Until the party’s over.

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.





Comments

  1. I could feel every single one of these words pouring out of you in a quick stream of gorgeous, gorgeous perfection. This truly took my breath away.

  2. As someone who IS 60 and babysitting my 2 year old grandson full time I can’t agree more with the sentiments expressed here. I always told anyone who asked my age freely. Haven’t I lived every single one of them? Yes I have and I try to enjoy each moment I have because we can only live moment to moment.

  3. Love. I don’t really have any hangups about aging and I don’t particularly understand the big deal about it. The alternative is death. What kind of choice is that? Does my own non-22 year old reflection sometimes surprise me? Oh hell yes. Do I suddenly understand my parents’ chronic shock over how many years have passed since such and such event? Yup. I get it. I will turn 39 in a few weeks. I’m of an age when I should start feeling really bad and panicky as 40 looms ever closer. 40 certainly sounds very, very grown up. Old. It sounds old. I remember my parents being 40. But I earned every inch of my life. I find myself here as a culmination of every choice I made, every thing that happened to me. The lines on my face might seem foreign to me, but they are part of the face that my kids know as “mom,” and they look at me with more love and adoration than my smooth face of 20 ever received from anyone.

  4. I love this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my vain younger self who would have cringed at some of the life I’ve settled into. She had no clue how comfortable confidence is.

  5. This is so great! My daughter always asks her Dad and me about herself when she is our age. I am 34 he is 45 and she is a very smart 10 year old. My grandmother always told me growing up you are only as old as you feel. Some days you may feel like a crotchety old lady others you may feel like you are free and young. We tell her this every time she ask or feel like she’s trying to compare her per adult life to ours. Her favorite thing to say is she will live it up right until the party is over, even on crotchety old days.
    Love this read!

  6. So lovely, B.

  7. Every time I read something you write, I think to myself, “I should bookmark this and read it every every everysingleday so I don’t forget.” Love you, B – love your words, love you.

  8. I just love this. We’ve always been really open about our ages with the kids (and any kid) although it constantly backfires on me since I’m older than my husband and they all immediately do the math and point it out.

  9. I hope I’m never ashamed to say how old I am. It’s just a number. It is what it is. What I would be ashamed of is acting my age. 😉

  10. I love this! The number of your years is so irrelevant when compared to the worth of those same years. I am such a better person now than I ever was in my 20s, as far as confidence and caring goes. The 30s have been the best and I look forward to my later years as well. Like someone else said, the alternative is death, and who would willingly trade for that?

  11. Too funny. My first-grade teacher always said that she was 94. Year in and year out, that is what she told any child who asked. Inconceivable to us as 5 year-olds. She is so old. It’s a beautiful memory of a wonderful and generous woman.

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