It’s October, the air is crisp, and the leaves will be changing soon. In a few weeks, it will be my birthday. I’ll be turning thirty-three. At 33 my mother became a grandmother. As the mother of a 4 year old myself, it boggles my mind, but it’s a fact. Another fact, my father was 32 when I was born.
Looking back, I always saw my mother as old. She dressed and acted so mature. She was the caretaker of not just our family, but all the “stray” teenagers who weren’t happy at their own homes. I suppose it was out of necessity, that she aged before her time. When my nephew was born with a craniofacial birth defect, my mother supported my 17 year old sister through all of his medical care. She didn’t have time to just be a young woman in her 30s.
My father, on the other hand, seemed ageless to me. Despite his life circumstances, he was effortlessly (it seemed) easygoing. As he lay in his hospital bed at 45, I didn’t see an “older” man, not even an older version of himself, he was just, my Dad. The same as he’d always been. And now forever ageless in my memories.
So here I am, about to turn 33, sick with an autoimmune disease like my dad, but completely my mother in every other way. I’ve always been mature, worried, too serious for my own good. Even during my “party days” in my teens, I was the one making sure my friends had eaten, that they had a safe place to land. I had my first child at 22, and effortlessly transitioned into mom. And, like my mother, I have always felt it necessary. If no one else wanted to be mature, someone needed to fill that role. Might as well be me. But now I wonder, will my children see me as perpetually old? Will their memories recall me as steady, or just boring? I suppose I see my mother as a bit of both. Will they think I aged beyond my time, because I’m walking with a cane now? Will they look back and say “How was she only 33?”
I look around at my friends, and I see that this is just our stage of life. We’re settled, we’re consistent, but are we still fun? My father was fun, despite what he was going though. He never seemed to worry. His personality lit up the room, even when that room was in a hospital. I heard, after he died, that my uncle had sneaked a joint in, and they smoked in the bathroom like teenagers. We smuggled him a pizza, even though he was on a strict diet. He was delighted. Would I be delighted, in that situation, or just worried?
And so, I sit here on the edge of an age that isn’t really a milestone, but is for me. I sit here in physical pain from a disease that won’t go away. And I sit here contemplating how to be like my dad. That’s always been a theme in my life, but after this past year with my diagnosis it feels somehow more poignant. I wish I could ask him how he dealt with the pain. How he kept smiling, laughing, being active. How he had the willpower to continue playing his guitar and other hobbies. Maybe I just don’t have that spark he had, because much of the time I just want to give up on living and focus on surviving. Which is ironic because I spent nearly a decade just trying to survive my ex-husband and hoping to see the day I could actually start living. This disease has just taken all the wind out of my sails. And I’m so afraid, deathly terrified in fact, that my children will look back and see that. That they’ll look back and see a broken old woman, instead of a vibrant, young mom who loved life. How do I accomplish that? How do I hold onto a youth I never had? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear aging. I look forward to living those older years that my Dad missed out on. But I want to grow older, not old. I’m not sure how to do that when I never really acted young, even when I was, but I suppose that’s my goal for the next year of my life. I want to become the woman I want my children to remember, not the woman my disease tries to force me to be.
This year I’m going to figure out how to live my new reality. Whether that includes using a cane, or whole days spent recovering from a dose of harsh medication, I’m determined to make that just a part of my life, not the whole thing. I haven’t been so good at that this past year, but I can learn. I will learn. I have to, because surviving is no way to live.