16 March 2009

Who now?

"Going through that stack of photos last night, I found an Olan Mills family portrait of us," Mom said. She was speaking to Dad and me, and because she uses pronouns liberally--I would argue excessively--I asked, "Of who?" (Yes, I should've said 'whom.')

"Of our family." I scanned my memory and couldn't recall having had that portrait taken. Mom continued, referring to me, "I must've been about your age in that photo."

Now it really didn't make sense. How could she have been my age with me also in the photo? I pictured her as fifteen with her immediate family. "Who was in the photo?" I asked.

"You, your father, brother, and me," she said.

"How could I have been in the photo then?"

"You were sitting on my lap."

And then it dawned on me: I'm 35 and my mom had me when she was 34. "I was a baby."

"Well, not that little. You had a flowery dress on."

I grimaced and thought, Little enough I wasn't protesting wearing dresses. "A toddler."

Mom said, "No, I don't think you were two yet."

I started doing the math. "15 months. No, it's March, a year and half." That would explain why I didn't recall sitting for the portrait.

"Why didn't you think you'd be in the photo?"

"I was thinking you'd be 15."

"But I said I was your age."

"I know." At the time, I thought, I must subconsciously think of myself as fifteen. And I can see how that's totally possible right now, but it's also kind of depressing, so I think I've got it figured out today.

I knew I didn't remember any such photo having been taken or even having seen it. For me to have forgotten, it would've had to have been taken a really long time ago. While pondering the possibility, I thought of a candid group shot of my brother and two of my cousins that was taken when I was about 15--well, more like 13 since my bro and one cousin would still have had to have been in high school, probably no older than 14. Ok, I'm derailing my own logic.

Well, Mom really does overuse pronouns. I didn't have much faith that I'd understood correctly to begin with. True, but weak. On the upside, even if I do feel like I'm only 15, I am, in fact, light years more self-assured than I was when I was actually 15. So that's something.

Reminds me of an old episode of Roseanne in which Roseanne says she feels like she's 16. When she asks her sister how old she feels inside, Jackie says, "12." Which makes me laugh, because I get it. Vestiges of awkwardness, uncertainty, and other aspects of self-doubt.

How old do you feel most days?

A year ago on TTaT: Ten for ten of thirty


  1. My ex had a theory that everyone has a psychological default age and that hers was 26 (though she had strong traces of 5 and 70, if you ask me). But I think it's hard not to permanently feel like a teenager, because that's when you first become self-conscious. Not as in "insecure," but as in "conscious of having/being a self." So it imprints pretty hard. I think I'm 11.

  2. I'm starting to think of it as having 'emotional memory' vs. 'factual memory' or perhaps better phrased as 'fact-based memory.'

    I agree "it's hard not to permanently feel like a teenager." I think I might be envious of someone whose default age was 26... maybe.

    It's interesting how the default can vary moment to moment or day to day, along the lines of 26 w/ dashes of 5 and 70. There may be a baseline but it leaves room for variability. Sometimes I'm almost aware of the shift: like when I straighten my posture before walking into a store, I know I'm shifting my default age up. Curious.