My sister has a theory that everyone has a mental age — the age that you think you are, no matter how many birthdays pile up.
In my head, I’ve been stuck at 30. Not because I fear aging or the big 4-0 that’s coming next year. I’ve felt 30 since I was 10, when I started saddling myself with more grown-up worries than necessary.
But now I’m feeling older. More middle-aged.
This realization started dawning while watching My So-Called Life in syndication, for the first time since it was in prime time.
The short-lived drama debuted in 1994, the year I got married. The year after I graduated college. The year I was 22, not far removed from my own teen years.
At the time, I considered it a show about teen angst. The protagonist, Angela, is a high school student in the middle of self-discovery. She is slightly rebellious, in love with a dangerous boy, and friends with a couple of misfits with dramatic issues.
I identified with Angela’s stress over tiny details and fitting in and finding her voice.
Now, I’m much closer in age and stage to Angela’s parents. I identify more with their angst than hers, and it’s difficult to even finish an episode. Despite the excellent writing and acting and my own nostalgia, the entertainment value has faded.
When Angela speaks disrespectfully to her parents, I feel their pain. When she’s embarrassed by their affection and attention, I empathize with them, not her.
It’s the same kind of feeling I get while observing life in transition at a friend’s house. The “baby” of the family has moved out of the house and into an apartment.
The young man is understandably giddy, posting updates on Facebook about furniture and rent and his first night on his own.
And though I know moving out is a part of growing up, I struggle to match his jubilation because I know how devastated his mom, my friend, is feeling.
She recognizes his need for independence but longs to keep him home.
It’s the same kind of feeling I got last weekend on the streets of downtown Austin.
Some fellow mom friends and I were attending a PTA leadership seminar. Friday night, after dinner and a viewing of the bats escaping the Congress Street bridge, we sought a pleasant place to visit.
Sixth Street was out of the question. We didn’t want to shout over the music and crowds. We found a swanky hotel lounge instead, with clean tables and comfortable chairs and lively but mild music.
We walked back to our own hotel via Sixth Street. And while the people watching was entertaining, I was more concerned for the well being of some of the young people. The mom in me is difficult to suppress.
Young woman with the high-cut shorts, low-cut top and platform sandals, you are showing too much skin. Does your mother know how you’re dressed and where you are?
Young man who has had too much to drink, you should not stand on the sidewalk of a crowded street and shout obscenities. Would you want the family who raised you to know about this scene you’re creating?
See? Middle-aged mom.
Of course, it makes sense that my mental age is creeping up. I can’t ignore the passage of time or the fact that my older child is closer to being a teenager than a toddler. I can’t deny my own life experiences that make me worry for the young people around me.
I’m content to settle in at a mental 40 and hang out for a while. Maybe a good 20 years.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.