Again, this is a "reprint" of an essay I wrote a couple of years ago. You'll figure it out when I refer to myself as being 33--and you know I am now THIRTY-FIVE! Yes, say it with me thirtyfive. That still doesn't feel exactly real....oh well...
The other day I was returning a cart to Costco. I approached the fellow collecting carts at the front of the building. “Can I just give this to you?” I asked. “Yes Ma’am!” was his hearty and cheerful reply. As I walked back to my car I thought, “Ma’am! When did I become a ‘Ma’am’? I just had his job a few years—pause for quick mental calculations—FIFTEEN YEARS ago!” I was honestly surprised at how long it had been since I was the one corralling carts at Costco. “Hmm,” I continued to myself, “Maybe I really am a ‘Ma’am.’”
I had a conversation with a gal at church this week who was turning 33. “Ah,” she said, “Seventeen. Seventeen was really good. I wish I could have stayed seventeen forever.” Again, that made me think to me about my own year at seventeen. I was a college freshman, going off to school just about ten weeks after my seventeenth birthday. So not only was I seventeen, I was a young seventeen. We moved to a new town two weeks after I graduated from high school and I left for college about eight weeks later. I felt rootless. Lost. I didn't know exactly where I belonged. When people asked me where I was from, I didn't know how to answer them. "Spokane." I would say, and then quickly add, "But my family lives in Oregon." It was scary and uncomfortable. Talk about teen-age anxiety! Stay seventeen forever? No Way!
Now Twenty, Twenty was good. At twenty, I had just begun dating my future husband. I was a junior in college and thrilled with my studies. I was living with my grandmother, whom I loved deeply, and we were getting along well. My future husband brought me a dozen roses for my twentieth birthday. We were beginning to think that maybe we had something worth pursuing further. Life was exciting and thrilling! I seemed to have the self-confidence and self-esteem I lacked at Seventeen. I loved Twenty! I could possibly stay twenty forever.
But if I stayed Twenty forever, then I would have never had Twenty-Two. At twenty-two, I married my husband. We were caught up in Newlywed Bliss. I was working on my second degree, in music, and I loved it even more than my first. We found ways to pay rent, eat, and pay bills on about $600/month. We lived in a tiny studio apartment. We watched television and movies sitting on the bed and used fruit crates for chairs because we had no other furniture. We were In Love and life was good. We had friends over, we played board games, and we often barbecued on a tiny little hibachi that I think I only paid about $10.00 for. The first time we used it, all of the paint peeled up and cooked off. Still, those were some of the best hamburgers I had ever eaten. Twenty-two was definitely good. A possible stopping place.
If I never left Twenty-Two, however, I would never have had Twenty-Four. That’s when my daughter was born. Suddenly I went from Student and Wife, to Student, Wife and Mother. Having my daughter was the most fulfilling accomplishment I had made up to that point. Twenty-Four is a strong forever candidate. But if there was only Twenty-Four, then I would never have experienced Twenty-Eight. That’s when my son joined our family. That’s when I began to understand both delight and completeness. What about staying Twenty-Eight? Absolutely possible.
By staying Twenty-Eight forever, then I would have not been able to turn Thirty. Now, I realize that for a lot of women Thirty is scary; Thirty is to be avoided and never admitted. Not so for me. When I turned thirty, I finally felt like myself. I felt like the person I wanted to be inside and the person I was were at last the same. When I turned thirty, I decided to have the courage of my convictions, to say what I felt needed to be said, to start doing the things I always wanted to do. I loved being Thirty. I could easily have stayed Thirty forever. However, if that had happened, I wouldn’t have my baby—and I love my baby. Really, really, love my baby. He came along just before I turned 33. I love being a family of five in our first house. I love finally being able to be a stay-at-home mom.
I guess my point is that rather than mourn for our lost, past, selves, we should celebrate and improve the self we have now. If we stay frozen in the past, we can find no enjoyment in the present. Love the skin you’re in. Love yourself for what you have accomplished and even more--for what you have yet to accomplish. Think about it--we all have places yet to go, things yet to accomplish. After every valley, there's usually another mountain to climb somewhere in the future.
And if we ever meet in the Costco parking lot, (or anywhere else…) go ahead and call me “Ma’am.” I’ve earned it.
And that’s the other side.