I accompanied M’s kindergarten class on a field trip this morning. At one point, one of the little boys turned around to M and said, ‘is that really your Mom?’ When M said, yes, the little boy added, ‘she looks too old to be a mom.’ I’m not going to lie: that stung. (Especially because I’ve lately been worrying he’s right.)
I do look old. And sometimes – like today – that hurts a little, and is confusing, too, because, wait, I just turned 30, what happened?
In fact I turn 45 this year. 35 to 45 was a rough decade. Three miscarriages, one baby stillborn, one PhD, 3 years of precarious teaching, 3 years (and more to go) on an early tenure track, pregnancy after loss, parenting, never sleeping….That 10 year challenge that was going around on social media recently? Really fucking depressing for me. In 10 years, I’ve easily aged 20.
Sometimes I can really own that age though. Because it comes with experience that I would never have chosen but that I know has made me….a better person. The me of 7 years ago is gagging on that sentence right now and screaming at 2019 me: you were already a good person, you didn’t need to be better, your baby didn’t need to die for that!! And she’s right, too. Me of 2012 was right: my baby shouldn’t have died. Me of 2019 knows – for real and for good – that she did, and this is the aftermath, and a lot of it has been total shit and it has made me look like I’m 55 instead of 45 and I’ve spent probably a good half of the 7 years between 2012 me and 2019 me either sobbing or inwardly seething, but….Sometimes there really is a kind of grace I can feel and recognize. I am interviewing bereaved parents right now and it has been a hard and beautiful experience. I feel like I am being given a gift as parents tell me the stories of their babies, their so loved and so deeply missed babies; I add each of these baby’s stories to the story of Anja and of all the other babies whose names and lives I have learned and loved in the last 7 years. It is a gift and a tremendous responsibility and these wrinkles attest to both the gift and the responsibility. I have a jar on a shelf in our living room where we’ve collected rocks and shells and sea glass from places we’ve been without Anja; we go somewhere, we remember her, we bring something home to show that she was there too, with us – that she was here. The jar and its contents are a record of all the times she’s crossed our minds. My face, too, is a record; not as beautiful as the soft green and gold of the salt-worn glass, but a record nonetheless – a record of love, of loss, of laughter and tears, and anger like I never imagined, and more love, a little acceptance, and finally, maybe, some grace. It hurt to hear those words, but maybe it wasn’t so much out of vanity as it was over the memory of all that is etched on my face and that remains unreadable to most who look.
(But still – I appreciate my partner’s response by text when I told him about this kid. He wrote, ‘did you tell that kid he’s an asshole?)