I’m Still That 19-Year-Old


Recently, I had two hours to myself in New York City. This is special for many reasons, but especially because I hadn’t wandered a city by myself in over a decade. I spent my college years in Paris and my twenties exploring the world. Family life has since taken over my travel habits and I always have a companion on my adventures.

I was in the city with the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, a group of women learning about the intersectionality of voting rights, race, and faith. I debated joining others for lunch and exploring but knew I needed to set out alone. I walked a couple blocks in the drizzling rain, stopped into a shop for a vibrant pink umbrella, and continued on my way.

As I opened the umbrella and navigated my way through the crowded streets, nostalgia hit me. I spent hours of my college years walking the streets of Paris just like this, sneakers wet, umbrella low over my head, finding solitude in the crowds. I remembered how to jaywalk and pass slower pedestrians, stretching muscle memory my suburban life had forgotten.

I walked until I spotted a tiny coffee shop with a hipster hedgehog on its sign. It was narrow with a few hightop tables and a long bar looking out onto the sidewalk. I ordered a cafe au lait (something I would regret at two in the morning) and settled in for journaling and people watching.

As I watched, I played the what-if game. What if I had moved to New York after college instead of letting the mountains lure me back to Denver? What if our kids were raised in this environment? What if I never married but was able to live the (seemingly) freer life of a city professional? What if … ?

I thought about how deeply I had missed the mountains and wild nature Colorado had to offer. I had applied for jobs in New York, gone to interviews, and known deep down that pursuing other jobs when those didn’t pan out wasn’t what I really wanted. I love my suburban life: knowing my neighbors, walking my girls to school, letting them bike and play freely in the street, getting involved in our community here, and knowing hiking trails are just ten minutes away. I know most of those things are true for urban families, but I also know my place is perfect for me.

Sandra Cisneros’ short story, “Eleven” in The House on Mango Street comes to mind. It opens with this paragraph:

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”

I’m 36, but I’m also that 19-year-old walking in damp sneakers through a city that helped her transition from kid to adult. I’m 36, but I’m also that 13-year-old, dreaming of far off places and wondering what she’ll be when she grows up. I’m 36, but I’m also longing for the wisdom and confidence of a woman in her forties or fifties. I am everything that has made me and all my dreams wrapped into this number.

Finishing my coffee, I put on my coat and opened my umbrella, ready to meet up with my group. I remembered how romantic it was living in a big city and also how hard it was. I remembered feeling lonely in that sea of people, longing for green space, and feeling overwhelmed at always speaking a foreign language.

I walked back into the crowds, grateful for the reminder of that girl who made me who I am today and grateful to remember that she’s still in there.

Now back in my suburban home with a lawn and a two-car garage, I don’t know what to do with that moment. I’m not in a space where I can hop on a plane for a weekend to a bustling city. I think that’s ok. Maybe I just needed a reminder that I’m more than my life right now, while also knowing my life right now is exactly who I’m meant to be.