Slowing Down

By Lindsey Townsend

I don’t ride on motorcycles anymore. I never really drove one, just rode on the back of my boyfriend’s during my bad-boy period, several lifetimes ago.

Now I drive an Explorer with french fries stuck down the seats and a Big Wheel in the back. But that doesn’t stop me from competing with the BMW that’s trying to cut me off in the merge lane.

“Momma,” says my three-year-old son from his car seat. “SLOW DOWN! Policeman give you ticket!” “Oh,” I say. “You’re right. Mommy slow down.”

As I slow down, I think of all the things I don’t do anymore. I don’t play volleyball till midnight at the local bar. I don’t go to late movies. I don’t listen to live blues and slow-dance till 4:00 in the morning. I don’t get drunk and climb up two-story balconies in a prom dress. (That was just once, and there was a good explanation).

An old (childless) friend called the other day and told me she had won a sales contest and was going alone to Puerto Rico. Meet me there, she urged. Come hang out like the old days for a week. I can’t, I said. I don’t have a sitter. Even if I did, though, the truth is I don’t want to leave my son for a week, and I no longer want to bake on a beach surrounded by strangers and get margarita headaches. It has lost its appeal.

This reality hits me at midnight as I’m cleaning up my sick son’s bed, sucking up the vomit on the carpet with the Little Green Machine. What if I hadn’t married and had a child? Would I still enjoy jaunting off to Puerto Rico on a whim with a friend?

People used to tell me I didn’t look my age. Now I seem to have become that cutting-edge trend, the older mom. Yesterday an old man behind the counter at the plant shop asked my why I waited so long to have a child. “I was 34,” I said. “And trust me, I wasn’t ready to be a mother a minute before that.”

Now I take vitamins, work out at the gym for my cardiovascular health, not my abs, and feel a stab of fear when I hear that someone I know has died in their 40s. It’s our children who remind us that life is always moving, despite our protests. I have realized that I will always feel stuck somewhere around 28, despite the indisputable fact that I am pushing 40. This must be what it’s like to be 50, 60, 70…the little voice inside still insists you’re hot, although the outside tells a different story.

I love my life today. I love my husband and I love my son, “more than the sky is blue,” as I tell him in the game we play together. Green, he teases back. More than the sky is green. “Sky’s not green, it’s BLUE,” I tell him, and he laughs. I love you “more than the clouds are white,” I say. “More than clouds are yellow,” he shoots back. “Clouds aren’t yellow, they’re WHITE,” I say, and he grins. It’s our own private comedy stand-up act.

I look at these beautiful, insecure teenage girls in the mall, surreptitiously tossing their hair and glancing around to see who’s watching them. I’m you, I want to tell them. I know what you’re feeling. They would never believe that the middle-aged mom walking by them with the toddler was once pulled over by the cops driving by her boyfriend’s house wearing only a teddy. (Just checking to see if he was home, and yes, they did let me go. If it happened today, I’m not sure they would).

It has finally hit me that as unbelievable as it sounds, I am living out my mother’s life in many respects. “Just do it and it will be done,” I caught myself saying the other day.

I try to explain this to my husband, and he looks at me as if I’m crazy. “It’s just that….I’m not a babe anymore, I’m a mom,” I say. “Oh,” he says, in his usual articulate style.

Then my son comes up to sit on my lap and give me a hug. “I want THIS mommy,” he says, pointing to me. And I realize that he shows me every day how much more there is to life than increasing its speed.