I feel old sometimes.
I’m not supposed to feel this way because I’m only 32, but my yearning for 20 can flood my eyes. There is nothing wrong with 32, really. I’m simply squeezing myself into a new identity as constrictive as just-dried jeans.
I have a one-year old daughter and I’m still struggling to come to terms with it—I got shotgun married, I stopped drinking, I wrapped up a decade of college study—with all the youthful activity, community and blowing off steam that comes with it—by sealing the deal on my Ph.D.
I love my daughter and my husband. I can crawl into bed at night, place my feet atop his feet, and feel as cozy and safe as is possible. My daughter’s laugh—rambunctious and untamed—illuminates in me an ancient joy. I have a support system, my money is OK and my baby has been sleeping through the night for three delicious weeks now.
I mourn my freedom. I mourn the absence of an unknown future. I mourn my childless, independent self. I miss drinking. I miss traveling with ease. I miss owning the option of changing course.
I am tethered to my child’s every breath. I am evaporated by the heat of it; crystalized by the pressure.
I miss being alone.
My friend Larissa had a show last night in Chicago. It was called “The Day that David Bowie Died.” She is a wonderful writer, it was at a great venue, and in terms of both content and medium, it was absolutely right up my alley.
I spent the night at my mom’s house in the city so I would be closer to the show, and after the baby went to sleep I would go. The show started at 10:30pm, so I would leave at 9:30pm. I put the baby down at 7:30pm, and then I waited. By 8:00pm I was falling asleep on the couch. (As a stay at home mom and freelance writer, I had been up since 4:00am that morning.)
I put on some make-up and changed my clothes. “Just another hour and a half,” I told myself. I opened my laptop and searched for distraction.
As the exhaustion crept its way under my skin, I started doing the math. I could leave in just another 90 minutes. Then I would sit by myself in a dark theatre. The show would be at least an hour, right? Then of course I’d stay and hang out a little while. If all went well I would be back to my mom’s at 1:30am, maybe 2:00am. I would need to be up again in the morning at 4:00am, with enough brainpower to meet a writing deadline, enough attention to drive us home in the rain, enough patience to take care of a small person. I was already damp with sleep deprivation. I was stupid to think I could pull this off.
I posted an apology to the Facebook event and texted my husband to let him know. I washed off my make-up, I drank some water, I flossed. I was asleep before 9:30pm.
The next morning—this morning—at the unforgiving crack of 4:00am, I saw my husband’s response: “#momlife.”
I think back to being 20, back to a golden year. I had stumbled into a living situation with three guys my age in a big old three-story house. We had three bathrooms and three kitchens. We had an attic with a drum kit (where Hannibal Buress sometimes crashed). There were ladders built into the walls where you could climb between the floors. It was a dirty sh*thole owned by a slumlord, but it was my tiny slice of paradise for a stint.
We threw keg parties to offset the utility bills. We had friends on top of friends. We listened to NPR and drank earl grey tea and discovered craft beer—all of these things so new and neat and indicative of our attitudes. We had sex on top of sex. (I slept with all three of them, sometimes in pairs.) I was in film school and I absorbed the attitudes of the avant-garde as though it was my lifeblood. I was Maya Deren. I was Andy Warhol. This house was my Cabaret Voltaire. I changed my name to Nico from Nicole.
My body was beautiful. My style was outrageous. My whole life was ahead of me.
I gave myself lots and lots youth. I drank youth in big gulps. I bathed naked in youth’s streams. I was an only child, then a single woman, then an aspiring intellectual with the freedom of student loans in my bank account. I spent a lot of time relishing in not being tied down.
Then one day, I veered onto a new course. I made conscious and reasonable choices that led to big changes. I stopped drinking and stopped using the pill and got pregnant and got married. It was all outlined ahead of time, and it went down precisely as planned.
I still have a lot of life ahead of me. I still dream outlandish dreams. But each day when I roll out of bed at 4:00am—to steal a silent, solitary hour; to value writing over sleep—I feel heartbroken for lifestyles gone past.
In her novel, The First Bad Man, Miranda July’s protagonist struggles with a similar transformation. She narrates the experience of staying awake all night through the watchful exhaustion of caring for a newborn. Cheryl says:
“I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt. I tried to be conscious while it happened, like watching my own surgery. I hoped to retain a tiny corner of the old me, just enough to warn other women with. But I knew this was unlikely; when the process was complete I wouldn’t have anything left to complain with, it wouldn’t hurt anymore, I wouldn’t remember.” (220)
I am still in the process of transformation. One day not too long from now, I won’t remember these things about today. Just as I erase the heartbreaks of being 20 something— minimizing the insecurities and the poverty of that time; not thinking when I got the flu and learned how unnurturing twenty-year-olds can be—the pains of this metamorphosis will lose their edge too.
I will think back only to her tiny potato feet, to the newness of my burgeoning career as a writer, to the way my husband’s skin feel against my own. Ten years from now I’ll look back to today and think my body was beautiful, my style outrageous, so much life still ahead to be lived.
For today, I give myself space to mourn the good parts. I won’t criticize my very real emotions and tell myself I’m too young to think such things. I won’t view this as a violation of my feminism. I won’t feel guilty or think of this as ingratitude.
Today, I will simply let go.
Today as I kiss my daughter’s head, I will long for the essence of someday. As I walk back from the mailbox and thumb through the bills, I will miss the dreams that currently need to no action. As I tuck myself into bed before the clock reads double-digits, I will miss the wishes that are too far away to worry about.
Maybe tomorrow I will feel better about my age. Only tomorrow will tell.
Author: Nico Wood Kos
Editor: Sarah Kolkka