I was sitting in a coffee shop and chatting with Bob and Liz – a retired, elderly and charming couple I’d just come to know. That’s what I like the most about New York - you can always find friendly strangers to talk to, as long as you’re observant enough to detect and filter out the homeless, the Mormons, and serial killers.
As the conversation rolled on, I shared with them that I was pregnant in the not so young age of 35 and to that, Bob replied with pride: “The best decision we’ve made in our lives was to have children in an early age. We met when we were 20, and we realized we should have kids right away, so we can still enjoy our lives in a relatively early age, after they are grown up. By the time we were 25, we had three kids”.
Oh, wow. I saw them in a totally different light now. I knew, of course, that having kids in an early age was a common thing in the past, but I’ve never actually met people who had to raise three kids before reaching their thirties.
“Wasn’t it extremely demanding to raise three kids in such an early age?” I inquired. “I mean, when I was 25, I could barely drive a car, ha ha” (I didn’t mention this is still quite true to this very day).
Liz passed her hand in her gray hair as she replied, smiling: “On the contrary. When we were 24 we were at the peak of our physical strength. We could play with our kids, chase them, have fun with them all day long. It was terrific”.
An odd mix of shame and regret slowly started to overcome me. What were we doing all those years? We wasted the best years of our lives on having careers and going out and spending money instead of dedicating them to the one thing that truly matters - kids. I could have had a 10-year-old now and be done with all the sleepless nights, the running around, the running noses and diapers. I could’ve been a young, cool mom but instead, let’s face it, at 35 I’m in one foot in the grave, and lacking the energy to climb the subway stairs. How can I start running around an infant with an endless supply of energy? I’m screwed.
“But… but… “ I was trying to salvage what little remained of my dignity and make them admit their lives weren’t as awesome as they described. “But, you guys were so young... How did you have enough money to provide for an entire family? That couldn’t be easy.”
Bob raised his coffee to his mouth with a shaky hand and took a sip before replying. “That’s the beauty of being 25. You don’t think, you just do it. I took a second job and worked my ass off and still had energy to spend time with my kids. I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult at times, working so hard and taking care of three children, but looking back – it was worth it and I wouldn’t do anything different”.
I looked at Bob and Liz who seemed to still be very much in love after all these years and I couldn’t help but reaching the painful conclusion that they did something right. I had to admit total defeat. “I wish I thought of that ten years ago”, I said. “It’s too late for me but you guys will are my new heroes. And now, I guess you’re enjoying life as you planned – traveling all over the world, chilling, spending time with the grandkids”
“Grandkids?” Liz asked. “Our firstborn is 19 years old”.
-Wait. How old are you?
I watched them as they got up slowly and leaned on each other, taking slow, careful steps towards the door. I ordered myself another cup of tea.