Oldth

My house smells like sharpie marker ink being baked onto ceramic. My eyes are burning. This is stage one of an hour at a time baking of sharpie marker ink onto ceramic. I don’t even know how many stages there are going to be in total. Maybe 50?

My dining room has turned into piles of boxes, all of them half-opened with stuff spilling out. Good stuff. Stuff to build a home with, like brand new dishes and blankets and crock pots. The UPS guy might hate us by now. We get at least two deliveries a day. In fact, as I’m sitting here right now in my jammies and bathrobe, all wrapped up in a cozy, not-new blanket, with my Dustin O’Halloran station playing in my headphones, preparing to write, I hear that trusty old truck making its way down our cul-de-sac once more. It stops in front of our house, like it always does and I hear two boxes being thrown on our doorstep as the doorbell rings.

“Callie! It’s for you!” I yell, unwilling to lose the comfort and warmth I have so long sought just to answer the door for yet more boxes. She comes running in the front hall, stocking feet sliding to a stop on the wooden floors, while dancing and singing “It’s my birthday….every day…”

It’s all good. It’s all so good. What a blessing to be so loved by so many, to prepare for the wedding feast of a loving daughter, to know that she is going from love into more love. Even to have burning eyes while she hand makes each of her wedding favors for all the loving people that are coming to celebrate with her.

I have always wanted to get older, hoping that one day I might feel old enough. Somehow, I never get there. I remember knowing that I didn’t look old enough to be able to read when I was little. Sometimes I would play that up, by breaking rules that were posted, thinking I had an excuse if I got in trouble. Mostly though, I just knew that I knew more than people expected me to know and that was a grave responsibility. I remember not looking old enough to be out of high school when I was married and getting dirty looks from the guy at the hotel who tried to tell us he was full when we tried to stay a night longer than planned on our honeymoon. I remember getting dirty looks from the woman at Kroger less than five years ago, when she asked to see my ID when I was buying wine. I know I’ve always looked younger than I am, which can be especially tough on a woman who started her family younger than most.

But lately, I’m really feeling not old enough. Maybe every mother of the bride feels that. I know everyone going to their 20th high school reunion feels it. I think every first-time grandmother-to-be probably feels it. Somehow, I’m feeling that same feeling I felt when I was four. Like I’ve got something to prove because I know I don’t look old enough to be reading. And it feels like a grave responsibility. And every once in awhile, I get defensive about it.

Tonight, on the elevator leaving work, a nice man that I don’t know held the door for me and asked me what floor since I had a big box of food I was bringing home. He struck up conversation on the way down and asked what the food was. I told him it was lunch leftovers, about to be dinner for my family. He mentioned he had three daughters and that he knew how much they would attack the food if he were to bring it home. I said I also have three daughters. And then came the dreaded question: how old are they? I steeled myself before answering him. In my heart, I was prepared for a fight. I don’t know if he saw the look in my eyes, daring him to say one thing. Just one thing. Bring it. I’m ready. But he didn’t even flinch when I said “19, 16, and 13.” He told me his were right behind mine and then the doors opened and he told me to enjoy my evening of good food with my daughters.

Maybe I look old enough today. Whatever. It was nice.

Someday soon these boxes will be gone from my dining room and we might actually get a table in there and invite people over for nice meals that we will eat on beautiful placemats with candles burning. Someday soon my house won’t smell like burning sharpie ink (or a guinea pig’s cage, which pretty much smells like pee ALL THE TIME).

Maybe then I will look old enough.

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  1. #1 by Mom on December 4, 2013 - 7:29 am

    Hey guess what, I’m the “first to like this”! Woohoo! You forgot to mention the time when you and Chris as newlyweds were shuffled around to different Sunday School classes because you were too young to be married. Hahahahaha! We need a new system. Your grandma, my mom, was 36 when my 19 yr old sister got married. She looked 26 (my mom, not my sister). I’ll tell mom to read this post and tell her that for a Christmas present I want her to leave a comment.

  2. #2 by Leslie on December 4, 2013 - 8:53 am

    Wow! I didn’t know that about Grandma. I mean, I’ve always known that my grandma was younger than everyone else’s grandma, but wow. I really want to know how she felt as mother of the bride at 36. I want to not be alone!

  3. #3 by nstaniger on December 4, 2013 - 9:18 am

    Leslie, friend. I laughed a little at this post because I always looked much older than I was (and acted it) until I hit 25. Yep, pretty much since then I’ve looked 25. Time caught up with me. Maybe time has slowed for you. Time is not constant, you know.
    You are beautiful, your family is beautiful, your writing is beautiful. So glad to see you writing again. So thankful to be neighbors. We will eat together soon.

