This piece was first published in the Nevada Appeal in 2003. I’ve passed many more milestones since that time. Retirement, two weddings, a granddaughter, a move, my 70th birthday, and in April, cataract surgery. I’m still here.
“We are always the same age inside.” ~Gertrude Stein
When my daughter Katie graduated from college in May and moved to Seattle last month to accept her first nursing job, another major milestone passed. No matter what age I am, these milestones bring up the same excited, scared, happy, sad, anxious feelings. The blend of emotions—and my control over them—may change from age to age, but the emotions themselves remain. Katie’s move away from her hometown after graduating from college echoed my own move to Carson City over twenty-five years ago. However, this time I was the mother leaving her child in a new city 900 miles away. When you are a mother, anxiety holds a slight edge over excitement.
Katie is not without a safety net though. Some people from her past are there. Our dear friend and former babysitter Jeanette moved to Seattle about 15 years ago. She and I shared pregnancies, our children’s birthday parties, and family camping trips. We also spent many afternoons sipping hot or cold beverages while watching our children play, carrying on intimate conversations in plain view of her boys and my girls. Last month in Seattle as our children moved boxes and put together an entertainment system, we sat at Katie’s kitchen table and once again talked as the children played. The scene was the same even though we were now all twenty years older. Jeanette is still my sweet gentle friend.
Katie’s older sister Joanna also lives just a few hours away in Portland. After Joanna drove up late in the evening, we three lay on the bed together talking quietly, giggling, and snuggling—a common scene we have repeated since they were tiny. I am still the mother to two little girls, even if they are all grown up.
In addition, a friend with whom I graduated from high school teaches English in Seattle. He invited Katie and me over for dinner with his wife and son. As we were eating the pink and perfectly barbequed sockeye salmon, Bruce kindly explained the nuances of the various types of salmon and why he had chosen this particular one for supper. I flashed back to a seventeen-year-old Bruce reciting from the Canterbury Tales or instructing me on such diverse topics as the Zoroastrians, classical music, and why I should cut sandwiches in half before serving them to company. And although he has grown mellower in the intervening years, Bruce was and still is a teacher.
In addition to becoming true empty-nesters, my husband and I passed another milestone this summer, our 30th wedding anniversary. Last weekend we camped outside Bridgeport, along Robinson Creek. We met on a camping trip in the Eastern Sierra during the summer of 1971 and have traveled the length of US 395 more times than I can count. Even now, Don is my best friend and favorite travel companion.
A couple of weeks ago my optometrist told me he saw the beginnings of cataracts in my eyes. I could have lived without that milestone. Nonetheless, I recalled that after my eighty-year-old grandmother had her cataracts removed, she looked in the mirror to see her face clearly for the first time in years. “When did I get all those wrinkles?” she asked. “I don’t feel any different than I did in my twenties and thirties.”
I don’t feel much different either, aside from a few achy joints now and then. I am a little heavier, have a few wrinkles, but I am also more confident and a bit wiser with a little better hold on my temper and tongue. Maybe that just comes with age and perspective. However, some things haven’t changed at all.
I still worry way too much about what people will think of me. I still want to spend time with my family and know they are safe and healthy. I still choose friends who are smart, funny, and kind. I still want to learn new things, go new places, and camp near the water with my sweetheart.
Each milestone I pass reminds me of others I have passed and those yet to come. Milestones provide the trail markers to my life and remind me where I’ve been and where I’m going. If I am quiet once in a while and look around, I see that, even though I have never been here before, the path is familiar. I know the way by heart.