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Amy Choate-Nielsen: As the new school year begins, I know I’m getting old

Amy Choate-Nielsen isn’t middle-aged yet, but time sure is getting her there fast. Middle age is knocking on her door. But don’t worry, she doesn’t plan to answer. She’s going outside to look at cloud animals with her kids.

There’s a weird thing that happens when you’re still in your 30s, but middle age is knocking on your door.

It’s disorienting. On one hand, I’m still young, but on the other, I feel myself speeding past the traffic markers of phases of my life that I thought would never come. Whoosh, there goes the street sign for having babies. Zip, there goes the block of diapers. In a flash, naps are gone. I’m feeling the pressure pushing me into my seat as time only accelerates as each sign goes by, racing toward the end of baby teeth and Barbies, rocketing toward high school — and where is the stop sign? How do I slow this thing down?

That’s when I know I’m old. I have officially passed parts of my life that required adulthood to experience, like potty training another human being and teaching them to speak, and I will never experience that again with my own children. My face has wrinkles, my hair is turning white, and in one week my youngest child will be in first grade. FIRST GRADE. So there goes the preschool/kindergarten street. It passed so quickly I could hardly read the words on the sign. In just a moment, I’ll no longer be a mother of young kids. You can’t be old and have young kids. You can be young and have old kids, but not the other way around. So what happens when the young kids are gone?

Old age.

This is so confusing.

How can I be old when I remember being 10 years old like it was yesterday? I think I was just barely a teenager myself. It feels like I graduated high school just a few years ago, and my friends all look the same. Except, what feels like just a few years ago is really 22, and lots of things have changed. The world itself has changed.

I tried really hard to live in the present moment as all of those street signs were passing me by. I spent days at the park, just watching my children bumble around, tripping on the wood chips, digging in the rubber scraps. I encouraged them to figure out the slides and the monkey bars on their own. I laid on the ground and stared at the sky and talked about what shapes we saw in the clouds.

Then again, I remember wishing my kids were potty trained. There were some nights when they were brand-new, waking up every hour, that I thought, “I can’t wait until this baby is four months old and can sleep four hours at a time.” When they were old enough to be mobile but not old enough to be safe on the stairs and I chased them every minute, I remember feeling so exhausted that I couldn’t wait for them to learn how to walk safely, so I could just take a break.

Even last year when my youngest started kindergarten, I knew what was coming. I knew first grade was coming, but I still occasionally thought about how ridiculous the kindergarten schedule is, and I looked forward to when he would be in first grade and I wouldn’t have to chase him through Costco anymore when I did the grocery shopping.

I couldn’t wait until my oldest was old enough to babysit, and my husband and I could go on dates without needing to find someone else to come watch the kids. And it is pretty great, I must say. But that long-anticipated benefit means that she is that much closer to learning how to drive a car. When she was a little, I had four years before she even started preschool. But now, the difference of four years is monumental. It’s high school and driving. I don’t even want to think about her dating.

So this is the irony of life. There’s always something to look forward to — and always something to miss. The place in between refuses to slow down.

Sometimes the place in between is sibling arguments and housework. Boring days, or days filled with drama. Sometimes the place in between is sad and hard, and it isn’t fun at all. But I’ve learned that in a blink, even that place will speed by, too.

I’m 39. Middle age is knocking on my door. But don’t worry, I don’t plan to answer. I’m going outside to look at cloud animals with my kids.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.