My So-called Age

I now understand the term “coltish.”

My running route takes me onto the campus of the local high school, and when I run there, in the evenings, the various fields are full of teenagers practicing sports. They seem to be all arms and gangly legs, and they resemble nothing so much as baby horses, playing in a meadow. Coltish: it describes them perfectly.

I no longer resemble a baby horse, and it’s difficult for me to believe I ever did. The last seven years have not been kind to my body. To whit:

A half-dozen pregnancies, half of which lasted long enough to become physical experiences spat up from the bowels of hell. (Cumulative weight gain: about 120 pounds. Number of days spent thinking I was dying: all of them.) Two deliveries, one torturous. Twenty-eight months total of exclusive breastfeeding. Punishing insomnia. And so on.

All of this at an age, and a stage of marriage, when I should be sending my kids off to college.

Several months ago I finally started running again, after four and a half straight years of pregnancies and nursing. The first time I went out, it was as if I had commandeered a stranger’s body, heavy and stiff and foreign. My arms couldn’t get in sync with my legs. I struggled through a mile, stopped, and thought My God. What was that?

But I went back the next day, and the next – five days in a row, that first week, feeling like a cadet at boot camp. My knees ached and my shins splinted and my sides stitched. Over the months, as I lengthened my mileage, I ended up running through that high school, past all those teenagers. And it dawned on me, as my lungs burned a hole in my chest: That used to be you. And now it isn’t.

Profound? No. But I had never been forced to confront it before.

Sometimes one of those young girls runs across my path, chasing an errant ball, and then waits to one side until I have passed. I always avoid eye contact. Not just because that’s my Standard Operating Procedure, but because I don’t want to see what I imagine to be in her eyes, what was in my eyes at that age.

A vague censure. That, or complete indifference.

Wait, I want to call out. I am old enough to be the mother of your older siblings. I’ve had two babies recently…there’s a good reason for the cellulite, for the plodding motion. I don’t sleep well. I’m doing the best I can.

If I feel churlish enough, I’ll mentally cry out, Let’s see if you look so good after a quarter century and two babies!

(Did I mention that I’m operating on very little sleep?)

It’s not these girls’ fault – they probably barely notice me. No, it’s my own mind that provides the negative commentary, the comparisons. Most of the baby weight is gone by now, but I feel so different – I am different. I am no longer young, not like that, certainly not mentally. (Nothing will make you feel older, faster, than trying to lift a 34-pound toddler from his crib when your back is spasming because you ridiculously injured it yesterday while getting out of the freaking car.)

It is difficult to reconcile the changes that have taken place. First I was one person, then – days and years later – I was another, and there was no line I crossed, no light that changed to signal the passage. It didn’t happen to me – one day it just had happened, and there I was.

(Having babies late in life probably condensed all of this, for me. When they scrawl “Geriatric Pregnancy” across your chart, it’s not exactly subtle.)

I will be forty in a few weeks. I feel about fifty, but I am fighting back. I take vitamins, when I remember. Three times a week I pull on my running shorts and my good shoes and my cheap stopwatch, and I force myself out the door. The first twenty minutes are torture, every time, but I persist. For my boys, for myself. I try not to do useless, disheartening math problems in my head. Like, “When the youngest graduates from high school, I will be…this old.” Or “When the oldest has his third child, I will be…this old.”

Sometimes, ignorance is best.

We have many, many miles to go before our babies are up and out. Many years of sports and trips and sleepovers and high energy and noise. I will patch this body and mind back together as best I can, and I will keep going. I will try not to drag. I will try not to act my age.

I have brought forth two boys who dazzle me in every way, and I want to explore the universe with them, for as long as I can.

Fading is not an option.


