Perhaps Youth Is Overrated

Have you noticed how, when you’re in each stage of life, it seems like you have forever?

Then one morning, you look in the mirror and see wrinkles around your eyes and sun spots on your cheeks and gray hairs sprouting from your head.

How does this happen?

You certainly don’t feel any different than you did when you were young and buff . . . okay, I was never buff. But I thought that by the time I had wrinkles and gray hairs, I would feel older and wiser or . . . something. I certainly didn’t think it would happen so fast, and maybe deep down inside I really didn’t think it would happen at all.

Those older moms at church — they were always, well, older. Ya know? But now I’m the older mom at church. I watch the young moms come in carrying diaper bags and dropping off their precious little ones in the nursery and I forget for a moment that I’m not one of them.  

Alas, I’m the mom with three scruffy kids sitting in the pews doodling on notepads and wriggling mints out of my purse . . . the ones that are barreling over the cute little ones in matching outfits and pigtails as they toddle to their classes.

It goes something like this:

One day you’re worried about treating pimples and finding a date for prom. Then you blink and you’re graduating from college and facing life in the “real world” — whatever THAT is.

Next thing you know, you’re planning a wedding and the future is bright. Then suddenly you enter the era of parenthood, diapers, strollers, and sleep deprivation. Now surely this stage will never end.

But before you know it, you’re standing on the sidewalk wiping tears out of your eyes as you wave to your precious kindergartener with her nose pressed to the window of a big yellow bus. Then you find yourself in the world of music lessons, ball games, dance practice and homework . . . OMG the homework . . . what is this “new math” and when did 3rd graders start doing algebra, anyway?

Back in MY day . . . ,” you rant. And that is when you realize, you just became Your Mom.

Of course, you’re not alone. You look around and realize that your friends are getting older too. When you start counting, you don’t even have enough fingers to add up the years you’ve known your best friends.

Allow me to illustrate my point.

When I was at my college freshman orientation, I met a tall girl with gorgeous red hair. We immediately hit it off. When I got to my dorm, I discovered that she lived on my floor. Then we realized that we had the same major. We’ve been close ever since.

Back in college, we would wander the mall and spend our carefully budgeted money on cute clothes and shoes. We would hang out in the college cafe, gossiping over Cokes. We would make midnight runs to Denny’s and eat french toast and belgian waffles. We even did our student teaching in the same elementary school.

After we graduated, we married our college sweethearts and, as luck would have it, we settled down within a couple hours of each other and soon picked up where we left off in college — meeting at the mall, where else!?

In the early years, we would meet at the Lenox Outlet and pine over pretty china and crystal. Then after that, it was the Baby Gap and Gymboree to carefully select baby clothes that our kids would wear without complaint and tiny shoes that never stunk like their shoes do now. Now it’s back to shopping for ourselves as our kids have grown and become too opinionated to shop without them.

It occurs to me that we’ve come full circle — back to those college days of trying on clothes and encouraging each other to splurge on yet another handbag.

It was almost 23 years ago that we met that sunny afternoon in Boston at freshman orientation. Of course, back then we shared stories about our boyfriends back home and conjured up creative ways to skip class. Nowadays we commiserate about thinning hair and fine lines and wrinkles and our expanding midsections. The french toast and waffles have been replaced by salads, and we’re more likely to sip on an iced coffee than Coke. We share stories about our kids and debate the merits of minivans vs SUVs.

So much has changed and yet so much hasn’t.

We’re still the same people we were back then. Of course, we wear the battle scars that come along with life, but our friendship is deeper for it.

For 15 years, we’ve been meeting regularly at the outlets in Lancaster County, halfway between our respective homes. Between the two of us, we have seven kids, but we always mangage to find a way to get together a couple times a year.

Yesterday our get-together at the mall was bittersweet, as my dear friend is about to move very far away. Our halfway point will soon be somewhere in South Carolina.

The whole day, I was feeling a bit nostalgic. As we were wandering through the Pottery Barn Outlet and passed through the section of children’s bedding, it hit me how our shopping expeditions have morphed through the years. I stood there, gazing wistfully at the whimsical pastel embroidered crib bumpers and almost burst into tears.

I realized that I would never again shop for crib bumpers . . . or baby strollers, or diapers, or those precious teeny dresses on the back wall of Gymboree, or so many things that define that stage of life that is now most definitely a part of my past. I know it is an odd time to have such a realization; my youngest is seven years old, after all but epiphanies seem to happen at the strangest times.

It’s tempting to mourn the stages left behind, but I suppose if you never left a phase of life behind, you would never get to enjoy the next one.

While I certainly wouldn’t mind having the skin I had when I was 25, I sure am glad I have my kids and my new friends and all the memories that go along with the old ones.

So here’s to the next phase — whatever it is, I hope it’s as good as the ones I’ve left behind. Who knows, maybe it will be even better.