This is 38-and-a-half: Taylor Harris Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"Sometimes I’m really sad and scared that we can’t stop time."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I’ve started “The Oldster Questionnaire.”
Here, Taylor Harris—author of the forthcoming memoir, This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown— responds. - Sari Botton
How old are you?
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
18... until I teach a group of 18 year olds. But at 18, I left my hometown for college in another state, and my older sister was at the same university for law school. So I had this sense of independence and accomplishment—I had left home, even with an anxiety disorder—but I was still someone’s little sister, and I felt safe having her 10 minutes away. Maybe it’s the sweet mix of independence and security that keeps 18 close to my heart. I’m still facing life with some serious anxiety and imposter syndrome, but I’ve got the protection of my family, which now includes my husband and three kids. My eldest is especially empathic and often reminds me that 38 is not old.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I don’t feel old for 38 if I’m just walking around a cul-de-sac or Target, but I feel old for 18. I’m also realizing that I never outgrew my nuclear family’s birth order. As the youngest of three girls, I find myself drifting back to—maybe even actively maintaining—my role as the youngest in the family. Like how old can the youngest really be? Can I see PG 13 movies yet? And because my sisters look so young and are total bosses, sometimes I forget that we’re aging until one of us has a birthday. My oldest sister turns 45 soon, and there’s a disconnect in my brain because she looks 30 at most, and we still joke about many of the things we used to joke about, so there’s no way I’m 38.
As the youngest of three girls, I find myself drifting back to—maybe even actively maintaining—my role as the youngest in the family. Like how old can the youngest really be? Can I see PG 13 movies yet?
I feel the oldest for 38 when I see women my age running marathons or doing gymnastics and imagine the enormous effort it would take for me to do a cartwheel or run drills on the tennis court as I did for many years. And I used to be really bothered by THOSE lists: like best 20 under 20 or 35 under 35. I do have some friends who have made those lists. I have friends from college who work in the White House and run intensive care units and do all sorts of things I can’t imagine doing—ever. But I’ve started settling into the idea that this is my life at 38: writer, wife, mom, teacher, Peloton-er at the bottom of the leaderboard. I’m scared of getting older so quickly, but I don’t think I’d really go back to 18 if I could.
What do you like about being your age?
I like that “Black don’t crack,” so I’ve got an advantage over the melanin-challenged. I had my first colonoscopy last week, and as the nurse pulled down my mask to replace it with an oxygen mask, she remarked how young I looked. Before I drifted off, I told her I’d like to be best friends please. Another nurse thought I was an undergrad. I loved those women long before the drugs hit me. I don’t drink alcohol, so I never get to test my age in that way, but the other day, a college student said she liked my blouse, and I almost needed my inhaler. My blouse? From the LOFT? Which is next door to CHICO’S? Okay, I guess I still got it, a li’l bit.
What is difficult about being your age?
Sometimes I’m really sad and scared that we can’t stop time. I don’t mind being 38, but can I spend more than one year being 40? If I’m honest, I’m starting to feel closer to the end than the beginning, and that frightens me. I don’t need to be 18, and I certainly don’t want to be in a pandemic forever, but these long days trick me into thinking time has slowed when it hasn’t.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
In some ways, I feel like I’m starting my career, whatever that means? My debut memoir comes out in January, and I’m teaching a college class for the first time. I’ve been writing and publishing for some time, but I’ve also seen myself as primarily a stay-at-home mom. When I was younger, I couldn’t have imagined this shift coming at 38. Maybe I assumed I’d be settled in my career long before 30, have some kids along the way, and be “highly successful” by 40. Like on one of those lists. Funny thing is, I never defined what success would be for me. I didn’t want to be president or CEO of anything, didn’t want to be a surgeon or an astronaut, but I wanted to “make it.”
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Aging has given me lived experiences, which help to ground me when I feel insecure. Not so much “I’m older so I know more than you,” but more like, “You’re really smart, but here’s what I know to be true, and my story deserves space.”
