I am older this week. Actually, I am older every week, but this week I had a birthday, a certain reminder that I am getting older. Sometimes I feel older – when I’m shuffling carefully across an icy sidewalk, when I find out kids I babysat are now in their 40s, or when I, unexpectedly, catch my reflection in a mirror. But most of the time I just feel like me.
Age is a funny thing. I turned 30 the same year my boss was turning 50. I remember him saying, “I don’t know where the years went. I don’t feel any older than when I was 30.” There’s truth in that. I know things that I didn’t know when I was 30, but I don’t feel any smarter, any more responsible, any more authoritative. Those are all things that, when you’re a kid, you think you’ll ‘be’ when you grow up, but I think it’s an illusion.
Once upon a time, I marveled that in the year 2000 I would be 36 years old. In the 1970s, those two things were as incomprehensible to me as smart phones, rompers for men, and traveling in the car without a folded paper map in the glove compartment. Now that time is a distant memory, almost as far away.
When I turned six, the cake was lemon, the dinner was spaghetti and meatballs and my mom invited six friends to a Raggedy Ann Birthday party with Raggedy Ann invitations and matching placemats, napkins, and paper plates. That’s the only party that I remember, but birthdays meant I could usually count on waking up to presents on the piano bench, Mom making my favorite meal for dinner, and a two layer birthday cake (also prepared by my mother) presented on a pedestal cake stand. The cake was always the flavor of my choice, but if there was ice cream, it would be Neapolitan, which she considered birthday ice cream. More likely, it was the best value ice cream – with five kids, if she could buy one carton of ice cream with three flavors, that was a win for sure.
I hear people say, “Age is just a number. You shouldn’t gauge your life by your age,” but we do. We all do. Kids can’t wait to be 13, 16, and 18. They look forward to the age of adulthood – 21. Memories are punctuated by how old we were. I had my son when I was 29. I spent my fortieth birthday with my brother’s family in Chile. When my mom was 68, I turned 34 and I teased her, “Half your life ago, I was born. How did you live half of your life without me?!”
One of my best and worst birthdays was 2012. It was my first birthday without my mom. I spent the weekend with my four siblings at my mom’s house, deciding what we were going to do with her house and her things. I cherish the memory of being loved and comforted by my siblings. The five of us all spent the night there at the house, even though some of us lived close enough that we could have gone to our own homes and beds for the night and then come back the next day. It’s a wonderful and poignant memory.
I turned 56 years old this past Wednesday. I’ve been watching this birthday move steadily towards me for quite a while. It started as a speck on the horizon, another number I couldn’t imagine. The age my mother was when my dad died. The age at which Mom’s life changed in a direction she could never have expected, and continued on a different path for another thirty years. Now that it finally arrived, I don’t know what I was expecting.
As birthdays go, it was a pretty good one, aside from the two and a half hours I spent at the Secretary of State office. (Note to self, the Chelsea SOS is no longer a quick in and out, and it would be a fabulous idea to make an appointment next time.) I took a couple days off work and enjoyed some relaxing time with family. A dear friend took me out for a surprise birthday lunch. I spent some time reflecting on things that will never change no matter how many birthdays I have.
- I still choose Italian food for a homemade birthday dinner
- I love cheesecake, willow trees, and dogs
- No matter how old I am, I’m always going to be the youngest of five.
And whether I have one more birthday or thirty more birthdays, I love this life I’ve lived.