(My dear: This is one is for me to ask you to read when you’re a teenager, for you to actually read in your 20s, and for you to appreciate, maybe, when you’re… well, 35.)
I had heard it a few times over the years, but now that I myself am 35 years old, one day it hit my ear in a new way, and I had to ask your dad. “Why is that medio treinticinco means crazy? Is that the age when you lose your mind?” Uuy, pero ese mae está medio treinticinco, huevón.
He explained that, no, there is a simple explanation: 35 is, or at least it was at some point, the police code for a nutcase. It’s the number that crackles over the radio when a cop picks up a guy who thinks he’s a chicken, or a wild-eyed woman who believes herself capable of driving through San José in less than two hours during Friday rush hour. However, despite this clarification, I can’t help but associate the expression with my age – which is my favorite age thus far. That’s partly because of you, but also partly because blowing out candles thirty-five times seems to have freed up something in my brain. Or maybe it knocked something loose.
Sorting through mementoes at your grandparents’ house this summer, I spent more time than usual thinking about my childhood. A photo of a tanned, long-legged fourth-grader brought back a memory: that year at school, for a while at recess, the fad was to run as fast as we could. It wasn’t a PE drill or a game of tag. We’d just run helter-skelter until our hearts pounded and our throats ached. I can still see the distant fence coming closer across the field. It was pure joy.
In fifth grade – different teacher, school, city and state – recess got more complicated, and it stayed that way for more than decade. Being cool gets in the way, whether you are or you aren’t. As my daughter, you already understand instinctively that I fall squarely into the final category (and there were any doubt about that, the rest of the mementoes I found this summer put that doubt FIRMLY to rest. Thanks, sixth-grade love interest who wrote me a yearbook message in Latin. Thanks, sixth-grade self who probably thought that was awesome). In some ways, that makes life easier: I was smart enough to know a lost cause when I saw one and to be fairly content with nerd-dom, at least some of the time. But most teenagers and plenty of adults waste energy, even tears, on fitting in, and I certainly wasted my share.
This year, I’ve found myself spending more and more time running as fast as I can for sheer pleasure, so to speak. I have told more people off than in the previous ten years combined, and no longer mind so much if that annoyed them. I have surprised myself by asking for what I am worth without any of the embarrassment I would once have felt. At the same time, I no longer mind the people who think that quiet, well-mannered, reticent people are inherently weaker or worse, because that’s wrong, too. My definition of success has become broader and broader. “No” has become much easier to say.
So has “yes.” I joined a neighborhood aerobics class, which, and I say this with love, is about as uncool as you get. There’s one girl who looks like Gisele Bündchen might if she worked out a little more, but many of the rest of us look pretty goofy as we dance around – or sweaty, or dumpy, or totally lost. Suddenly, I don’t seem to care. Maybe it’s because there’s a small person at home now who thinks all the silly things I do are hilarious, but looking ridiculous at the community center has somehow become a lot of fun. I love almost any kind of Latin music, but it was so refreshing the other day when “Happy” slipped into the lineup that I danced like I had lost my mind, and maybe I had.
I look at you, so tiny, and wish I could protect you from becoming self-conscious, but adolescence is a giant wall we all have to climb over to get to the freedom on the other side – and if you don’t deal with things in adolescence, you just have to deal with them later in life, as any orthodontist will tell you. That wasted energy and those wasted tears might not be wasted at all if they bring us closer to peace of mind. Still, here’s to discovering coolness nice and late, and shaking it off as quickly as possible. Here’s to running as fast as you can for no reason whatsoever. Here’s to medio treinticinco, the code for losing it, the age of insanity. Here’s to any birthday that helps us loosen up and dance.