It’s also taken away some security. Even though we rationally know we could die any day, I try not to live my life thinking about it. But even if I don’t get to live as long as Abraham, aging pushes me a little closer to an end, forces me to reckon with it.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
I often find my place in relation to others, so when I’m around those much younger, I’m like, “Oh, I’m not a college student” and that’s a good thing. I feel confident. And when I look at my grandmother, who is 89 and still wears heels and drives, I think, “I’m not even close to 89, and 89 still looks pretty good!” Granted, I think Grandma Betty is some kind of alien unicorn force on a pilgrimage to hand out $20 bills at Christmas, but seeing her gives me hope. I feel secure. Overall, I’m not startled when I look in the mirror or consider my age when I fill out medical forms, but at any given time, I’d like to be able to shave off 5-7 years and just stay there for a while. There is, at 38, an undercurrent of longing, and I think it’s a longing for control—a response to time not caring about me.
There is, at 38, an undercurrent of longing, and I think it’s a longing for control—a response to time not caring about me.
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
Sometimes it’s hard to hear peers say they’ve been in their careers for 15 years. Then I go scrambling back in my mind, trying to figure out how to describe my last 15 years. I mean, I’ve got these kids, but they’ve got kids sometimes, too. I mean, I love my kids. But they love their kids, and this kind of comparison is the worst, but I do fall prey to it sometimes. So I don’t know if I missed a milestone, but part of me still wants to be able to say, “I’ve been in my career for 20 years, see?” Like I want someone to stamp my resume or something.
This is weird, but I’ve always loved gray hair, especially against brown skin. Since I was a little girl, I’ve looked forward to going gray. Even though I’m scared of aging, I look forward to going gray and rocking an edgy asymmetrical bob like wut.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
There’s still something about those college years, maybe 20. I have this picture from my 20th birthday, where my hair is cornrowed, and my sister is taking me out to dinner in Charlottesville. I’m cheesing and full of life, and my middle sister, whose birthday is the day before mine, will also come celebrate with me soon, and she has just turned 25. See how safe we are here, as sisters? 20, 25, and 26. We are untouchable together, protected by our youth, it seems. I wouldn’t go back, though. I was safe in that moment because it was my first time in that moment. It wouldn’t be the same if I returned.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
My Grandma Betty. She’s a boss who drinks hot water and eats sprouts during the day so she can eat a quart of ice cream at night. Goals.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
Oof. I’ve started to consider eating less ice cream, honestly. It became my thing during the pandemic, and I will always love dessert, but maybe I should switch my IG to @writingforicecreamSOMETIMESduh. I have a family history, as we all do, and I don’t want to live without sweets, but I don’t want a doctor to look at me and say, “Hey, you might be putting yourself at risk for xyz.” Did I mention I’m prone to shame? The Peloton has helped to balance out the pandemic ice cream, and because instructor Tunde Oyeneyin is about my age and still looks amazing, I feel like I’m still young enough to get it when I’m on the bike.
Style-wise, I will sometimes splurge on an item from Anthropologie if it flatters my body or sparks joy while draining my wallet. I can’t just buy clothes at Forever 21 anymore. I’d rather have fewer items that are a good fit.
Beauty-wise—this is so interesting—but I had to see a dermatologist for the first time in ages. I guess I got adult-onset acne? I felt 13 again but not in a good way. So I’ve started paying more attention to my skin and not taking my hair for granted, because it grows much more slowly now. And I cherish my freckles because they seem unique to me. They’ve sorta been there all along but are really showing out as I get older. Good for them.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
Hear me on this: I will not wear just any old comfortable shoes. I do prefer flats, which some may say aren’t stylish anyway. But for me, the flats must be fashionable. And don’t you dare gift me a pair of Skechers. My first pair of baby shoes were sneakers, and I’ve been very particular about my sneakers since. It’s not that they have to be spotless or expensive. I will stalk shoes until they go on sale, and I love when they get a little worn. It’s more about the quality and color scheme for me. New Balances tend to be my favorite casual sneakers. I go to Nisolo for boots, and I don’t regret my Rothys purchases, even though my surgeon says they are the new Dansko clogs.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult?
How do you celebrate yours? Here’s where my “baby of the family” issues really show up. I WANT A WHOLE DAY. Let’s do gifts and treats from morning til midnight. I don’t want a parade or a ton of people hanging around. I don’t want to explore a museum or hang glide because experiences are better. I want texts and presents and cake and ice cream. Maybe, after all these years, I am actually still 5.
Taylor Harris is a writer, wife, and mom of three who likes living in college towns. Her work has appeared in TIME, O Quarterly, The Washington Post, Longreads, The Cut, Romper, Parents, McSweeney’s, and other publications. She is the author of the upcoming book This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown.