Long in the Tooth

I’ve heard people older than me say things about aging like: “I feel like I’m the same person I was when I was younger. It’s like I’m 25 inside. But I look in the mirror, and I see this old face.”

Is this incongruity the same for all of us?

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself: I’m living with my husband in a state I didn’t grow up in, and I have for the last 8 years; I’ve graduated from college; I’m making decent money at a decent job; I can make my own decisions and determine my own road. I have to make my own decisions. What choice is there?

I suppose some people groom themselves to accept their own adulthood. And whenever it happens, they take the reins and ride off into the future. But me — I think I’m still at the bus stop sometimes, waiting for adulthood to pick me up.

Who in their right mind would allow me to just sort of take care of myself? You mean, they let me vote? They let me live on my own like this? If I wanted to buy a car or a house or open a retirement account, I can just … do it? Who do I think I am?

I recently volunteered to speak at a career night event put on for some high school kids. I was part of a group of young professionals (professionals?) who talked about their jobs and answered questions from the attendees about skills, training, degrees, career choices. It seemed funny to me that I should be presented to these kids as a role model.

Are they kidding? My life, an example? I felt like all I could do was tell them what not to do. But I guess I’ve done OK, haven’t I? Of course I can give some advice.

One of the first times I realized I was a grown-up — that I had truly left the nest — was in the health and beauty aids section of Target. I was buying dental floss.

Until I was 22 years old, my mom scheduled twice-yearly checkups with the dentist. Even when I was in college. I’d come home, and there’d be a dentist appointment tossed in with the obligatory visits to friends and family. And every time, the dentist gave me a toothbrush and a packet of dental floss. And because I hardly ever flossed, it was plenty to get me through the next six months before my next appointment.

Dental floss always stacked up at my house. My mom had baskets and baskets of it under the sink in the bathroom. Plain, waxed, mint waxed, cinnamon waxed, blue, green, white. I think I even used a packet of unwaxed plain once as kite string. We never wanted for dental floss at my house — ever.

Then I crossed state lines. Visits to Dr. Forrest ended. It took me a year before I got on the ball and made my own dentist appointment. And I had to buy my own dental floss. The multitude of options at Target is overwhelming.

Sometimes I still feel like the insecure teenager I was: unsure about his future but somehow not worried about it. But now I’m really just a much less insecure 30-year-old — but slightly more worried about the future. I have much less of it now. And I have the power to screw it up.

I wonder if I will ever feel my age, or will I also look in the mirror 30 years from today and wonder who the heck is looking back at me?


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