Children have an odd fascination with knowing how old adults are. It’s in their DNA to think of life experience in terms of numbers.
At my first daughter’s first birthday party, I’m on film saying, “When your child is turning 60, you know you’re old.” I was speaking about my grandmother and my uncle. It was his 60th birthday and my grandmother was traveling to celebrate with him. At 27, sitting with my 1 year old, I couldn’t even grasp the idea of being a mother for more than today. We were still in the process of simple survival. Every day was Day 1.
My kids would never be 60 and clearly, I would never be old enough to have children who were 60. And we would all live in youth and exuberance and beauty forever because that’s how it works.
Until you drop the denial and realize it doesn’t. Then, your age sits awkwardly on your body like the first time you tried to give a child an airplane ride on your legs. Both of you flailing, a combination of limbs and aspiration and memories. Like you’ll never get the hang of it.
Aging feels that way.
I work in a school and children are constantly asking me how old I am. And it really means, “How long will it take before I turn into you?”. They don’t understand that they never will be me and I won’t tell them the hard truth that turning into your own you is more magical and scarier than any version of someone else. You have to walk through years of beautiful books and questionable decisions before you find you’ve arrived and then, someone asks you how old you are. I love that children think there is wisdom found in simply knowing your age; as if the answer is like reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the very first time.
When the first child asked me how old I was, I stopped short. I was actually offended. Which is bullshit, but, it’s true. I may have even said, “It’s not polite to ask adults how old they are.” I hate that I said it. I hate that I put that idea in a curious young mind; discouraging their process by implying age is a dirty secret. Grown-ups are always trying to make age an interior crutch of comparison. And we fool ourselves into believing it is more than the transparent passage of years. We paralyze ourselves because we haven’t done “enough”. We pray that time will stand still. We continue to grow old.
I’m done giving the advancing calendar this bizarre guilt-power. I’m not in competition with agelessness or the young, curious faces looking for answers in my laugh lines. We all have better things to do; like looking at the contents of our time instead of the passage of it.
Last Sunday, a young girl came up to me and said, “I’m 5. How old are you?”
For the first time, I leapt right in, “I’m 35! That’s 30 years older than you! Cool.” and we smiled in unison. Just two kids sharing the sameness of being alive.
A child will tell you how old they are as a badge of honor and they’ll stand on a scale without blinking an eye while you figure out how much ibuprofen to give them.
They’re so sensible.
You’d think adults would know better than to give age so much control; with age supposedly comes wisdom. I think I’m learning more from the children in my life. After six months of “How old are you?”, I finally realize that 60 will one day be here and probably before I know it. And children grow older and turn 60 as well. And no one cares about 60 except regret and regret won’t blow out the candles on your birthday cake.
There’s nothing really worth saying about our own imposed feelings of irrelevance that come with aging.
The alternative to growing old is so much more terrifying.
I hope that we all grow old enough to be the old lady at our baby’s 60th birthday party. You have to celebrate until the party’s over.