It was my birthday. After class, I changed my clothes and drove to the large chain drugstore where I worked. I went to the back area where the employee lockers were and stowed my purse and jacket and walked back to the time clock to clock in. In the hallway I was greeted by my boss, a middle-aged woman with short curly brown hair and oval glasses, dressed in the same gray smock uniform as me. She stood there, her shoulders hunched as always, and stated, “It’s your birthday! How old are you?” Twenty-two, I said. “Aw, you’re still a baby!” I felt deflated. Every day after that I wondered how old you have to be to garner some respect. I’m still wondering.
All my life I’ve never minded getting older. In fact, at certain points in time I actually looked forward to it, and not just when waiting to be able to drive a car or buy a bottle of wine. After 21, what age is there to look forward to? At age 25 you can rent a car (which, being a traveler, was important to me). And at some unspecified advanced age you “get” to retire (of course in recent years I became painfully aware that this does not happen automatically).
There was that saying – “Don’t trust anyone over 30” – coined by activist Jack Weinberg in 1964. Someone posed that “over the hill” referred to age 40. When I was 5 my grandmother was 58 – and I thought she was really old. Now we hear “50 is the new 30!” and such. I think we Gen-Xers are staring into the face of middle age and wondering what the hell happened. Some of us in our 40s are starting our second of the two careers we’re predicted to have in our lives. We need glasses. We get hot flashes. We have to be careful of our backs.
I’ve never been bothered by birthdays, but in turning 45 this month, I realize that in the last couple of years my body is not what it used to be. And that bothers me. Not the numbers of the years, but how they make me feel physically. I could “grow old gracefully.” I could “not go gentle into that good night.” But what I want to do, what might take me a while to figure out how to do, is to find the middle ground. To be devil-may-care but graceful, too. To embrace but not resign. To finally garner some respect, and to live life in such a way that I can.
It’s my birthday. I have a busy day at work and then go cook dinner for my 21-year-old autistic son, who lives in a supported living apartment. I have dinner with him every Wednesday. The only years he has ever observed my birthday were when someone else facilitated it. But tonight when I arrive, he opens the door and wishes me a Happy Birthday. Then in his deep monotone voice he says, “I got a surprise for after dinner.” He opens up his freezer and shows me a half gallon of ice cream. It’s Tillamook, an Oregon coast brand from a town famous for its creamery. And the flavor Nigel chose was Birthday Cake. Ignoring the lump in my throat, I thank him and tell him how thoughtful it is of him. A part of me wonders if someone reminded him, but if so, no matter. He went to the grocery store, he bought the special ice cream with his own money, and the fact that he did it is better than any birthday gift I could ever hope for.
[Image credit: Relatably.com]