I can remember the first time it happened. I was at the park with my infant daughter, wearing my new-mom uniform of yoga pants and a comfortable hoodie. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, and was definitely going on minimal sleep, so my hair was in a loose ponytail near the top of my head.
It’s unlikely that I had more than a few swipes of mascara on, but “fresh-faced” seems like a generous description given how tired I was in those early days. “Casual” is a nicer way to put it, so let’s stick with that – I was in casual mode, contentedly pushing my baby on the swings at a park somewhere in the west end of Toronto.
I struck up a conversation with a woman at the next baby swing, chatting pleasantly about the nice weather and how cute her son was. She smiled appreciatively and thanked me, taking a look at my daughter. “She’s adorable, too. Do her parents live around here?”
I was confused for a second. Her parents? Who did she think this child, here in my care and with a face almost exactly like mine, belonged to?
“We live a few blocks south of here,” I offered politely. The woman looked surprised.
“Oh, sorry – I thought you were the babysitter! You look young.”
I laughed a little and told her I was 26, but her knowing look told me that wasn’t far off from her original guess. She didn’t think I was a teenager. She figured I was in my early or mid-twenties and considered that more nanny-aged than mom-aged.
It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a perspective I hadn’t thought much about.
As the weeks went on and I took my daughter to more parks, libraries and indoor play groups, I realized that she had a point. Most of the new moms I saw around Toronto were closer to 40 – some a few years older – and pretty much anyone under the age of 35 was considered “a young mom.” I was nearly ten years younger than that – which explained why I was so often asked how I liked being a nanny, or if I was available to babysit.
In some cases, age didn’t matter. I’d bond with someone over our interests or our shared experience of new motherhood. But other times, I felt like a child among grown-ups. These women had detached homes and advanced careers. I was living in a rented, 800 square foot apartment and had only graduated from university two years before having my daughter. My career was new, and while I was still freelancing, I couldn’t relate to their discussions about returning to the office early or how to hire the perfect nanny. One of the women in my playgroup circle had a son my age. She was lovely, and 43 years old.
My own mother was 50. I’ll admit that the realization was weird for us both.
There were times it worked against me, or at least resulted in a few awkward moments. I was asked more than once if “the father” was involved (yes, I’m married to him… but what if I weren’t?) or if the pregnancy had been a surprise (nope – we’d been together for six years, married for almost two, and decided to start a family). And yes, people are incredibly nosy and extremely forward – at least, they are when you have the audacity to be a young mom in the city.
(Eventually, I did start hanging out with the nannies at playgroup – they were friendly, and often less judgmental.)
Interestingly, it was often assumed that I had zero professional ambition because I had a baby. In reality, I had been working hard to start my career, and continued to work on freelance projects in the evening so I could keep a foot in the door during those crazy “young family” years. I had plans to work as much as I could while balancing family (no small feat for any parent, but God how we try) and jump back into my career full-time in a few years. This was usually met with amusement or a tinge of sympathy – couldn’t I see that I’d committed career suicide by having a baby? It was hard enough to be a working woman, let alone a working mom. There is truth to this. It is hard – but not impossible!
My son was born 19 months after my daughter, and in order to buy a house with enough space for all of us, we moved to the suburbs (vacating our now mice-ridden rental). Settling into our new home west of the city, I noticed one thing right away: I was an average mom here. I wasn’t a young mom – there were moms younger than me, a ton my age, and plenty in the older range. I was straight-up middle of the road. I went from being that cute, novelty mom in the city to fitting the status quo overnight.
And you know what? It didn’t mean anything. I loved my life in the city despite not fitting in with the local parents. The suburbs had its pros and cons, but it was definitely nice having playdates and bonding with other moms in my age group. Overall, age shouldn’t dictate who you spend your time with, but I’d be lying if it didn’t shape my experience as a new mom. Now that I’m 32 and a mother of two school-aged children, I don’t know how to feel. Average? Sort of young still, but with grey hair and stretch marks?
All I know is this: my kids think I’m old as hell, my mom still reminds me to fasten my seat belt like I’m nine, and in the end, it’s all relative.