“You’re too young to be the teacher!”
“You teach college?”
“You’ve never taught high school?”
“Do they think you’re a student?”
“They actually take you seriously?”
All common questions when people hear that I teach writing at the university that I once attended.
Why, yes. “They” do.
When I was younger, in my late teens and through my twenties, I got annoyed when people mistook my age.
“You’ll appreciate it later” is a refrain I heard often. From my mom. My grandma. My friends’ moms. Everyone.
“Yeah….doubtful” and I snorted a little.
I was annoyed at my twenty-eighth birthday. Not because it was a bad birthday. On the contrary. My husband took me to a Tigers game and we had a fun day. No, it was the “late twenties” but that bothered me.
“Late twenties. Late twenties. Late twenties. LATE TWENTIES.” I scoffed from Woodward all the way across the parking structure, through the passage between Ford Field and Comerica Park.
I proudly proclaimed it would be my FIRST twenty-ninth birthday. I would only turn 29.2, 29.3, 29.4, and so on after that fateful day.
We did a really nice dinner with both sets of parents. And it was a good day.
However, thirty reared its ugly head. It loomed. Kind of like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.
Or should I say, 29.2?
It wasn’t the number that bothered me. It was what it signified. I was married. Check. Owned my home? Check. Grad school? Check.
But there was still something…
And I don’t know what it was (is).
I should be something. Feel something. Say something. Else…
I was thirty after all.
My husband, my best friends, and my family knocked my birthday not just out of the park but into the next city. Hey Toledo, did you notice?
A few days before my birthday, two of my best friends took me on a mission. We ate breakfast at Toast, a place in Ferndale that I had heard of but never visited. Then we took a trip to The Peacock Room in Detroit. It’s one of the most beautiful dress shops I’ve ever seen much less shopped.
The entire day was fit for a queen and we took an iconic photo in front of The Thinker to commemorate.
The next weekend, the weekend of my birthday, my husband took me to the Detroit Institute of Art to see the Frieda exhibit. It took my breath away. And I thought that was the end of the day. It wasn’t.
We visited John K. King books on Layfayette. It is a bit of heaven on earth.
Then, we ended up at one of my best friend’s homes. We went to dinner with her, her husband, and their delightful daughter.
The day of my birthday, we had lunch at one of my favorite local places, ate cake made by another of my talented best friends, and went bowling with our parents and my husband’s aunt.
My 29.2 birthday was not just a celebration. It was an event.
And I was the star. But what made it truly great was the participation of farm near every person I care about. Even my lifelong friend participated from California.
Every time someone asks me my age, twenty-five is my “go to” answer. Don’t ask me why. I don’t have a good reason that isn’t itself a lie also.
It’s because I started teaching when I was twenty-five.
When students ask, and they do, I say “I’m younger than George Washington, and I’m older than Miley Cirus.” And then they guess. And I state that even if the answer was correct, I would not tell them. Like politics and religion, my age isn’t a classroom topic of conversation.
Yet they ask.
Today, I received a comment on my age that I haven’t received in the past.
My compliment came from a woman that I know only casually from school.
She has the most beautiful Eastern European accent.
“Your parents must be so proud of all you have accomplished at such a young age. To teach college?”
I said thank you and that it had been a lot of work.
“You have a young face and an old soul. I admire the way you connect with every person you meet.”
“I think that’s an important trait to have.” I replied, “every person has something valuable to add.”
“You are a good teacher.” Then she told me to have a good class.
I thought of her comment about a young face and an old soul. I thought of it on my way to class and on my way home.
What did she mean? I’ve heard that expression but no one has ever outright labeled me an old soul.
I’ve always felt a little different. I like weird things. I listen to weird music. I wear weird clothes. I read weird books.
And I have always been “old” for my age. Ask my parents. Or my K-12 teachers. Better yet? Ask my friends.
I am just over a month from 29.3.
I am looking at this a little differently than I did last year.
I am, as my gracious complimentor said, an old soul. And yes, I buy outrageously expensive vegan, organic lotion with SPF.
Maybe that’s why “they” believe me. When I look in the mirror, I see a 29.2 year old.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s not about what I see.
I’m beginning to see that the world sees me differently. At least my world does.
The people that matter to me see that “oldness” and know it’s the best part of me. They have helped me develop my best self.
And the friendly face at school today helped me too.
This year, I’m not going to be 29.3.
I’m almost 31.