I’m 35 and I Don’t Know Yet…

I currently teeter on the short side of 35 years, an age known for the way it changes a woman’s perspective.

Just the other day, for example, I found myself “lunching” with an old friend, discussing the phenomenon of turning 35, or “mammogram age” as my friend so aptly put it. My imagination, unruly by nature and fueled by factual details introduced by my medical-resident husband, moved into overdrive as I secretly considered the unspeakable: 35 years is mammogram age for a woman WITH children…what about the slew of procedures and battery of tests that surround… gasp… A LATER PREGNANCY?

Like so many others, I’m a woman who wonders if there will ever be a RIGHT time to have children.

But before I get too deeply entrenched in THAT topic, there’s another aspect of my personality that perpetually complicates the baby issue and other matters for me. Let’s call this my “virtual age.”

At a gathering last summer, the discussion turned to a new concept for me — the “virtual age” of a person as opposed to her “actual age.” According to this idea, an individual’s personality is fixed at a certain age and more or less remains there for the duration of his or her life. One woman (I’ll call her the founder of this theory) pronounced herself, in a clipped and matter-of-fact tone, to be a “virtual” 37-year-old, even though her “actual age” clocked in at a mere 26.

“I’m stuck at 15 and a half!” I blurted out.

Why 15 and a half? Well, it might have something to do with my utterly impulsive nature. I despise anything that’s too calculated AND I’m impatient. But being 15 also means getting excited about the concept of infinity. It’s a time before you learn that there’s a “right” (or safer) way to do things. An age when we women are aware of our sexuality, but not yet defined by it. It’s an attitude I’ve fought to hold on to.

Yet, herein lies my biggest current challenge — the state of being a VIRTUAL 15-and-a-half-year-old nearing an ACTUAL age of 35. I’ve always wanted kids, but how would I fit them into the boundless horizons of a freewheeling 15-year-old’s experience?

Once I have children, for example, could I still entertain the dream of moving to India for a year? Would my kids get excited about climbing the Himalayas? What if I were to go back to school and study printmaking — how would I keep those dangerous chemicals away from inquisitive little fingers? Could I stay up all night if I got inspired by a new design project? What would happen to those quiet nights at home, cooking dinner with my sweetheart? Would they be replaced by not-so-quiet nights at home, pulling sausage-like diaper links out of a “Diaper Genie”?

In short, when I have children, will my life will be swept from the plateaus of the ethereal into the gutters of the concrete?

Plagued by these and other questions, I’ve wondered whether children are a necessary component. What would my life be like if I decided never to have children? As I ask myself this question, I slip into an imaginary childlessness. The first two things that come to mind are a town called Beaverton, which we used to pass on the way to my grandmother’s house, and the stories that my mother filled us with every time we drove through.

Beaverton was by far the most exciting diversion on our trips to Mintercity. Infamous for its well-hidden speed traps (and the multiple tickets that my father received driving through those traps), everyone in my family had a pre-determined predilection to hate the town of Beaverton.

Mama juiced up the stories miles before we actually got there.

“Beaverton is only 45 miles away!” she smiled mischievously as my father barreled along.

Thrilled, John, Will, and I slumped deeply into the back seat of the car, knowing that once we crossed into town, our only hope for survival was to hide from the evil sheriff, whose hatred for children was surpassed only by his passion for picking his nose. Any children he found would be snatched away into obscurity.

But nose-picking sheriffs aside, it was the lack of children that made Beaverton a truly awful place.

As I peered out onto the quiet streets from my crouching safety in the back seat of our car, I pondered a world without children. From my childlike perspective, it was a world without fun and without joy, full of old, cold, and shriveled-up people with no real sense of adventure.

Now, I wouldn’t be embroiled in my current conflict if I still held on to THAT perspective. And yet, when I conjure up images of a life without children, something of that reaction remains. The picture seems empty and storyless… too safe a route for the explorer in me.
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So here I am, nearing “mammogram age” with that same virtual 15-year-old bucking for another move into uncharted territory. I don’t know whether my children will care to join me as I set out to climb Mt. Fuji. And perhaps I won’t be at leisure to hand-print fabrics on my living room table. But you never know — maybe my kids will sit down at the table with me and mastermind their own designs (using non-toxic chemicals, of course). Maybe, just maybe, I’ll find some kindred spirits.

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