“Sawah, how many are you?” Morgan asked me from the back seat.
I glanced in the rearview mirror to initiate the eye contact necessary when trying to communicate with a four-year-old, but Cooper interrupted before I could open my mouth.
“I know how many you are, Sawah!” he shouted from the way back. “Thuwteen.”
13. Period. He splurted it out so fast the two syllables sounded more like an involuntary tick than a word. I saw the satisfied smirk of a kid who just won a race no one else knew they were running come across his face as he waited for my response. He didn’t care if he got the answer right, he buzzed in first and that was all that mattered.
“Nope,” I answered, smiling as I turned my eyes back to the road. “I’m a hundred. One hundred years old.”
These kids have almost no concept of numbers or age, so it’s fun to imagine them thinking that I, a 24-year-old who by most accounts looks like she’s 17, am what a centenarian looks like.
“Oh yeah, I fowgot,” Cooper chimed back in. Right, Cooper. I’m so sure you already knew that thing I told you that is a) completely false and b) not even remotely in the ballpark of the first answer you so confidently gave to the question that was never intended for you but okay buddy, good job.
Thankfully, this was one of the times I did not let myself get pulled into one of the inevitable black holes that pop up when a person who likes to argue is alone for half of her days and spends the other half with a couple of children.
“Shut that shit down, Sarah,” I have to tell myself before things get too out of hand. “Let’s not get into a debate over who did or didn’t know something before they said it with a person who eats his boogers.” Sometimes it works.
These kids really do have almost no concept of age, other than that theirs makes them different. And when you’re a kid, those differences are huge. Four and a half is distinctly different from four, as any four-and-a-half-year-old will tell you with their insistence on saying the “and a half.”
They reinvent themselves with each +1 and look back on the “them” from 365 days prior like an outdated operating system. “Oh, you’re still running You 4.0?,” they might say if they had any clue what software was but obviously they don’t because they literally think Alexa is a real person living inside that little cylinder, “That’s cute, I’m on me 6.5.” With each birthday, they get so excited about what the next update will hold.
For kids, age is a main point of conversation. There are no new years resolutions or far-flung ten-year plans, just enthusiastically voiced daydreams about “when I’m five.” If the playground is a networking event, “How many are you?” is the “So, what do you do?” of toddlerdom.
But for how common a topic of conversation it is for kids, age is something I rarely hear anyone discuss in the adult world. The neat, clearly defined levels separating you from everyone else at the campus Starbucks all but disappear after 21. The cues we can use to determine the length of someone's life tenure become fewer and more superficial.
Besides those I know from school and growing up, I have no idea how old my friends are. They’re probably vaguely in their mid-20s, but really I don’t know. A couple years’ difference mattered a lot when it was the difference between 12 and 14 or 14 and 16, but 24 and 26? 26 and 28? Yeah, I don’t care how old you are. I can only imagine those gaps will become less and less remarkable as I age, just as I find and have already found that I’d rather spend time with people who share my values and interests than with those who share my birth year.
It’s very equalizing, this “age doesn’t matter” thing. I can be older than you or younger than you or the exact same age as you and it changes nothing. We can still hang out, and I can still learn something from you and you can still learn something from me and we can both learn totally new things together because what really does matter is that we all want to learn and grow and enjoy whatever time we do have because whether you’re 10 or 100 you can never know how long that will be.
I like that I can qualify myself with experiences instead of quantifying myself with age. I know that a married person has experiences and knowledge I could never understand as a single person, though I don’t think it particularly matters when they got married. I know I could learn a ton about discipline and commitment and drive from a 60-something-year-old person who’s worked at the same company for 40 years, but I also kind of think that same person could learn something about discipline and commitment and drive from a 20-something-year-old person who’s never had a job and works for himself.
I have a journey ahead of me. I put it ahead of me a couple of years back, but now it’s not so much in the distant future as it is sitting right on the tip of my nose, staring me in the face and making everything else around it blurry. At the end of March, I’ll be dropped off at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail and start walking toward Canada. I’ll turn 25 on the trail, presuming I make it that far. By then I’ll have met dozens of people - other people like me - who’ve sacrificed everything to walk 2,659.8 miles through the wilderness. It won’t matter if they’re 13 or 100 or anywhere in between, because every last goddamn one of us will have just walked 700 miles through the SoCal desert with all our food, water, and everything else we need to survive strapped to our backs.
As I look at the journey ahead, I want to look forward in terms of experiences, not time. Time is always passing, and it will continue to pass, and we may not even notice it but for the fact that we keep going to sleep and waking up to new days with new possibilities. It’s true for me at 24 and will be true for me at 25 and 35 and 75 and 100, and, though I had a whole world of other things on my mind at the time, it was true for me at 13.
In a little over two months, I’ll fly to San Diego and start my journey. It’s not 2017 anymore. This isn’t happening “next year” anymore. I’ve turned the corner into January, and fuck now I barely even have January anymore! All this looming of the trail has made me realize how much I have to cherish where I am, because, after the trail, it may never be the same again.
Right now I’m sitting in the dining room of the family for whom I nanny, waiting to go get child #2 from school to go to an appointment. After I leave them, I’ll go to the rock climbing gym with Cam and whoever else. Tomorrow I’ll drive the kids around and come home and teach a yoga class and go to sleep and wake up and do it all again. I’ll stay out too late at a show this Friday and probably go play outside some and Sunday will come and we’ll watch a movie and I’ll wake up on Monday and figure out what needs to get done. That’s what I do now.
I don’t know what I’ll do when I finish the trail. I don’t know where I’ll be. Mentally, I mean. Physically I should be somewhere in Canada or else I’ve made a terrible navigational error. But mentally and directionally, I have no clue. That’s scary! I like my now. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever liked my now this much for what it is, without yearning for the past or living only for the future. But I know whatever comes next will be what it needs to be, so I have to make the most of my now while it’s still mine.
So, in the interest of awareness and impressing upon myself how urgent this shit is, here’s what I have left, measured in things that are important to me that I better make the most of while I have them.
Weeks: 9 ish
Months: 2 and some change
Yoga Classes: 27 currently scheduled
Days w/the Kids: 42 😭
Concerts: 6 (unless anyone has a Borgore @ Bomb Factory ticket they’re tryna get rid of, HMU and let’s make it 7!!!)