In her story “Eleven,” Sandra Cisneros writes, “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.”
When you’re 34, there are a lot more years, Russian nesting dolls, settled comfortably, one inside the other.
You wake up, and you no longer expect to feel different. In fact, you tend to see the day of your birth as any other inconsequential day in a normal week. Except maybe, if you’re lucky, there’s cake.
Age is nothing but a number, that’s what they tell us, yet we use some numerical value to standardize our humanity. It starts early: by one, we should walk. By five, able to recognize a plethora numbers, words, shapes, and colors. Expectations abound. By 18, we should be in college. By 30, we should be married, maybe even with kids.
By 34, what should I be doing? It’s only milestone is simply making it. At 25, you can rent a car. Until retirement, each year ticks passively by. If I don’t celebrate my birthday, when do I get to start celebrating what I have done in my earthly journey?
I guess I like Whitman’s take on identity: I contain multitudes. I’m 34, and with that number comes experience and humanity that cannot be contained merely a digit indicative of our planet’s revolutions around the sun.
Last summer, I had the privilege of teaching Young Writer’s Camp with the San Diego Area Writing Project. My co-teacher, Monique, a wonderful woman with years of teaching experience under her belt, led our writers through a poem focusing on age. What does it mean to be (insert age here). Being the models of writing that we are, we both engaged in the process beside the students.
Working with a room full of adolescents and talking about age puts things into perspective: I am the oldest person in the room. All day long. At 34. Teaching certainly has a way of forcing you to acknowledge your age, while simultaneously exposing you to a proverbial fountain of youth. I can stay up with the current trends, even if I’m too “old” and “uncool” to participate. Like I need to play Fortnite?
Monique guided us through the process of drafting our number poems, and I found myself drifting through a sea of thoughts. Below is my draft:
Asking how I got this old, and having no reasonable response, all the while offending those who are older in with my “youth,” while also validating my oldness to those younger than me
Being Ezra’s father, Louanne’s husband, and sometimes Joe, struggling with my identity more than ever – by now, I should have this figured out
Near the same age as my mother and father when they had me, an age I used to think was old, but now is just as old as I am
Calling people kids who are young adults, validating that I’ve left that era of my life, no longer being carded, occasionally being called “sir,” and vigiant in the gray hair war
Aching in parts that never before ached, my body folding in on itself, instinctively protecting me worldly harm or imposition
Forgetting where I put my phone, my keys, my wallet;
Forgetting faces and places from my past
Forgetting where I wanted to go
Forgetting what I wanted to say
Achieving goals and finding worthwhile ones to make, less hurried for the future, more sure of what’s at stake
Choreographing a dance of planning and flexibility, having complete control, and responding to my environment, being both parent and teacher, simultaneously the two
Trying fewer things because there seems to be fewer things to try, and less motivation to do so (because I know what I like)
Living in the moment because this quells my anxiety of what’s to come, taking deep breaths, appreciating my surroundings, and grounding my feet – less flighty, less fearful, more present
Being angry at the lies I was told as a child, but perpetuating the myths of my youth: cue Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, so as to not rob my child of some birthright
Already regretting things unsaid, places unvisited, deeds undone
Wise enough to use the time ahead to render wrongs right, and (begrudgingly) accept those I cannot
Having more old friends than new, more “old” friends than young
Starting to lode people. some figuratively, some literally – myself, entirely, having to visit by way of plane or car or gravestone
Learning to hold tight, say I love you more, mean it always
Painfully sensible, practical to a fault: a Suburu and sunscreen, fewer drinks and better calories, others needs before my own
Watching Netlix and what I eat and my son grow
A suntan line beneath my wedding band, years of marriage, more of togetherness, forgetting where I being and she ends
The right side of the bed (and arguments) and never going to sleep mad, growing older and better and intertwined
Experiencing the shock of preferential shifts: thinking lame what I used to find cool, and cool what I used to find lame
Not midlife, because I refuse to believe that I’ll meet my end before times two, too much to see, too much to do
Is better than before, and still incomplete
34 is: just for now.