getting older

The Woman Staring Back At Me

I’m writing this having just washed my face with the Olay Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleaning System, which I’m sure required a lot of people and a lot of money to name but basically it’s a brush for your face that spins thanks to batteries (and it’s wonderful). And then, I liberally applied Olay’s Wrinkle Smoothing Cream.

I’m not old. I get irritated when people in their 30s and 40s and 50s say they’re old. And, considering I like to think we’re all going to live to 100, even though I know that’s not true, people in their 60s and 70s also aren’t old—not when they have 30 to 40 more years to live.

And while I’m sensitive about some parts of my physical self, wrinkles are not one of them. Laugh lines show a life well lived. I’m much more interested in doing whatever it takes to be a part of this world as long as possible (I’m ashamed to say how enamored I was with Tuck’s life in the well-loved childhood novel). I, honestly, don’t care how many wrinkles I have near the end of it. That said, the cream came with the whole brush kit, which is part of my I-should-really-wash-my-face-and-take-out-my-contacts-every-night resolution this year. And, why not? It feels good on my face and if it delays the inevitable a little longer, so be it.

Still, something happened tonight, on the eve of my turning 33. I looked at that tiny glass container of wrinkle cream sitting on the shelf and then I closed the medicine cabinet door. There was a woman staring back at me. Not a baby or a little girl or a teenager or a young adult. But a woman. Someone who is no longer ID’d at bars. Someone who is called “ma’am” on a regular basis. Someone who feels awkward shopping at Forever 21. And the woman startled me.

She shouldn’t have. I’ve lived with her my entire life. It’s not as if I changed overnight. Yet tonight, staring at myself, if felt that way. So often I think of myself as 17. Or 22. Or 28. I’m baffled by the fact that classmates are planning our 15-year high school reunion. I forget that I didn’t graduate from college last year. Or the year before. But that it was years, many years, ago. Sometimes, when I dream, I’m still a child, living with my parents and siblings at home. And I wake up, shocked, a little, at the fact that I own my own home. That I’m married. That I have children, these little people who sort of look like me and depend so dearly on me. And still, in my mind, my face is 10, 15 years younger. Growing up, as a little girl, my parents were in their 30s. That doesn’t seem so long ago. And if it wasn’t so long ago, how can I now be in my 30s? How does that happen?

I know 30 years from now I’ll look in the mirror and have similar thoughts, thinking of myself in my 30s, wondering where the time has gone. And I hope, 30 years from then, I’ll be doing the same.

But some nights, the realization is just so startling. And bittersweet. And like most moments in life, nothing big happened tonight. Rather Andy and I watched two episodes of “Downton Abbey.” I drank a glass of wine. I watched, as a white wooden door, smudged with fingerprints, closed on a small glass jar of wrinkle cream only to reveal someone I think, deep down, I considered as my future self. And yet she’s here, now. Shocking, yes. But also comfortable, too. For I know her well. Sometimes too well, for I think we all tire of ourselves at one point or another.

But this wasn’t a realization of sadness or regret or depression. Rather, acceptance. I’m a “ma’am” now. I may very well be construed as someone’s mother in Forever 21. I’m a mom now, and not even a new mom now, but a mom now. My wedding ring has made what seems to be a permanent dent in my finger. I’m a woman who smears wrinkle cream on her face at night, prepping for the what-ifs, the tomorrows. Of which I’m thankful to have had so many of, and of which I’m anxious to have so many more. And I can—and can’t—wait for my next moment of realization, of a changed me, staring back at me. Who am I to become? Who are any of us to become? That’s one of the many delights of this world, and it’s a delight I cherish greatly.

Still, I imagine I’ll buy more wrinkle cream, even when the jar that came with my brush kit runs out. For as startling as it is for me to see it in my cabinet, I find it comforting to cling to something that feels like it has the ability to slow down time, even if it doesn’t.

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”  —Samuel Ullman