15 thoughts on “My So-called Age

  1. ha..children or no children, wait until your mid-late 40 something birthday is looming like a dark cloud over your head, and you wonder, every time, if you’ll make it from your chair to the bathroom without peeing your pants. Or despite the fact that you could own serious stock in Clairol, you peer with a horrendous dismay at the thinning gray streaks of what was once gloriously naturally colored thick hair. And, yes, then there are those inexplicable injuries that move in like an uninvited guest and overstay thier welcome by a good 10 years.
    It’s called aging, it sucks but the alternative is…
    I’m all for running while you can regardless what flops, or sags.
    For the record, those gangly, fresh young un’s have nothing on you.

  2. This is such a well written post. I am jealous. I also commiserate. The same thing happened to me. Not the ‘geriatric pregnancy’ but the feeling of life having changed and somebody forgot to tell me.
    I am much older than you and honestly, I don’t know how it happened. If you ask me to explain, I couldn’t. But take solace: you’re not the only one. It’s a mystery. 😉

    My daughter, however, has just had her first baby, my first grandchild, and she’s 39, approaching 40 this December. It doesn’t hurt that she doesn’t look her age, but still, I’m sure she’ll be experiencing what you’ve described soon enough.

    • Thanks, Yvette! The older I get, the more I “get” what women writers talk about, when they write about aging…
      I hope you are close enough to help your daughter? I didn’t have any help, which made it MUCH worse!

      Congrats on the baby! You sound like a very cool grandma…:-)

  3. okay, there is something to be said when talent colides with sheer honesty – it’s absolutely beautiful!! i love this post best of all. possibly because when i, myself, turned 40 i began to cry over every possible scenario. the commercials on tv leave me weeping. and don’t you dare let me come across an old rerun of Little House on the Prairie. When it’s over, I look over at Jordan (my 8-year-old) and she is sitting there with this look on her face that says “this was the stupidest show ever, they don’t even have electricity”. I am thinking to myself – you just don’t understand, Pa almost died again.
    And forget Christmastime when they have the Hallmark commercials where the soldier comes home and finds his family in his house cooking the biggest, brownest, most scrumptious turkey you’ve ever seen in his very own oven. Weeping…one moment, need to grab my hankie.
    I, too, have reached that place where I’ve thought – wow, 16 years of a marriage, ended in divorce. Well, that pretty much sucks. I am 42 with an 8-year old. Yep, don’t do that math, I’m right there with ya, baby!
    But wow, who would’ve ever thought I would be in the gym 4-5 times a week really busting it. I oscillate between thought patterns – one being if I had started this years ago…and the other being there’s no time like the present. Regrets? Certainly! Hope? No doubt!

    Best post ever….love you, my friend!!

  4. Very good post… open, honest, and sharing something the we all go in some form or another -“What a drag it is…..”

    I can throw in the guy’s perspective — we’re just as likely to feel like we’re slowing down and can’t do what we used to, but we’re a lot less likely to admit it in a public forum. And we’re a lot MORE likely to hurt ourselves trying to do something that used to be a piece of cake: I can still beat my kid around the bases (maybe the youngest), or touch the rim (with a stepladder). And you know we’re getting old when we start various surgeries and procedures: “had the neck fused in ’97” or “popped my achilles in ’99” or “had that hernia fixed on ought-seven”. If the senility was creeping in, I’d probably care about all that stuff…. what was that you were saying?

  5. Cathy–that post was priceless-==straight from the heart–I loved it! You are a fabulous writer! Love to you!!

  6. Love this post. I too recently resurrected my long-defunct running program — after I was able to burst open the velcro closer on my shorts simply by exhaling. Note to self: start running again.

    And I recently turned 40…so I hear you loud and clear about feeling 50. Especially on the running path. Maybe even 60.

    Coming over from twitter…nice to meet you here!

      • Thank you…You definitely have me beat on the # of years you’ve been married. That’s amazing! We’ve been married 14 years. I’m really excited for the baby, but it’s been just Rob and me for so long now, that I’m sure there will be a bit of an adjustment come February. Any wisdom you wanna share with me? (seriously)! 🙂

        Oh, I am also really feeling my age nowadays being almost 5 1/2 months pregnant. LOL…

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