(February 17, 2015)
We’re birthday mates and it’s something I’ve enjoyed all my life. As the youngest of seven, it always made me feel special to have the honor of sharing a birthday with Mom.
I have to admit it’s nice this year to have an “unimportant” birthday Mom thinks so, too. Last year was Mom’s 90th, and the year before: my 50th. Lots of hoopla.
Clearly, not all birthdays are created equal.
The First is big. At least for the first kid it is. The celebration is really for the parents. It’s rare to see a one-year-old thoroughly enjoying the chaos that comes with a one-year-old party. The kid has to think there’s been some kind of national disaster, and his/her house is the crisis center. And then – horror of horrors – they light fire to your dessert and shout (a.k.a. sing) at you in unison. Imagine a scene in a movie of a nightmare with warped faces converging on you. No wonder they holler. It takes years before a kid associates “Happy Birthday To You” with presents. Then it becomes a favorite song.
Teens of most cultures look forward to some year in there…. the bat mitzvah for Jewish girls and the bar mitzva for their brothers. The Quinceañera for the Latinas, Sweet Sixteen for all the other girls. When I was 16, the big deal was getting your drivers’ license, but all four of my kids seem to have considered that unimportant, missing the chance to make an appointment at the DMV on their 16th birthday. Opting instead to drag out their dependence on us inexplicably. Must be cell phones and texting that makes physical mobility less important.
I suppose the ultimate birthday milestone is the 21st. I recall that all I cared about was that I was legal. To drink, of course. Once you’re 21, you no longer have a practical need to age. It’s really staggering to recall the difference in myself between 21 and 30. Night and day. At 21, I was still finishing school and I had no clue what direction to go next. I was still a kid. But I was legal.
The next significant milestone has to be the 30th. Mine was excellent, because it coincided with true adulthood for me. John and I were newlyweds expecting our first baby. We had a mortgage and a good job and could afford to have one of us home full-time. We felt ready for life.
Then there’s the Big 4-0. We had completely transformed from newlyweds to the peak of chaos. Our kids were 10, 8, 5, and 3, and I recall thinking we were getting old. It was the age that had always represented “advanced parenting” to me. My parents were 39 and 40 when I was born, so the 40s were connected in my head to my parents and their friends, who seemed to have everything well under control by then. Maybe we were a tad behind schedule, but happy as clams nonetheless.
No one cares about the 45th, so we skip ahead to the 50th. That is one cool birthday. I’m not “age sensitive”. I don’t color my hair or worry about wrinkles. Being the youngest in my family, no matter how old I get, my whole family is still older so why sweat it? I milked my 50th birthday year because I could. My family tolerated more of a fuss than other years, and it proved to be an excellent excuse to do amazing things with my 50-something friends. Instead of having a big party or renting a vacation house for the weekend, I bought a plane ticket to Paris and spent several days there with two of my best girlfriends (one of them a sister). I’d never been there in the winter and it was absolutely divine. Then my high school friends – all turning 50 together – decided on Vegas for a weekend of poolside yakking and wonderful food and drink. In the fall, a dear friend from college had a 50th bash up in beautiful Seattle, and none of us missed it. Excellent.
So decades become the Biggies. I haven’t hit 60 yet, but I imagine it will be lackluster compared to the grandness of 50. And 70 isn’t quite old enough to be important in my book. You’ve gotta make it to 80 to be truly impressive. I’m an optimist, remember.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll waltz into your 90th. My Mom did it last year. As surprising as it is to others to hear my mom’s 91, it’s not surprising to those of us who see her all the time as she’s buzzing around in her stick shift car running errands (without getting into accidents or having people honk at her, I might add.) Nevertheless, we stopped last year to recognize how truly wonderful it is to enjoy life with Mom when we are all in our 50s and 60s. She was 90 and going strong and that rocks. (And she still is, and it still does.) We are not surprised, but we are grateful.
But now all that has passed. Mom’s 91 and I’m (yawn) 52. Random ages. And we can just relax and eat cake. Mom got a little dish to hold her fresh eggs from our farm, and I got a book about bird houses. Birthday bliss.
I’m looking forward to her 100th. I pray for it. (I don’t think she does, though.)
Today’ll do for now. We find ourselves on a porch on the farm together, Mom and I. A lot like the farm she was born on 91 years ago in Missouri. We enjoy watching the chickens, throwing a stick for the dog, and listening for the mourning doves and bobwhites. Good times.
Maybe this is “maturity”.