This past Sunday afternoon, my granddaughter’s best friend threw her a surprise 17th birthday party. It was great. You know how, a lot of times, the surprisee figures out the plan beforehand? Well, this time, Ms. Birthday didn’t have a clue. She was so surprised when we yelled “surprise” that she burst into tears and locked her keys in the car with the motor still running.
With complete objectivity, I have to say, my granddaughter is one absolutely terrific girl. A primo girl. Beautiful inside and out. Which is both totally wonderful and totally weird for me. Because she’s 17. And she’s my granddaughter.
By which I mean – HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? To wit: The other day, when I told this same girl the name of my new blog, shygirltalking, her response was, “But you’re not a girl!”
Yes. Okay. I was expecting that. I knew what she meant. She wasn’t saying that I’m not female. She was talking about the age thing. Because she knows this is mine: 64. And a half.
Plus, I’d already said it to myself. Whenever a grownup woman uses the word “girl” to refer to herself, there’s always a disapproving wag of the finger from the feminist in her head. As in, don’t demean me by calling me a girl. I’m a woman. W.O.M.A.N. And not only that. I’m a full-time, walking, talking, AARP card-carrying, do-what-you-have-to-do-when-you-have-to-do-it Grownup. Woman.
Damn right. Most of the time. Or at least some of the time.
Because, in spite of the countless ways that my body is determined to validate the laws of gravity, the girl I was is still inside. All the girls. You know what I mean, right? The whole “inner child” thing? Kindergarten girl. Elementary girl. Middle school girl. High school girl (that one’s definitely in it for the long haul).
Goofy, dreamy, scared, shy. They’re all still there. Still wanting, needing, whining, giggling, longing. Still demanding to be heard.
The way it feels to me, life in the grownup zone is a series of internal, eternal negotiations between the woman and her girls. Ego and id(iots). So that, at any point, you’re the age that you are – plus all the ages you ever were.
First, there was that insatiable yearning to grow up. After that, the sense of infinite possibility that lasted for years. Then, poof! All of a sudden, 60 looms. To paraphrase a line from the Sopranos rerun we watched last night, life gives us the dubious gift of knowing when we’re getting old.
Wait! What? Old? Are you talkin’ to me? No, no, no. That wasn’t on my agenda. I’m not ready yet. The girls aren’t ready.
The girls thought they had a choice? Come on. All that time you spent thinking that “old” was something separate and different from you? Check with the mirror. (Not that 64 is actually old in today’s world. Or even looks that old. My mother is 91. She thinks all this talk ridiculous. She can still jitterbug and recite Shakespeare, and she knows from old.)
But to get back to my point… What was it, again? Ah, yes. Getting older. Entering a new phase of life. Which, as always, entails the process of revising your self-image. Which is exhausting. The brain rebels each time it has to be done. Especially this time.
In fact, it sometimes feels as if we humans aren’t equipped to encompass the idea of our own aging process. Probably because it took a few million years before any humans actually lived long enough to become old. So, in order to age gracefully, each one of us has to take a kind of evolutionary leap.
And even after we’ve leapt into this mysterious new territory, the girls are still hanging on. Still our sidekicks. Our constant companions. If we’re lucky, some of them may have learned a thing or two along the way. Take Shy Girl, for example. She’s finally figured out how to talk. Even if it did take her 64 years. And counting.