Monday, October 11, 2010

Fumbling Toward Forty: Onion Rings

On the eve of her seventh birthday, Big Sis mourned the passing of her years. "I really liked being six, Mom. I'm getting big. I'm going to miss the things I could do when I was little. There are already rides I'm not allowed to go on!"

This from our Small Fry who only recently hit the height requirement reached by her friends a year or more ago.

So I told her about the short story "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros. Rachel, the protagonist, explains birthdays like this: "What they don’t understand...and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven."

I reminded her that she could still do and like the things she enjoyed when she was younger (Heck, she's playing with the same dang Polly Pockets from two years ago).

Rachel explains how we carry all our years inside: "...some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay."

I thereby validated my daughter's inner two-year-old, the alter ego who staged a throw-down about snacks after Saturday's soccer game.

But it occurred to me that Big Sis only has a few layers to access, and I have, well...39. Oh so many ages and stages to call upon for every occasion as I contemplate turning 40!

"Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one..."

Last week my inner-six-year-old matched wits with my actual living seven-year-old. Those are the moments we both need a Time Out.

The rare days when I fuss with my hair (while wondering why it's inexplicably thinning) and try out the styles sported by my fifteen-year-old clientele, I know I am being twelve, minus the woven-ribbon hair clips with dangling silk flowers.

When I cry from sheer frustration or exhaustion or for lack of a more meaningful response, I am brought right back to nine. When my father would ask me why I was crying and the best response I could summon was a warbling "I don't knoooooooooooooooooowwwww..."

My cynical and serious self is 24. That was when I cut my hair military-short and placed a tiny but effective chip on my shoulder.

When I rock sassy shoes and funky outfits, I am 27.

When I am worried, anxious, and giving myself a hard time, I feel thirteen, the age I had a brief romance with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

My prankster, semi-inappropriate self is nineteen, the self who pulled an all-nighter in college to stack cans outside a sleeping friend's dorm room door and then await the aluminum avalanche. This is the self that agrees to dance in the Homecoming Pep Rally.

Most of the time, I embrace my inner 32.

But I have high hopes, based on my hip, happy, and healthy mentors in their forties and beyond, that the best may be yet to come.

And I'm bringing all the other years and their alter egos into the next decade with me.


Mama Deb said...

This is brilliant. Love it!

Synthia said...

Hi Jenny,
I've just discovered your blog and am enjoying it very much! This one, about carrying your inner 5- year-old and so on, really struck a chord.

Sounds like you had a wonderful weekend--good for you!!! See you soon,