The Perpetual Youth Of The Woman Who Had Babies Young

Anne Hathaway’s character in The Idea of You seems young because she missed out on her 20s — I can relate.

If you think Anne Hathaway looks too young to be a mom to a 16-year-old daughter in The Idea of You, you’re wrong. She’s not too young. She just is young — in that way that all young moms accidentally stay when they start having babies at a time when everyone else has agreed you aren’t supposed to. They get trapped in that in-between place. Always a little early for one stage and a little late for another.

I am trapped in that place. And so I watched Solène celebrating her 40th birthday as a mom of a teenager with actual joy. More joy than I expected, because I sat down to watch The Idea of You with a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips and an even saltier attitude. I wasn’t prepared for this movie to somehow nail what it feels like to be a young mom so perfectly.

They did it casually, too. When Solène meets her future love interest, August Moon’s Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), she then goes on with her pretty spectacular life. She has a genuinely solid relationship with her daughter, Izzy (Ella Rubin), and Izzy’s friends, but not in that creepy cool mom way. And her own art gallery, and a craftsman-style home full of impressive knickknacks and natural light. That hair and those bangs and that fresh-faced no-makeup makeup look! Friends who are gathered around a dinner table waiting with bated breath for her to give a little speech about turning 40, which honestly felt like the most fictional part of this movie because nobody actually likes that.

I normally hate it, except this time around I loved her answer. When asked how she felt about being 40, the birthday girl said she felt turning 40 was “confusing” because she had Izzy when she was so young, “so I feel like I disconnected from my age in my 20s.”

Her friend points out that “You’re not even a person until you’re in your 30s,” which feels true now that I am here on the other side. But not becoming a person until you’re in your 30s is a luxury young moms do not have.

I was too old for some people and too young for “all those kids.” My age was topsy-turvy backward all the time, except when we were all at home together.

I was a person before I was a person. I was 20 years old when I got pregnant with my first son; newly arrived home from a wild stint as a nanny in Switzerland, I met a man and then we had a baby together. There was more to it but also not, not really. Because once I had my baby boy, once it was him and me in the quiet of our hospital room together, I didn’t see anyone else but him. I had friends at the time, fledgling duck-fluff friends who were on their way to becoming people, and we immediately stopped having time for each other. So I didn’t really get to see what was happening in the life of a regular person in their 20s: Going to college, dating, having roommates, all of it felt like a movie playing on a channel I hadn’t subscribed to. Their worries were foreign to me, and if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I thought they weren’t important. Because nothing was as big as being a mom to me then. It was me and my baby, and we became each other’s best friends. And the same happened again and again with each of my four sons. There was no one else but them. I turned into a real *sshole.

I was avoiding my friends because it was too risky; I didn’t want to long for their lives. I didn’t want to hear about weekend holidays or brunches. I didn’t want to want those things — their shiny easy lives and their fun apartments and their easy indecision. I worried it would mean I didn’t love my kid if I wanted something else.

It happened still; of course it happened. Over stupid things mostly. Going dancing on a Saturday night. A new shirt I couldn’t afford. These dumb little paper-cut moments that left me frozen and embarrassed. Being alone with my boys was always the cure. When I was with other adults, I never felt exactly right. I was too old for some people and too young for “all those kids.” My age was topsy-turvy backward all the time, except when we were all at home together. It was only with my boys that I felt like me. And I think this is where The Idea of You really gets it too. She’s awkward and uncomfortable around her ex-husband, Dan (Reid Scott); wrong-footed at Coachella, which, obviously. She only seems 100% like herself with Izzy.

Solène singing with Izzy in the car, knowing her music not because she’s trying to fit in but because they just know each other’s stuff, this was my sweet spot too. Especially as my boys got older and I started to feel like I was standing still. They made me playlists called “Road Trip” and “Thanksgiving” and “Cards at the cottage,” and their songs became my songs. I told them my problems sometimes; I don’t know if this was right. Not the big kind but the soft-boiled kind of problems that we could all solve together. Not because I was trying to teach them a lesson but because I genuinely thought they might know better than me. I became old at 20, but then I got young at 40, I guess.

This is why I think it worked for Solène and Hayes. Neither one of them are their actual age, not really. Her age was a mystery to her, and his was a mystery to him. He joined a boy band at 14, so in dog years that means he was really like a 40-year-old man at 20. And Solène was ready for one of those adventures we both missed out on in our 20s. Traveling around Europe with a cute guy. Getting scorned by the pool by mean girls. Wearing big hats for fun. It’s a dream.

But here’s the thing about being a young mom: You’re still a mom like all the other moms. And when Solène breaks up with Hayes because it’s not good for Izzy, this feels exactly right. So exactly right that I stared at the screen, chip residue on my lips, frozen to the spot. This is the choice. This is the grown-up moment.

This is, whether we like it or not, being 40 with a teenager.