I’ve always thought of my parents as being 40. Not 39 or 41. a moment younger or even a second older seems wrong. I like 40. 40 comforts me. Not too old, not too young. 40 is safe.
My parents were last this age when I was in second grade. And given that I have a 32 year old sister, mathematically, they must be much older than this magic, Tuck Everlasting age that I have assigned to them. The cause of this denial, this inability to acknowledge their true age, is likely due to a multitude of reasons, any person having taken Psychology 101 could tell you that. I don’t want to view my parents as getting older; doing so would require the acknowledgement that I too, am aging. Doing so would mean accepting that things are changing, that time is flying by faster than ever. Doing so would mean that I’m, dare I say it, growing up.
I’m now at the age where people I know are getting married. People I grew up with are pledging their lives to one another. These people, the ones that I played dolls with, and the ones that I went to prom with, and the ones that I celebrated my 21st birthday with, they’re getting engaged, having weddings, and settling into a life of commitment. It’s strange watching this all unfold. A part of me feels like I’m watching two kids pretend to be older than they really are, like it’s a game of make-believe. Only this time, Sarah and Jimmy aren’t exchanging fake vows on the playground, the class clown isn’t presiding over the ceremony, and they don’t part ways at the end of recess. This time, Sarah goes home with Jimmy, they go to IKEA twice a month and settle in on a life together.
As I go from the wedding of one childhood friend to another, I’m reminded again and again that we’re getting older. We’re picking out china patterns and linens. Soon, we’ll be picking out preschools. It’s like my life has gone from slow motion to an accelerated speed in the blink of an eye, and I can’t find the remote control to slow it down.
Very recently, a close family friend passed away. The man was my parents’ age; I grew up with his children. As I sat through the service, as I sat through the hymnals, and the prayers, and the black, and the veils, all I could think was that this wasn’t really happening. That this couldn’t be real, that I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready to send flower arrangements. I’m not ready for eulogies and obituaries. I’m not ready to hold the hand of a grieving child. It seems that every week, someone new is getting sick. Someone has cancer. Someone had a heart attack. Someone had a stroke.
As I watch my dad’s hair turn grayer with each trip home and notice that my grandmother’s memory isn’t quite what it used to be, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been sucker punched. I want to wave a magic wand that will turn the clock back to a time where my dad looks youthful and my Nana remembers my name. I want to go back to soccer practices filled with orange slices and Capri Suns, a time of dress up, and make believe, of Santa Claus and The Tooth Fairy. I want to go back to a time where I believed that bad things didn’t happen to good people. A time when things were as simple as bed time stories and lullabies. A time when my mom was a Princess and my dad a Super Hero. A time where a kiss on the cheek could make all things better and I truly believed that love conquered all.
Children all over this world are experiencing those same feelings right at this moment; they’re fleeting, but they’re wonderful. And they too, will grow up and reminisce on a simpler time. But they won’t be able to get them back – and neither can we.
It’s terrifying, this recognition that things are changing; slightly more so that it seems to be happening so fast. We’re no longer in the early stages of this circle of life. And that’s a scary thing. We’re not the babies anymore. We’ve stopped being coddled; our hands are no longer being held. We have responsibilities. We have jobs. We have spouses. We have children. The bills piling up on our counters serve as reminders that we really are on our own. The single strands of gray that are popping up remind us that we’re not just feeling older; we’re looking older too. Five For Fighting’s 100 Years is singing at a rapid speed in the background and despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to slow it down. I feel like I’m Tom Hanks in Big, where I’ve woken up and I don’t know how I got here, only for me, this is it. There’s no going back.
My parents aren’t 40 anymore and they never will be again. My grandmother will remember me during some of our visits, but a day will come when that will stop completely. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. In all honestly, I’m terrified. I’m a college-educated, employed, twenty-something, and yet sometimes all I want to do is run home, jump in my parents’ bed, and hide under the covers. I want my dad to shoo away the monsters and I want my mom to tell me stories about my Prince Charming. But I’m no longer their little girl in footie pajamas and bows; there are some monsters that can’t be shooed away and some fairy tales that don’t come true.
Time is marching ever on. Each day, each week, each season change – they come and go until they’re nothing more than distant memories. We’re getting older whether we like it or not. We’re facing challenges we never though we’d face. We’re doing things we never thought we’d do. It’s frightening. We’re not in Neverland and we can’t click our heels three times and go back to a simpler time. We can fight it, we can resist it, but we can’t change it. Like it or not, we’re grown ups now.