The other morning, I found a gray hair for the first time. It's probably been there for years, but since my hair is a mix of pale-blonde and red, a white one could lurk for some time without being noticed. But there it was, sticking up from the rest of them, announcing its presence on a day when I already felt haggard and tired and sick of feeling haggard and tired for what seems like forever. So that hair kicked me when I was down, and while I won't say that it sent me into a cliche-ridden existential spiral, it did make me notice the deepening lines around my eyes and the brow furrow that doesn't go away anymore, even when I'm not concentrating or frowning.
(Someone at my old job once told me "That's going to be expensive to fix" -- sigh):
I'm 37, but mentally -- as I suspect is the case with most people -- I hover somewhere in my late 20s or early 30s. One thing I'd like to do when they perfect time travel is to zoom back to early 20s-me and give myself some of the confidence-building wisdom I've gained as I have gotten older. It would have been nice to have had a stronger sense of myself, the courage and inner serenity to be myself, and the bit of baby fat in my cheeks that kept me looking fresh-faced and starry-eyed even after being out until two in the morning doing foolish things.
As a side note, I recently was reading one of those New York Times magazine pieces in which they describe someone's mysterious malady that stumped a bunch of doctors until one came along with an ingenious diagnosis that solved the case -- do you read those, too? I am mildly obsessed with them. I have to be sitting down and fully fed when I read anything medical-ish, because sometimes the descriptions of symptoms or treatments make me woozy, but other than that, I love them. It's like a really good puzzle, but with the human body. Anyway, so there was one in which the patient was initially identified as "a middle-aged woman," and later in the story they casually mentioned that she was THIRTY SEVEN. MY AGE. I AM MIDDLE AGED.
I realize that this is simple math given the current average life expectancy, and probably it's beyond inaccuracy and well into full-fledged denial for me to think of, say, my own parents as middle aged, but I am incapable of accepting reality in this area. I suppose in my head, middle age starts somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 and turns over around 70 into whatever one wants to call the next stage (the Bea Arthur years?), but of course once my parents are 70 I still won't think of them as "seniors" (ugh) or "elderly" (too frail-sounding). I'm going to guess that when I turn 50 (in 13 years, oh my ever-loving lord), I still will not want to think of myself as middle-aged.
To get back to my earlier train of thought (it's here somewhere), I have been considering how this is our only go-round in the ol' rodeo, as far as we know (I actually prefer to think otherwise; I kind of like the thought of reincarnation, like if I do well in this life I get to be the next century's Carey Mulligan or an NYCB principal dancer or something along those lines, and of course I would get to know all the same people and still be Felicity's mom). And being the perfectionist that I am, I want to be certain I'm getting it RIGHT. When you've only got one performance, it'd better be the best possible one, you know?
Now, this doesn't mean I think we should all quit our jobs and go find meaning in an ashram in Bali (unless we have a hefty book advance to finance it), because as I've said about one thousand times, that mode of thinking doesn't work for me; I am extremely practical and I live in the actual world with bills coming into my mailbox every day, and I don't think that means I've lost out on what life has to offer. What it does mean is that I'm always wondering, am I getting this right?
I'm sorry to tell you that I have arrived at exactly zero answers, because obviously there's no way to know, at least not until one is having a Deathbed Clarity Moment that popular culture loves to throw in our faces as a reminder to Be More Present and Chase Our Dreams and also Buy More Tide. I do know that lately when I have asked myself, is there anything I need right now? the answer is no (except a snack, which I virtually always need). I certainly want things like a third bedroom or a magical fountain of vitality that will clear out the bronchitis/sinus infection/fatigue combo that has been plaguing me for MONTHS now, and in an ideal life I would have all the people I care about right nearby. But there isn't anything that is tugging at me as an overwhelming need.
