I always thought of myself as a young mom with time to figure things out. Turns out I’m not quite so young anymore.
The other afternoon, while passing the time home alone with my 4-month-old, I decided to take a selfie of the two of us. My baby was perched on my lap and I actually had done my hair and gotten dressed that morning, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to capture a cute mother-daughter moment.
Then I saw the picture.
And I was horrified to realize that it had happened. Suddenly, just like that, the woman staring back at me in the picture no longer matched the woman I thought I looked like in my head.
I zoomed in on the picture in horror, aghast at the deep wrinkles extending from my eyes — I looked like the real-life personification of that aging filter, except this was very much #unfiltered.
Do I really look like this? I texted my husband with a copy of the picture, the image honed in on my eyes. OMG I had no idea I had wrinkles, I texted my sister (younger than me, so she didn’t even get it, ugh).
Just like that, I realized my youth was over. Gone was the scared 22-year-old mother I had been with my first baby and in was the woman in her 30s who has both older kids and a newborn — and now, wrinkles.
Let me say that I was not horrified because of the actual wrinkles or because I had bought into the idea that for whatever reason, women should not age. I understand wrinkles are a sign of the privilege of getting older.
Like stretch marks, I’m aware wrinkles are visible signs of the love we have given and blah, blah, blah. My horror originated from the fact that I had no idea what I truly looked like, and it was a shocking moment of realization that I was officially, completely a real grown-up.
It was like I started having kids at the age of 22, then blinked, and suddenly, I was in my 30s, with the advent of aging skin and no idea how I got here.
I had spent almost my entire parenting “career” with the identity of a “young mom”; I was the mom who was still figuring things out, who had a lot of life before me, who could take my time before I had the answers that “older” moms seemed to innately have.
But when I looked at my picture that day, it felt like a monumental turning point in my life, when I realized two very important things: 1) I never should have stepped foot in those stupid tanning booths in high school and 2) it was time to embrace the mom I am today.
Seeing my wrinkles that day changed something in me. It shifted my identity from the “young,” first-time mom to seeing myself in new eyes — as an older, more established mom. I realized that I, along with my skin, had crossed a threshold.
We had both been through some things.
And essentially, I had two choices: I could either throw a toddler-sized temper tantrum at what I had left behind in my 20s or I could choose to move forward and hold my head up high, wrinkles and all.
I won’t lie. This is much easier said than done. And, if I’m being honest, I’m still moving through it. It’s a very strange moment to realize that you are officially entering into middle age. It’s a strange moment to let go of the woman you have been and step into your future — older, wiser, and er, wrinklier.
For me, coming to terms with getting older as a mother, and yet still starting over with a new baby in the house, has meant that I have had to be more intentional than ever about what I want my life as a mom, woman, and wife to look like. The simple truth is, I ain’t getting any younger — and now I have proof of that.
Unlike before, when I had the cushion of time on my side to figure things out, I now have time behind me too, and I can take advantage of that. I can look to the lessons I’ve already learned. I can evaluate what has and what hasn’t worked. I can pick and choose from a past parenting buffet, if you will.
Of course, there will never be an end to my firsts as a mother. I will be a “first-time” mom in some way for the rest of my life. But now, instead of being scared of everything that is to come, I can look back and realize that I’ve already been through so much as a mom — and I have the wrinkles to prove it.
So, bring it on, kids: the baby years and the dating, driving, college years. This wrinkled mama is ready for it all.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of five. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.