As a small child, I thought that hitting 16 would make me all grown up. At 16, I decided 21 was the marker of adulthood. At 21, the goal post shifted to 30; when I was 30 I would finally be done with grad school and my adult life could begin. At 30 it felt like those in their mid-40s were the adults. And now, as I play chicken with the end of my fifth decade, I still don’t feel like a grown up. I mean, sure, I do some grown up type things: I pay my bills (usually), I am responsible for another living creature (my dog, though my houseplants also look pretty good), I buy new underwear when the old stuff gets ratty. But “grown up”? It doesn’t really feel that way.
In just over a week I will have another birthday. And it’s a “year with a nine in it,” which means it’s time for me to target some new thing to learn to do over the following decade. At 29 I learned how to swim (sort of, I still scare the crap out of lifeguards every time I enter the water). At 39 I learned how to play banjo (sort of, I still scare all the neighborhood dogs every time I pick up the thing). It isn’t about “mastery” so much as it is about “bravery.” Once a decade I suck it up, set a challenge to myself, and try to step outside my comfort zone a bit. Thus far finalists for this time around include really learning to backpack and camp or pole dancing. I may need to do some brainstorming here.
Because this time around it feels especially important. I’ve had to give up so much over the past year and a half. I transitioned from one girl to another without the impetus of birthday cake and candles. Core assumptions about who I am—who I would someday be—have been toppled. At least this little project is about picking up something new rather than finding bits and pieces of my identity lying crumpled on the floor. I’m no longer a wife. I’m not the strong one upon whom somebody depends. I’m not the adored one. I’m not the shimmering center of anybody’s world anymore.
“Maybe it’s time to stop trying to run marathons. Maybe it’s time to give up that goal.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard that advice. Shit, it’s not even just the tenth time I’ve heard it. Generally, a doctor tells me my knees are so decrepit that I have to stop trying to do the full 26.2 miles, and I find a new doctor. In the past I haven’t been ready to hear the news that I had to give up something so integral to my self-image. I only started running in order to do the whole enchilada. It has never occurred to me to shoot for something less, and on a couple of occasions I actually managed to do even more. (Ultras, baby, I managed a couple of Ultras.) Really, running marathons is probably the most interesting thing about me; how do you give up the one thing that makes you kind of special? So you can imagine my surprise that this time, this fifteenth or twentieth occasion on which those words were uttered, the suggestion was coming out of my own mouth.
But then, maybe it’s time. Between you and me, the running has been hurting for a while. It has become a survival strategy, not a joyful thing. I’m weary of the icing and the ibuprofen and the taking twenty minutes to walk without limping every morning like I’m some sort of aging linebacker. And honestly, with so much transitioning and changing and morphing of late, the thought of giving up yet another part of myself doesn’t feel like such a big fucking deal anymore. Why not just retire the “runner” label, too?
I don’t necessarily recognize this woman in the mirror these days. She’s had a tough go of it, and she looks tired. Truth be told, she doesn't even really look like a runner anymore. Oh, maybe in the autumn when I can be in tights and a long-sleeved shirt, and when the sun doesn’t come up until late so that I am able to hide in that glorious soft morning light that hides so many of the world’s flaws. But unsheltered by layers, just exposed and naked in that awful light of a poorly lighted bathroom? Not so much. I’ve been battling gravity for a long time, and the dirty little secret is that sooner or later one of us is going to lose and I’m pretty sure I know which one it is.
I think it’s probably just time to pour a drink and accept that woman on the other side of the mirror at face value. (See what I did there?) She is a little achy sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. She has some crazy-ass wriggly grey hairs coming out of her temples. She has what can generously be called laugh lines (wow, she must laugh a lot). She has curves in some of the wrong places.
But she also has clear and bright hazel eyes. She has pretty good looking shoulders, really. She does laugh. A lot. She can survive a yoga class (mostly) unscathed. She stands up straight. She pulls herself off the floor. And while she is maybe not a marathoner anymore, she can pound out several miles pretty much any day. In a couple of weeks she’ll polish off her 49th year. Forty-frickin'-nine. And she is a casual four or five miles a day kind of runner. Yeah, it’s not super special; it's not likely to inspire cocktail party conversations or admiration from others, but it’ll keep her moving for another few years. And at long last, that's really good enough.
Backpacking? Pole dancing? I have another seven days to choose what my new goal will be for the next decade. I’m not sure yet what it’ll be, but I do know this: 60 is totally when I’ll have all my shit together and be all grown up. Totally.