I do still think a lot about Felicity being a single child, not because I want another child, but because having one child seems to bring up a lot of worries, in strange yet obvious ways (since they are things that virtual strangers gleefully announce to you, in case you've never thought of them before). As I've detailed in the past, the thought of having more children brings up substantially more stress and anxiety than I am prepared to handle, but since it is The Norm, it seems like it is somehow not as simple as deciding to have one child and then...doing that and being 100% fine with it. And I AM fine with it. But then there are The Worries. Like, what if something happens to me or to Joe, or to me AND Joe, and Felicity has to face that alone? And what if Joe and I become a burden on Felicity when we're old and she has no one to share it with? And won't Felicity be sad not to have someone with whom she shares all of her childhood memories and the unique experience of being in our family? And (the worst, the worst, the unutterable worst), what if something happens to Felicity (God forbid, a million times) and WE are all alone?
I mean, I think my reasons for feeling like my family is perfect just how it is, which I do, are solid ones. Not that one has to HAVE reasons to back up a feeling, but since I overthink everything in the world, I have a laundry list of reasons, many of which I've written about here, and they make perfect sense to everyone. Not least of all is simply a lack of desire toward having a larger family. Sure, if my life were completely different and I were a rather different person of a different temperament with a different lifestyle, I might be on board with having another baby and maybe adopting a kid or two (also if we lived in a parallel universe in which adoption were not so unbelievably difficult, but that is another issue for another day). But here I am, just me, living the life I have, and this is where I am. And it says a lot that the thought of another baby makes me feel grief-stricken over losing out on the treasured time I have with my girl.
I feel like if I write about this too many times, it starts to sound defensive, but that isn't the way I'm approaching this. I don't care what anyone else thinks of my thought process or my family size (though as I've noted, I think it's a fascinating thing to talk about, so long as no one's getting all judgy in anyone else's direction). It's more like I am defensive...with myself? Because of these anxieties that keep burbling up and sometimes boiling over into my general worries about getting this right. Because not only do I want to get it right for myself, I also want to get it right for my child. And yes, making choices that keep me sane, keep my marriage intact, and keep our lives in a certain delicate balance will ultimately be good for her.
I'm certainly not going to let an almost-three-year old's potential future resentment of me regarding her lack of siblings sway me, because of course there's no guarantee she would even LIKE her hypothetical siblings (though at the present moment, she does LOVE babies -- several of her friends have baby sisters, and when Felicity sees them it's like there is no one else in the room but that baby; she wants to hug the baby, kiss the baby, talk about how the baby is "cheeky," talk about why the baby is crying, tell the baby "it's ok!" and then chat about the baby for hours afterward). But there are those outlying what ifs, most of which dwell in the same realms as what if I make a mistake and lose my job and we all end up homeless -- which is to say, less than likely to come to pass. But they're also not completely off the reservation.
Part of the issue is that I don't handle big life choices very well. I question myself a lot (I have been questioning the choice to go to law school for, oh, about 15 years now, since before I even attended my first Legal Methods class). I recognize that I am excruciatingly thoughtful, empathetic, and careful, so it's not that I ever accuse myself of being rash. It's just, something this big that is a decision I hold in my very own hands that has SUCH power over so many things in multiple people's lives has an immense weight that can feel lonely to carry.
I want to get it right. It FEELS like I am, with the decision I've made, but in many ways I also wish the decision had been made FOR me, like that my doctor had quietly shaken her head at me after I had Felicity and said, "No more" (of course, if that had happened, I would instantly have wanted, like, eight children). Since I'm MIDDLE AGED, the final decision will fairly soon be made for me in a biological sense, but I'm still in the window where it's my choice. I don't get to use my age as a crutch, even though my grandmother would have thought me too ancient to bear fruit since in her day even 35 was an eyebrow-raising age for child-bearing.
The past few weeks, I have had that run-over-by-a-truck-multiple-times fatigue, that aching-to-the-bone level of tiredness that can only be described with long hyphenated phrases. I've been sick for so long I can barely remember what it's like to wake up in the morning and not blow my nose fifty times and then have a coughing fit like a pack-a-day smoker. It's that dull part of winter when I put off non-essential errands as long as possible and items linger on my to-do list for weeks because I can't summon the will to accomplish them. I don't feel depressed (as I sometimes do in the long dark dreary months), but I'm not fully myself, either. So when I wake up and find a dead white hair and my face looks like I slept on a crumpled blanket, but actually that's just what I look like now, it sends me to the place where these thoughts live, and where there are no right answers.
Except that there is one right answer. She's right here. And I have everything I need.