Just a couple weeks ago, the Marlborough senior class was faced with a question I find immensely stressful: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I, for one, had no idea what to say. At various points in my life, I’ve wanted to be different things. While basketball player, Dread Pirate Roberts, and penguin are probably impracticable options now, my elementary-school career choice of novelist/artist/singer/dancer/baker/bookshop-owner/actress/superhero still sounds like a good plan to me. But when does “when you grow up” start? When can you say that you’ve gotten there?
When I grow up, I want to be an old woman. I want to be me, I guess, but a cool future me. This is a pretty solid long-term goal; not everyone gets there, so I’m aiming high but realistically. I want to have a Winnie-the-Pooh themed hundredth birthday party, with strings of lights and colored lanterns hanging from the trees, and tables covered in glass votives of wildflowers and piles of food for all my friends and relations. I want to keep my white hair long, and wear it in a braid down my back, or in a ballet bun. I want to wear Birkenstocks over socks. I want to paint a mural on my garage door and have the neighborhood children come and help. I want to always have a smudge of flour on my cheek and a bit of paint on my long, flowing skirt.
I want a sunlight-filled kitchen with a table in the middle, usually occupied by a visiting friend, or seven. I want my house to be filled with books. I want my house to feel like a home. I want to paint my rooms with the colors of nature—moss, seafoam, sky blue. I want to paint my rooms with colors that sound edible—mocha, strawberry, chocolate malt. I want to have a brook near my home, and sit on a rock every now and then and wonder where the water is going, even though I know. I want to have guests to dinner every other night. I want to plant a victory garden. I want to learn to write with my left hand, my toes, backwards. I want to learn the names of all of the first ladies. I want to read as many books as I can, always forming a better and better conception of the world I live in. I want to write a bestseller at 89, and act in a movie at 90. I never want to stop learning and never want to stop loving learning.
It’s not that I can’t wait to be old. On the contrary, I want to wait as long as I can. It’s that I want to grow into the kind of old person who I admire, to have my life filled with things and people that bring me joy. Growing up, to me, encompasses both career paths and donut-muffins, family and 005 drawing pens, investments and plastic zoo animals. I guess the whole point is that I want to be in a place by the time I’m old where I’m ready to be old, where being old just means being me. I want to look around at my hundredth birthday and love where I am and who I’m with and what I’m doing, but still wonder what I’m going to be when I grow up.