  4. #4 by Leslie on December 4, 2013 - 8:24 pm

    Let’s do that, Pil. That will be wonderful. I like the idea of time not being constant too. The whole “get there fast and then take it slow” idea sounds good.

  5. #5 by Jackie on December 6, 2013 - 3:06 pm

    I didn’t know anyone else felt like that. I can see in people’s faces the math. They still do it. I think I look old enough to be a mom, but only to Nico, not to Jasmine and Donald. It’s amazing to see how people start calculating your sex life. I get by because I look white, not like my mom’s first language is Spanish. And mostly it doesn’t come up that I’m a woman. I haven’t felt that fight. But this–being a mom to a 19 yr old–that one is an acute humiliation. I brace for it, too, still. And usually I think the other person is best described by words that you wouldn’t want me to write. Sorry about that. I know this is a nice post. But I truly hate that, especially when people are thoughtless enough to say their math aloud. Most people are thoughtless, and I just really want them to serve me up a copy of their flawless life, so casual they are at ripping away my dignity and my kids’ dignity.

    I’m sorry, I know you don’t like tense things. But that hurts so much. It has probably informed my politics more than any other experience I’ve had or knowledge I’ve gained. The way the world sees us? We’re teen moms. Welfare moms. And you know what? Maybe those moms deserve some respect and maybe some help. Because to the world they are no different than you and I having kids inside our marriages. It’s all the same. Lives thrown away. I hate it so much.

  6. #6 by Leslie on December 6, 2013 - 6:28 pm

    You know, Jackie, you are right. You are so right. And I am really, really happy that you wrote this (ha! who says I don’t like tense?) because I have not been able to put in words why it bothers me so much. People usually try to act like it’s a compliment, which is the most confusing thing of all to me. Because it’s supposed to be a good thing to look young, right? But what you have written is exactly why it’s not a compliment and why I never know what to say in response. Usually the conversation goes something like this:

    Thoughtless person: “Wow. You don’t look old enough to have a 19-year old daughter!”
    Me: (self-conscious smile and shrug of the shoulders) “Thank you!”

    I have found that to be the best response because it shuts down the conversation.

    But it feels so awkward. Because I don’t feel thankful. But there are times I have said something like “Well, I started young.” And then I get so mad at myself. Because A) it’s not their business and B) I didn’t start THAT young and C) what if I did? Am I not still a valid mother and is my daughter not still just as precious to me as any daughter is to any mother at any age in any place in any time?

    And then to add insult to injury, my precious daughter that I love as fiercely as any mother anywhere, has chosen (with the full support of her parents) not to go the way that everyone in this whole country thinks that she should and she has decided to marry a wonderful young man instead of going to college right now. This is a good thing and it is the right thing for her. I know that college is also something that people feel strongly about (speaking of politics) and you want to talk about a hot button? Marrying at this age AND not in school?

    Yeah, I guess maybe I don’t like tense. Because, you know, I have a lot of strong opinions that are fairly counter-cultural but I don’t like to talk about them because I prefer to not have people fight with me about it. No, wait. That’s not it, exactly. A good fight is not something I shy away from. What I HATE is people lecturing me like they think they’re smart and I’m stupid and they’re just trying to teach me something. That’s not a conversation and I don’t want to have it. So I keep quiet.

    I would love to know how you respond to people. I am finding this to be a very helpful conversation. Thank you!

  7. #7 by Jackie on December 6, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    Oh, I stammer a “Yeah, I started when I was twenty” or “I started my family young”, too. Once I just said, “I dye my hair,” and left it at that. Like I’m fifty. (I do dye my hair.) Maybe I’ll change that one up and say, “My family just doesn’t age. People think my mother is 36!” I think my favorite was when a classmate/friend said, “Oh, you’re [37, I think, at the time]. You could be my…” and I cut him off, “I’m could be your older sister, man. Cuz if I was your mom, we’d have been struggling.” I think I would have been a 12-year old mom.

    I suppose a lot of people have taken you aside out of concern over Callie’s marriage. That’s a tough one to answer. “Are you concerned?” is a lot harder than “Do YOU like your haircut?”

