Everyone is always so surprised to learn my age. Perhaps that’s why I instinctively overemphasize the numbers (thirty-twoooo) and immediately start nodding in anticipation of their incredulity. “I know, I know,” I say, pulsing my head up and down at the “You look so young” exclamation points hanging in the air between us.
Women usually respond with some version of: You’ll be glad when you’re 50 and still look 30! Yeah, well, right now I still look 18. And that can create some awkward moments when you step forward to introduce yourself as the new voice teacher, or walk to the podium for a presentation in front of a roomful of your (older) peers, , or interview for an-y-thing, or attempt to have in-depth conversations to share your well-worn thoughts on life. (The listener’s ear seems to soak up a little more when they know you actually lived your claimed experience.)
My mother can identify, I’m sure. It’s her fault anyway.
Years and years and years ago, I sat in the passenger’s seat as my mom guided the car to the second pickup window. She rolled down the window below a young man who waited with our bag of warmed, salty fries. He smiled and his dark hair curled out from under an ill-fitting red baseball hat. As she asked for ketchup, he started up conversation. Where you guys headed? From around here? This all your having for lunch? My mother politely answered while he slowly added ketchup and napkins to the bag.
As he leaned out to hand my mom the fries, he abruptly asked for her number. Her number. Not me. Not the female closer to his own age, with matching freckles of acne, sitting within hello-distance. Nope. He asked my mother — my 40-year-old mother. She laughed, quickly turned him down (declaring her age), all while rolling up the window and putting a little bit of weight on the accelerator. I remember his mouth open; his you look so young shock.
We drove away laughing as we both reached for handfuls of fries. It was funny when it was happening to my mother. Not so funny when I feel the need to somehow insert my actual age into conversation, because I think it would severely alter the way someone views me.
Next week, I cross over one more invisible threshold: I will be 33-years-old, sometime early Monday morning. But I already know not much will change. I will still see eyebrows jump above widened eyes, with You’re how old?!, and No you’re not! offered in response.
Yes, I am in my thirties. I struggle with 30-year-old ideas, though my virtually line-less face doesn’t show it. I wonder about having a family, the next step in my career, paying off car loans and student debt, and what I will invest in the next decade of my marriage.
But just like the 20-somethings that might mistake me as one of them, I still care what people think of me. I still feel the need to define who I am. I still fight to let go.
And really, when I stop being annoyed, I get really close to admitting it’s not that bad of a predicament.
I guess I still have some growing up to do.