One of my favorite openings of any film is Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (#guiltypleasure), where we see several scenes of the four girlfriends growing up through high school and preparing to move on toward college. Over shots of the friends in blue and gold caps and gowns at graduation, the protagonist Carmen describes “those moments when you feel your life just lift up and take off…”
I always sigh a little when I watch that scene, remembering when my life lifted up and took off, and feeling resigned to the fact that it’s now folded in its wings and settled down to roost.
At my own college graduation, I felt my life had such powerful forward momentum I was sure my feet would leave the ground. That fall, however, when I took my first full-time job in an office, my life lurched to a stop under the fluorescent lighting. Without midterms or semester breaks, without anything to work toward or look forward to, I was moving in slow motion, as if I were underwater. So I started planning for a 6-month program in Australia, and in the meantime, went to Israel. After Australia, it was another program in Norway, after which I dove into graduate school.
In the first half of my twenties, my life and my friends’ lives truly were lifting up and taking off––we started exciting jobs, or traveled the world, or enrolled in grad school where our minds and perspectives lifted up and took off, too. Then the marriage train started speeding up, and every other month we danced at a different friend’s wedding. I started having nightly dreams of all my friends getting into boats two by two and going out to sea, while I stood on the shore alone and watching. Toward the end of grad school, though, I found my own boat with my own partner and I didn’t have that dream again.
But the old familiar slowing down feeling had once again come over me, now that I had a master’s degree and a husband. I tried to keep the momentum going a little longer: another job change, then a cross-country move. Pregnancy and birth announcements started to crowd my social media feeds; my peers and I were moving forward once again, marching toward The Family Years. We were settling into jobs, choosing how many children to have (or what types of fertility treatments to endure), sometimes moving home to be near a familiar circle of support.
Now we’re here. We are in The Family Years. We’ve had our miracle babies and our rainbow babies and our “he just looks at me and I get pregnant” babies. We’re in our careers and if our jobs aren’t awful, we’re staying in them for the sake of financial security.
I met a friend of mine for lunch at a neighborhood deli, both of us in our business casual clothes, having moved our schedules around to take a full hour break without errands or side hustle tasks. We’ve been friends since we were babies; we took baths together as kids and took a trip to Europe together as 21-year-olds. We stood at each other’s weddings and we held each other’s infants.
As we sat in the sun eating our sandwiches, she said now that her girls are finally out of the all-hands-on-deck toddler stage, it’s a hundred times better, not having to worry about diapers and feedings and nap schedules. I confessed it’s hard sometimes to not wish for time to speed up a bit with my toddler, who still requires so much physical work––the feeding, diapering, changing clothes, lifting into the carseat. Occasionally I look at my 2-year-old daughter and wish she were 15––we could travel to another country where we would visit museums and go shopping and share pastries at an open air cafe.
But life is no longer an endless golden field of opportunities and wonder rolling out in front of us toward the impossibly distant horizon, as it was when my friend and I were in our early twenties, planning trips and weddings. Wishing for time to go faster, for my daughter to be older, is wishing my life away. My years have started to feel fragile, like a fuzzy dandelion that could be blown to that not-so-distant horizon with just one puff.
“These are the good old days,” my friend said. “That’s what we have to remember.” I know she’s right. Things are good. Not to be morbid, but for the next 10 years or so, until our kids start preparing to go to college, the “big things” that are likely going to happen are also the “bad things”–divorce, ourselves or our kids or parents getting sick, maybe dying. I shudder to think of it.
So I steep myself in the magic of my daughter’s toddlerhood, of the sight of her barefoot on the grass in the evening (saying, “Let’s run around together!”), giggling on our tree swing, or calling the TV remote, “the commode.”
The thing about being 34 instead of 24 is I know how fast these good old days can go, whether day by day or like a rug pulled from under your feet. In these times of peace, I now know to kick off my shoes and run around in the grass with my precious toddler, to listen with all my heart to my dear friend as we have lunch and tilt my face up to the sun, soaking it all in.