The problem with getting older is that we only have our youth to compare it to.
I look in my bathroom mirror, leaning gingerly over the dried toothpaste on my right and the puddle of what I hope is water on my left, and I blink mascara onto my lashes, stopping to study the fine lines and scars in magnified detail and to pluck some wandering eyebrow hairs from my chin. I lean back and notice my breasts are at half mast, and I see my stretch marks which always look like they made a poorly organized break for freedom but didn’t know which way to run and so have tripped over each other — splat! — into a tangled, sprawling mess.
I typically don’t spend much brain power tearing my appearance down. That’s a serious time commitment, and, frankly, I’d rather waste my energy vying for a turn on the toilet. But sometimes, every once in a while, when I isolate things in the mirror, I sigh and grieve a little.
That’s when I get in my time machine and travel.
Not to my 20’s, like you might expect, to reminisce and remember.
No. I travel from my future, back in time, to right now.
I imagine myself as an old woman with all of her knowledge and secrets of the way this life went. The unexpected tragedies that shook our very foundations. The triumphs of enduring them and bearing witness to each other along the journey. The family who’s left. The abiding ache of loss echoed in the pain of my bones. Contentment and restlessness, my longtime companions.
I imagine queuing in the line at the time travel terminal, pausing to lean on my smooth, polished cane, showing my ticket to the agent at the door, and boarding the machine to travel to now.
I imagine arriving quietly, on an unseasonably hot spring day, and watching from the back gate of this house I used to own. This house where I built these memories. This house where these memories built me.
I imagine watching Young Me and our children in secret so I don’t disrupt the time continuum. I watch the popsicles dripping. The water spraying. The kids screaming in happiness and fury.
I imagine right now as a memory.
I look at my skin and deeper, and I think, How young! How lovely. Isn’t it strange that I used to see your flaws?
And at Greg who isn’t really going grey yet, strong and tall.
I look at my parents sitting at the patio table, my dad laughing too loudly with his beer in a glass, never in the bottle, and mom with her sweet white wine. Mobile. Alive. Full of history and stories I didn’t tap while I had the chance, and I wonder why I squandered the time.
Then I watch Young Me wiping bottoms and tying laces and grabbing snacks and grabbing at sanity and yes-ing and no-ing all at once, and I remember, Oh. That’s why.
I look at my kids, and I try to memorize them. Each face. Each feature. Each gesture.
Oh, yes, I think, this is what you look like when you were six and running to me, hard head hitting my gut and stepping on my toes because you hug so recklessly. I remember the pattern of your freckles.
I breathe the air and my young mama exhaustion; it’s sweeter, coming from the future. And I forgive myself my petty frustrations because it’s plain that I knew. I knew this was my kids’ only childhood, and I spent my time trying to give them a good one.