I have this sprinkling of gray hairs dotting along my forehead. Mostly, I don’t even know they’re there. My natural hair color tends somewhere between strawberry blonde and auburn, and it’s easy to see how these could blend in. But they catch me by surprise when I am close enough to a mirror to see them. Mostly, I don’t feel that I could possibly be old enough for gray hairs. Mostly, I feel as though I’m just playing at this house thing, and that I’m still sixteen and dreaming big. Mostly, I just think those hairs are nothing but a little highlight from the sun. But really, these hairs are not just a little lightened. Really, they are gray. And when I see those gray hairs, I’m jolted back to reality. I am not sixteen — I am twice that.
We had workers in our house for a few days installing our new furnace and air-conditioning. They were courteous guys, good natured and understanding when my kids asked questions about their work. And then when they needed to tell me something, there it came: “Ma’am? I’d like to show you how to use your new thermostat.” Ma’am? Me? I guess so. I still feel like I should get carded for buying a bottle of wine. But instead, I am burping a babe on my shoulder, dragging around a toddler wrapped around my leg, following this work man into the hallway to listen to him explain our new thermostat. Yes, I guess ma’am fits.
It can surprise me, too, when so many of the professional people I deal with during a day happen to be my age, too. The insurance agent, the representative from the bank. The dental hygienist, the teachers at school. We are leading our communities, we are contributing in meaningful ways to our world. This work is no longer done by those of a distant generation, but now it is my generation at the helm. Instead of looking up to those who are older, I see now that somehow I am old enough to shoulder this responsibility. I am trusted.
Some days it is hard to believe that I’m old enough to be called an adult; that I bear the responsibility of a 30 year fixed rate mortgage, a car that needs regular oil changes and three tiny people that call me “Mommy.” Somewhere along the way I went from imagining what that adult life would be like to actually living this grown-up life. It creeps up on you, doesn’t it? There is a bumper sticker I’ve seen, usually fixed on a minivan full of kids driven by a parent my age, that reads “I used to be cool.” Now, I’m not sure if I ever embodied cool, but the sentiment is still the same: I am no longer that which I once was. And in so many ways, that is a good thing. I no longer wear mismatched socks; I no longer think my voice needs to be the loudest to be heard. I might not know the cool songs on the radio any more, but I have learned that that’s ok. I have learned the grace of an apology, and the value of good, hard listening. These are things that I have gained through the years.
And I bear these well–earned years in my body, too. The gray hairs at my temples. The crows feet (or dare we call them laugh lines?) at the crinkly corners of my eyes. The bags under my eyes. I can’t say that I wear it all well, but it is a badge of honor to recognize the work of these years. Yes, I am tired. Tired like I could never have understood at the age of sixteen. Do you remember being a teenager and sleeping until noon? I do. But this kind of tired I have now is hard earned, and when my head does finally hit the pillow at night, I can close my eyes satisfied at the work of my days.
I know that these gray hairs will multiply, and eventually I’ll have to decide what to do about them. I won’t be able to tuck them behind my ear forever. For now, though, I’ll casually refer to them as my natural highlights.