Gray Hairs. Wrinkles. And Kids Who Won’t Stop Growing Up

Christina, Jon and Peter. Their mother had gray hairs, bu the kids were still small enough to cuddle. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The kids were still small enough to cuddle with Jon, who had a few gray hairs of his own. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, Dec. 23, 1990

When I look in the mirror, I see wrinkles. I see gray hairs.

This is good. This very good. It means I didn’t die young.

This attitude toward getting older is a new one for me and I like it. It has moxie. I got it from a woman who celebrated her 50th birthday last year.

“How does it feel?” I wanted to know.

“Well, I have mixed feelings,” was the reply.

“Mixed feelings? How can you have mixed feelings feelings about turning 50?”

“No one wants to get older, of course,” was her rely. “But it is nice to get this far and know that I’m doing fine and that my children and my husband are doing fine.”

Peter at 10. He'd be preadolescent by April and his mother would have even more gray hairs. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Peter at age 10. By April he’d be a preadolescent, according to his fourth grade teacher. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Some people accept the passage of time more readily than others — the office workers who rip the pages from their used-up calendars and scatter them on the streets of downtown Oakland, for example.

I don’t admire the mess, but I do admire the ability of some people to let go of the past with such joyous abandon.

I cling to it. I put a rubber band around last year’s calendar and tuck it into a desk drawer with a half dozen other used-up years.

Nor do I go out and celebrate on New Year’s Eve. I stay home. I get in bed early, pull a pillow over my head and go into denial.

This isn’t happening, I tell myself. One more Christmas and one more New Year’s Eve can’t possibly be slipping away.

While I’m there under the pillow, ignoring the firecrackers at midnight, I console myself with the thought that, by going to bed early, I have also avoided countless drunken drivers. I have improved the odds that I’ll live to see 1991.

The trouble with having children in the house at a time like this is that they make it impossible to ignore the passage of time. They want to stay up for the firecrackers, for one thing — and they won’t stop growing, for another.

Peter is in the fourth grade now. My third grade boy is gone. Christina has grown an inch since Easter. My size 6 girl is gone.

A child is not like last year’s calendar. You can’t put a rubber band around her and

Christina at Eastertime. Her mother has gray hairs, but she's still a size 6. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Christina at Easter, still a size 6. Photo by Barbara Newhall

tuck her away for future reference.

One year passes into another. The days and years peel away. If my children are growing up, I must be growing older. One day, my babies will be gone. My children will be gone. My life will be gone.

To a parent, the infancy of a child is almost painfully evanescent. A baby, even more than a 7-year-old, seems as temporary as a Christmas tree, as short-lived as the evening news. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Just about the time the insurance company has caught up with the last obstetrical bill, infancy is over and something else has begun.

“Enjoy your new baby,” the letters from family and old friends urged. “They’re so cute when they’re little and they don’t stay little long.”

Those notes, when they arrived at our house, saddened me. In a few short months and years, they kept pointing out, our newborn would be gone. He would be replaced by a kid who could walk and talk and do double digit subtraction with regrouping. A kid who’d rather go deep for the pass than cuddle with his mom.

But at 9 or 10, at least you can watch them reach into the air for the pass. Later on, their voices change. They borrow the car keys and disappear into adolescence. You don’t watch what happens next.

In a way the letters to the new parents are wrong. A baby is cuddlesome and nice, but a school-age child is the Eighth Wonder of the World. What was nice a doughy lump can now open its mouth and launch into a discussion of gravitational pull in the Solar System.

And pose weighty philosophical questions.

“Who do you like more?” Christina asked the other day. “Me when I was a baby or me now?”

“You now,” I replied. “For sure.”

“Why?”

“Well, you were a cute baby, but now you can say things to me. You have ideas. You can love me back. I still have my baby in a way, but now I’ve got you too.”

What I have is a daughter and a son who are wonderful company.

“Enjoy it,” said a teacher I know. “This is the golden age — fourth grade. Pretty soon, watch out, preadolescence sets in. You start to see it around April.”

What? April? Peter will hit preadolescence in April? His childhood will be over next spring?

I decided not to believe her. Denial has worked for me in the past. It could work for me again this time.

I am going to trust Peter. I’m going to trust that he will be a lovable, interesting teenager and a lovable, interesting adult. I trust I will enjoy him as much then as I enjoy him now.

And with any luck at all, I’ll live long enough to enjoy the sight of gray hairs growing on his head.

© 1991 The Oakland Tribune

Twenty-seven years later, I’ve still got plenty of gray hairs and wrinkles. As for those kids, they did what kids do. They grew up. More about getting older at “The Shame of Aging — The Big Seven-Five Has Finally Arrived.”  Also, “Anne Lamott on Getting Older — Drop That Rock.”

Barbara Falconer Newhall at 50, with a few invisible gray hairs. Photo by Jon Newhall

To be honest, I don’t see the gray hairs here that I was complaining about in 1991, but maybe my eyes were better then. Photo by Jon Newhall

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Comments

  1. Liz Nystrom says:

    B,
    I read this piece early today. It has been on my mind all day, especially as I learn of Zelda’s accomplishments. Where did our little baby go?

    You always have a wonderful attitude toward life, which is contagious when we are together. Keep it up, please!

    See you soon,
    Liz

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