Tomorrow, I turn 45.
As a marketer, I think a lot in demographics, so this particular age means something to me. As weird as it felt last year, realizing that I was about to leave 35-44 behind, I’m excited to tackle 45-54.
I’m EXCITED to be 45. I want to take back the negative connotations that number has come to mean to me as a woman in these past several years.
I want to Make 45 Great Again, you might say.
Stranger than being excited about 45, though, is how much I feel a lot younger. Between being displaced in my industry due to Covid and sifting through my childhood during my dad’s downsizing move and my mom’s “Hey why don’t you go through stuff here too?” reasonable requests, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past four weeks being confronted with, and getting to know in many ways for the first time, Past Jen.
What always hits first are the memories of having few friends, and reading a lot when I was young. I was shy. VERY shy.
What I didn’t remember was being attached to dolls or stuffed animals of any kind.
But when I was home over the weekend, I had a real “We determined THAT was a lie” moment. First, my sister brought over my birthday presents, and had included a Holly Hobbie doll and a Poochie stuffed dog she had found in her things. And when I saw them, flashbacks ensued.
The Holly Hobbie rag doll was born the same year I was, and Poochie came along in the early-mid 80s. With Holly, it was easy. There was a rag doll. I owned one. She was huggable and basic, and covered the needs of a very young child who was afraid of people.
By the time Poochie came along, there was the whole merchandising wave of 80s toys and action figures. There were plush dogs, there were stampers, there were little dog-shaped clips…and I had them all.
What I didn’t expect, with either of these, was the emotion that would rush to the surface. I grabbed those stuffed remnants of childhood and hugged them as closely as you would hug anyone you never expected to see again. And later that day, when I went up to the old attic to make sure that there was nothing else I needed, there was more hugging.
My old toy box, still intact but falling apart, full of items like a little stole I had in kindergarten that matched a little “grown-up kid” coat I loved. A portrait of me at maybe two? still wrapped in the original plastic. Old scratch and sniff markers that long since lost their scents. A tiny little colored pencil set meant for tiny little hands. A stuffed bear I had gotten at Mount Rushmore. My KU basketball camp shoes from the year I got to rap Beastie Boys with – and be coached by – Lynette Woodard, the first female Harlem Globetrotter. A book from a series I loved when I started college and struggled with a second, crushing wave of shyness, because its characters were also starting college, and there was an overweight character I strongly identified with, who was scared of people, but joined the college newspaper staff anyway.
And later, at my mom’s, there were copies of all of my staff newspapers, from high school to Cottey College to The Vernon County Record (my short-lived post-college newspaper career paper). There was a high school paper I’d written about Macbeth, with snarky comments from a smug English teacher (“Nice effort, my dear. Nice effort. Your metaphors are cute, but don’t use them. But this part is good, even great.”) whom I hadn’t liked then and definitely didn’t like on second read, decades later. (Several of his comments were dead on and constructive, to be fair. Also, I hadn’t actually read Macbeth, so I felt lucky to have snuck by with a B+.)
There was a folder full of my terrible grades from college astronomy, a class I took because I like, really liked stars and stuff. God, did that class make me realize how much I should have taken biology.
There were newspapers covering my high school graduation, my son’s birth, the opening of my grandfather’s baseball museum. There was a photo album full of my son’s childhood that I had spent five years thinking had accidentally gone into a box of donated items after he graduated.
There was the doll my mom had made for me, dressed in a replica NHS tennis outfit with a “Novak”-emblazoned letter jacket, ponytail adorned with all four of my graduation tassels – something else I thought was lost to the hastily-assembled donation collection.
But the biggest find for me after the weekend of confronting another 2020 goodbye was how much this year of loss brought me back to face the girl I have always been. Now, as then, I’m starting from the beginning. The industry I loved is gone. I’m pulling from distant memories and courses, trying to put together a resume that proves I know something aside from working at a movie theater, even though all I really want to do is grab a book and my Itty Bitty Book Light and my Holly Hobbie doll and hide under the covers until it’s safe again.
Until it is safe, though, there is something very comforting in having a few things that brought me solace at different stages of my life, all under the same roof again. Regardless of how ridiculous it may seem, I’m hugging them all, even my basketball shoes, extra tight.
And, you know what? I think it helps.
Song of the day: I never thought of myself as a Taylor Swift fan, but her new album, Folklore, is a beautiful auditory ride. Her song exile, with Bon Iver, hits just right.