According to the calendar and math, I just turned 37 years old. This meets most definitions of adulthood. I’m a parent, and a wife. I have a professional portfolio with 15 years worth of stuff in it. I’m employable and pretty much have my shit together. Of course, none of this means a thing. I’m the same dumbass I was in college.
As I’m constantly reminding my daughter (who is 2 and concerned with such things) we get a little bigger every day until we grow up. For her, that’s enough. For me, growing up is an ongoing campaign.
After childhood, an extensive support network surrounding the products we buy encourages us to spend our energy trying to look and act like the people we briefly were in our early 20s. The desire to grow up is subsumed by a need to stop growing or changing.
I started dying my hair to cover up grey when I was 24. My fair skin and fear of the sun got me a brief reprieve from wrinkles. General immaturity and bad impulse control made me seem younger than my age. Postponing motherhood helped as well. I put myself on pause.
When I became pregnant, I stopped dying my hair. Weight gain and bloat changed my face, and I was too damned tired to indulge in any silly nonsense. Everything hurt and I aged ten years in a few months. I was still the same dumbass, but without the honors and privileges awarded to youth. There was some mitigating churn around “oh look a pregnant lady how sweet” but it didn’t kick in for six months and was offset by vomiting and crippling depression.
Some time has passed, and I’m suddenly 37. Parenthood has reshaped my priorities. I have become Erica’s Earning Potential, Erica’s Ability to Absorb Interruption, Erica’s Immune System, and Erica’s Ability to Feed Her Family.
Endless undignified tasks arise when you’ve chosen to subsume personal ambition to create an environment where a potentially decent interesting child can grow and exist. There are no awards, there is no press coverage, and everyone involved forgets the details.
This isn’t the narcissism of Midwestern modesty (“Oh it’s nothing, here let me get that. Well maybe someday when I’m rich.”) or a perversion of patriarchal beauty standards. My sudden need for mid-afternoon naps and my enduring relationship with Ibuprofen and the heating pad argue against anything so energetic. Being punk rock is a lot of work. This is different. This is mom jeans and uncombed hair.
This is some organic freerange not-giving-a-shit.
I don’t try to look younger unless it assists the new priorities which are focused around people other than myself. I clean up ok, and I’ll do the thing where I get into lady drag when I go to job interviews or meetings with people who aren’t my work bros. I brush my teeth so my husband will kiss me, and I continue to fool him into thinking I’m pinup-hot.
But seriously? That food stain on my shirt is going to stay there. And I’m going to look right at you and talk anyway. I’m going to have opinions and expect a response even though I’m not wearing a particularly coordinated outfit because that’s what I’ve gained by becoming my own age. I’m not on pause anymore, and I didn’t lose anything of value.
I’m still the same dumbass I was in college, so why shouldn’t I claim the column of space around my body and fill it with something useful? I’m not here to be decorative. I don’t have to be, and neither do you.
So here’s to 37 and the freedom it brings. Here’s to being alive for no particular reason and not mattering much. Here’s to reeling around doing your best. And here’s to writing about it, because questioning that urge doesn’t help much either.
Good to be here, everyone. Hope you are well.