We watched an old family video the other day. We were at my mom’s house, and she was feeling sentimental about my Grandpa, who passed away recently. He was so quiet, so he is an interesting man to mourn. You dig back in your memories of him, and he’s not jumping into the spotlight, giving you long bits of advice or story, doing wild and crazy things. Mostly he is sitting in his easy chair, smoking his pipe, smiling in contentment and love. So we watched some video to see what snippets we could of him in action, to sharpen the memory and bring him back to us as who he was. On screen he is to the side, as usual, sitting on the couch by my brother, who is dressed in full baseball uniform. Occasionally the camera will pan their way, and you will see Grandpa tapping the hat off my brother’s head. Joe smiles, returns the hat to position, and Grandpa does it again. “Oh yeah,” we all think. “He was a jokester!”

I love to identify the people in the video to my kids. In this particular video, it is my 8th birthday. I am wearing a dress, I have horrible bangs that rest on the center of my forehead only, and I am opening presents. I am a total snob. No really—I open a present carefully, no rips, and I unfold and flatten the wrapping paper. “Mom,” I say. “You can save this paper and use it again if you want.”
“No thanks,” she says.
I raise my eyebrows, look back at the paper, and sing, “Suit yourself.” If I were my kid, I’d get a time out.

It is sort of fascinating, the old style of family video—where one person lugs a camcorder that’s the size of a toddler around on their shoulder like a Hollywood filmmaker, showing 15 minutes of a day. This style really shows the subjects’ true colors. My grandpa—funny! My brother—amused! Me—gah! If this were a modern video, I can imagine the director’s cut. Stop record, trash, and “Nice try, Mollie. Now smile and say something nice.” The grainy video gives me a picture of how far I’ve come, basic human decency-wise. I imagine our kids, looking back at their pictures and videos and thinking, “I was always so nice and pleasant. What in the world went wrong?”

The video also makes me think of age. During that conversation, my mom had made an appearance. It is not her strangely permed (in fashion at the time) short curly hair that stands out, or her full length robe—no, what jumps out at me is her youth. Her skin is so smooth and fresh, her movement so graceful. And I realize that I am not comparing her in the video to her now—I am finally at an age where I am comparing her to me now. I am comparing the mom of a snotty 8 year old with present day Mollie (the mom of a snotty almost 4 year old. Don’t tell her I said that…it’s just a phase, I’m sure). I do quick calculations to discover that in the video my mom is actually a few years older than I am now. But she looks so young! I think of my own eye wrinkles (which I disguise with glasses). I think of my own gray hair that I have had for a few years. (I say, four years as president; four years as a new mom; either one equals gray hair.)

Later in the video, my dad (Gramps), makes an appearance. “Who’s that hairy guy?” Wally Ben asks.
We all laugh, “That’s your Gramps.”
“Gramps looks like a dad,” Wally Ben says. And he’s right—he’s handsome, young, fresh-faced. (A few weeks later, Wally Ben was racing Vivvi home. “First is the worst. Second is the best. Third is the one with the hairy chest,” he said. Then he added, “Unless you’re Gramps. Then you’re always the one with the hairy chest.”)

I consider my parents in the video, so shockingly young. I remember how I felt about them then. That they were the knowers of things. I think of how my kids must see me now—as the answerer of questions, the provider of snacks, the filler of our days. They have no idea that I am making all of this up as I go along. (I had a school-age parenting first the other day, where Wally was doing kindergarten math homework and asked what “congruent” means, and “What’s an ordinal?” While Googling, I realized that I won’t be able to fool him into thinking I’m a knower of things much longer…)

I think of how I feel about my own age now. The other day, a few friends and I agreed that we feel eternally in our 20s. We wonder how we have been given permission to purchase houses, to pay bills, to plan days. How were we allowed to be parents, to be in charge and responsible for lives. We still don’t even know all the things happening in the world, what all the words mean. We still haven’t read everything. We still laugh at potty talk. We are still so young. (Husband Wally disagrees. While I am doing book club, sitting, stagnant, talking about how young we feel internally, he’s playing basketball, where actual age is pushed into the harsh light of day. My suggestion to him—try a book club.)

While I feel so shockingly like a kid still, at the same time, I’m reminded of my favorite Deana Carter lyric: “I still remember when 30 was old.” Because I remember 30 feeling so very far away, I know how I seem to the 22 year olds who take the entry level jobs at our office. For the first time this year, we turned on March Madness and I thought, what is this, the Peewee league? Who are these babies? I realized that many of them are closer in age to my 6 year old than they are to me.

I look at my mom and dad in the video, looking like a mom and dad. I look at myself now, and I think, here we are—the parents of little ones. We feel on the cusp between younger and older. Although I’m not sure that that’s accurate. I keep waiting to be as old as I thought I’d be when I was in my 20s, in my 30s. I imagine that, aside from the body aging, you always feel a little bit on the cusp. You always wonder how your age keeps increasing, and how you are still so young. You feel, in a way, like you are fooling someone, cheating somehow. You never feel like you are old enough to be this age. You never feel like you’ve learned it all, you know it all, you are set. The more you learn, the less you realize you know. Is it one of life’s great jokes—that we actually are forever young? And I guess, I hope that is the case. I hope we are always curious. I hope we always have wonder. I don’t want to live forever, but I hope we are always young.

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