The checkout girl, no more than 20, looks up at me. I'm not sure if it’s the lines around my eyes, the weary look of parental defeat, my inability to follow the credit card machine prompts, or my pile of washable cotton basics, and she says, “are all your kids at school today?”
A punch to the gut. Here I am, a 40 year old, in Forever 21. I’d previously failed to notice that everyone around me is 20 years my junior and every shirt is a crop top with some ridiculous bold phrase, “allergic to mornings,” “babes do it better,” “made in the nineties.” Ugh, or seventies. I struggle to find anything wearable in the store that used to be my cheap girl Mecca. It's been a few years since I set foot in the place, I’m now three kids deep and a stay at home mom instead of a hairstylist. At least when I did hair, style was an expectation. I was excused from the pragmatism of mom wear, because I was repping a hip industry.
For the first time, I’m self conscious of my presence here, painfully aware that I've passed an age threshold. I still feel like the 21 year old that wore risqué trends and walked around bare bellied like she owned the place. There are moments when my current life seems like a dream that I've stepped into, as if I woke to a house full of kids after a long night at the bar. Who even is this girl? And, can I call myself a girl anymore?
Sometimes it feels dispiriting to think about the excitement that I'll never have again, to be aware that parts of my life are now completely known, no mystery as to how the story ends. No day dreaming about my future house or children or husband, loved as they may be. They're here now. We’re living it. That girl is someone to reminisce upon, her adventures things of the past. I allow a twinge of sadness as I say adieu to her, the uncharted possibilities she encompassed, walking out of Forever 21 for what will likely be the last time.
I'm forced to recognize that when I was her and she was me, she was an unknown to even herself, fumbling through life and love, making mistakes left and right, assuming she knew it all. She was uncomfortable in her own skin, experimenting with ways of being, trying to find her self worth, her identity, approval. She was selfish, often hurtful with her thoughtless words, impatient and obtuse.
Becoming a parent forced an evolution that could only have occurred through the necessity to focus on people other than myself. Patience and selflessness created a sensitivity that was lacking. I've grown immeasurably because of the permanence that is my family, my responsibility. The loss of freedom and time that goes hand in hand with parenting has created a much stronger woman who prioritizes only the things that matter. I have a resilience to criticism that wouldn't have existed before, because the only opinions that truly matter are contained within the walls of my home.
My youth may be taking leave, but the truth is that the story of my life as a woman is just beginning. I'm more than just a has been buying $4 leggings at Forever 21. I'm creating futures for three beautiful children. I'm crafting the foundation for their youths, carefully curating experiences for them to build upon, opportunities to explore who they are and what they love. I'm busy solidifying identities to instill confidence and worth, exposing them to as much as I can to peak their curiosity and desire for knowledge. What's more, I'll get to witness the excitement that is their 20’s, stumbling from one experience to the next, as they learn themselves.
The day shall come when I'll see myself through their teenage and adult eyes, and I'll unravel all over again, our dynamics teaching me what is and isn't working.
As empty nesters, my husband and I will make ourselves anew in who knows how many ways.
The journey is far from over, an evolution after every season of life. I find myself with tears in my eyes as I think of that 21 year old girl, silly and excitable, naive and bold, searching for her place. But, it is with tears and joy, intertwined, that I picture myself as a 60 year old woman, story more than half written, finale yet to be determined. I adore that these two women will have inhabited the same skin, given breath to so many vastly different adventures, none more or less important than others to the making of a woman, the sculpting of a life. They will have seen through the same eyes, but interpreted what they behold from evolving perspectives, none more right than the last, just differently informed.
And, one day, my daughter will look into the mirror and behold who she was, is and has yet to become. Each layered upon one another, maybe not gone, just within. I guess a part of us will always be forever 21...