Childrearing

There Is No Way In Hell I’m Sharing My Age With My Toddler

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Yesterday I had a rather traumatic experience.  My son asked me a question, I hesitated briefly, and then lied right to his sweet angel face.  The fib-worthy question he asked?

“How old are you, mommy?”

My first thought was “there is no way in hell I am going to tell you that.”  What use could a 3-year-old have for that information?  He’ll broadcast it in public, on the bus, in the grocery store, at school.   All of my mommy friends will confirm this and I remember doing it when I was young as well.

“My mommy is 23,” I would tell any stranger who would listen.  I’ve written about other words I don’t think my son can use with appropriate discretion at the age of three and now we can add another concept:  my age.

Back in the Mommyish offices I started to think about exactly why I didn’t want to share this information.  I am not ashamed of my age:  I have had amazing experiences, I am proud of my accomplishments, and I truly love the place I am in with my life right now.  Knowing that nothing in life is perfect, I would dare to say it’s pretty close.  So what is there to hide?

It’s not about my shame, it’s about others and how they will react.  First, there are acquaintances   They will use that information to make judgments about me.  They will say I’m too old to wear electric blue tights, or I’m too young to have that furrowed brow.  They’ll say I am too young to give up on having more kids, or I’m too old given how tired the ones I have already make me.  That number will inform them of 100 things about me, except it won’t.  I am not a number, I am not generic, I am not one-dimensional.

Then there are my kids.  Many children begin, subconsciously, to set their own life expectations based on the milestones of their parents.  Recently one of my newlywed friends said she wasn’t in a rush to have children because her mother didn’t start procreating until she was 35.  When I was in college I recall a friend telling me she had no intention of dating (back then) because she wasn’t getting married until 30 at the earliest.  That’s when her parents were hitched.  I did it too. My parents, who have been happily married for 38 years, began dating when they were 13 and 14 years old.  Which meant I imagined walking down the aisle with any boy I considered holding hands with in junior high.  I want my children to find their own path.  I don’t want them to feel beholden to mine, whether it is subconscious or an active decision.

I worry for my kids because I’ve personally struggled with the implicit expectations that each milestone brings.  Until recently I worked very hard to “act my age.”  I lived up to ideals of what a mother wears, what a lawyer sounds like, what an adult does for fun.  But each successful target I hit sounded hollow and thin, like I was shooting a pellet gun at a tin can instead of crossing off major life accomplishments.

Too young to spend the rest of my life miserable, but too old to make drastic changes, I struggled at the crossroads. I pulled the trigger again and made the big changes:  I quit my legal job, I dyed my hair purple and I committed to pursue my passion of writing.  I am definitely too old to disrupt my life like this.  I’m definitely too young to make selfish decisions with two small children at home who will expect the necessities (and more) for years.  Except here I am, living each one of the things that people (including me at times) told me I couldn’t do because of my age.

This time when my son asked my age the best I could give him was the correct decade.  Next time, I’m going to have to come up with a better answer.  Maybe something less than 600 words.

(photo: Matthew Benoit/ Shutterstock)