
But the older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve seen, the more I’ve become okay with that. Dawn, who had Andrew at 31 herself, tells me repeatedly how unequipped she would have been to handle children in her younger years. And my parents, although chronologically older than most parents-of-kids-my-age, have never been old a day in their lives.
My dad, now 69, is training for his ninth 100-mile bike ride. (He used to run marathons, until his knees quit cooperating, and his doctor told him to try cycling instead.) My mom, now 61, is as active and cheerful as I ever remember her being, and doesn’t have a single gray hair on her head. When asked to guess my parents’ ages, most of my friends will be under by about a decade. The old dudes we ride with on Wednesdays, who we’ll be partying with tonight, are the same: they’re all in their late 60s, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they talk, act, and conduct their lives: though we joke about them being old, they still see themselves as young, with decades of life ahead of them – and they’re probably right.
I can’t help but make the comparison between my parents and Doug’s grandparents, who are in the same chronological age bracket. Doug’s grandparents got married and had Doug’s mother when they were 18 and 19; then they had three more kids, and then a bunch of grandkids – they were still in their early 40s when Doug was born.
Doug’s family seems to have done what my family, traditionally, has not: they marry young, they become parents young. And now, though they are the same age as my parents, Doug’s grandparents are old. His grandma is in a wheelchair; his grandpa shuffles around like an 80-year-old man, the type that will answer a friendly “How do you do?” with, “I’m still here; that’s good enough.”
I can’t help but make the connection between being a young spouse/parent and growing old quickly. I can’t help but wonder whether Doug’s grandparents would feel younger if they had actually allowed themselves to be young in their youth, instead of jumping right into marriage and babies like I once thought I wanted to do. I mean, it makes sense: if you become a grandparent in your 40s, you’re bound to feel old in your 60s as your grandchildren themselves are reaching adulthood, right? As opposed to my parents who, in their 60s, are still waiting – with no lack of patience, I might add – to become grandparents at all, and therefore have no reason to feel old yet.
My friends occasionally like to remind me that, at 15, I used to claim I was having a midlife crisis, because if I wasn’t happy and successful by 30, I was going to off myself. Thirty was too old to still be miserable, I reasoned, as only an over-dramatic teenager can do, so if I was miserable at 30, that would be the end. Now that my self-appointed doomsday is approaching, and I still haven’t checked anything major off my measurements-of-success list, I couldn’t feel any more differently. Thirty is my new 21; “marriage and babies” are my new “ability to buy alcohol.” And I can’t wait.
Actually, I can wait. Because I’d like to still feel young when I’m old, and, obviously, feeling young while I’m still young is the way to get there.