    Callie–and Jeremy–will probably get some flack for getting married young. And they might start a family young, too. Hopefully, though, they will find a group of friends near them who will be close and welcoming, helping them feel normal — that great unnoticed feeling of not feeling anything at all when things are going well — instead of putting them on the defensive. Or doing the opposite and being so supportive it makes Callie and Jeremy into a poster for something they’re not. Jeremy/Callie: “We might have a tad more ambition and dreams than you think…”

    That brings me to the mother’s guilt of going to work/staying at home/enjoying both/enjoying neither.

    Another day another topic!

  8. #8 by Jackie on December 6, 2013 - 8:00 pm

    Oh, one last note. When I wrote “Welfare moms”, I was pointing to the fabled image held up by some as an example of legislation gone awry. I have been a welfare mom. It helped me get on my feet with two small children and a part-time job with no benefits. Then I got off of welfare. I have no problem with using welfare. Maryland is quite a generous state, and one which early on implemented changes to reduce the stigma of using social programs. Meaning, I had a healthcare insurance card and a debit-looking card for food assistance. I certainly appreciated that, too.

    Anyway, I don’t anyone who reads your blog to be stung by my previous words.

  9. #9 by Leslie on December 7, 2013 - 9:21 am

    And as long as we’re in the business of clarifying here, when I wrote that I have a lot of strong opinions that are fairly counter-cultural, I didn’t mean that I think everyone else should think the same way as me. I find that to be the hardest part of choosing a counter-cultural path. Other people seem to respond one of two ways: they either lecture me as though they think that I haven’t really thought this thing through or they get defensive as though they think I’m judging them for not choosing the same path. (I am thinking of two specific examples from my life here: having my babies at home with midwives and marrying young/not finishing college). It is really annoying when people react the first way and assume that I haven’t thought this through and that I’m just an idiot who needs some guidance. Yes, I hate that but I can live with it because I know the truth about who I am and why I’ve chosen to go this way and anybody who doesn’t know that about me must not know me well and that’s okay. I don’t have to be friends with everyone to be happy.

    But I HATE when people react the second way because I don’t judge people. I don’t. In my heart, I really don’t but I think people assume that I do and I just hate that. I honestly believe that there are so many ways to do so many different things and we all have different personalities and environments that lead us to where we are and what we do. I would never think that home birth is for everyone. I would never think that nobody should go to college. I have strong opinions for me. I support my friends in the things they are excited about and in their strong opinions and in the difficult decisions they make. And I love when people give me the same respect. Isn’t that what we all want, really?

    This has been very therapeutic. Thanks, Jack.

  10. #10 by Jackie on December 7, 2013 - 6:06 pm

    If it isn’t what we all want, it’s just shy of bullseye.

    You’re welcome, Les. I can’t wait to chat in person in a few weeks.

    A FEW WEEKS!!!

  11. #11 by Rocky on December 9, 2013 - 8:36 pm

    This is a great discussion. If you hang with the folks I work with its strange to not have kids at a young age. I am just like you and them Leslie. My oldest was born when I was 20. My daughter looks at me through new eyes now that she is married at 22 which is the age I gave birth to her. She told me that she can’t fathom being a mother of 2 at this age. How did I do it? I didn’t think too much which can be both a good thing as well as bad. I’ve noticed that all the really wonderful things come from our passions. When we throw all caution to the wind because we know who or what we love and know with the utmost certainty that we cannot live without them or it in our lives. I love you Leslie Linebarger! You are a good friend to me. I am so very happy for Callie. I am proud of her for living her passions.

  12. #12 by Leslie on December 10, 2013 - 6:41 am

    I love you too, Rocky Rock! What a blessing it has been to have known you for so many years and to have seen the hard times and the growth and to have come through safely somehow to many other sides in the midst of all these crazy passions. You are a good friend. I pray that many other sides will be seen as we live right on through this windy life.

  13. #13 by Mom on December 18, 2013 - 7:47 am

    Okay, first of all I must correct the math on my mom (see first comment). She was 38 when my sister married, not 36. That being said, may I add that I had a dream of being on a bus with a bunch of crazies, some of whom were a little bit scary. The point of my dream was I was one of the crazies too! So, get out there and eat up big chunks of life, all you crazies!!! Crazies unite! Don’t get labeled, all you unique and wonderful persons out there with backgrounds. Yes, I said backgrounds. WORK IT, LIVE IT!!! with POMPOMS, YES! Boy, this is a good day.

  14. #14 by Leslie on December 19, 2013 - 2:08 pm

    I love it, Mom! I especially love that you were not only on the bus with the crazies, but you were one of them. I sincerely hope that I can keep that perspective with every person I ever come into contact with. We all have our lives. They’re all valuable. Let’s just love one another.

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