A big birthday is on the horizon. It’s not one that ends in a 5 or a 0, numbers we historically associate with an event, but it’s a sobering event for me.
Up until fairly recently, if I had to tell someone my age, I’d inevitably get an “oh wow, you don’t look it!” or “You go girl, I had no idea,” etc. But, lately, on more than one occasion when I’d been forced to tell my age—because I’m not one of those women who proudly wear their age and their wrinkles as badges of experience and wisdom, I have to be coerced into telling it–the information has been met with silence or a smile or some other innocuous response. Ok, world, I get it…I finally look my age.
In one way or another, when it comes to age, I’ve always been hypersensitive. For many years I was, of course, young, and then for many more years I looked younger than my age and benefited from a world that admired youth.
Almost imperceptibly, I arrived at where I am now which is, as I’ve said, apparently looking my age. So why is this a problem? Looking my age, means I am my age, which means I’m headed in only one direction and that direction is 6 feet under. I’m certain there are deeper reasons that make me…what’s a good word here…”embarrassed” to tell my age.
None of us pass the 50-year mark without escaping the periodic indignities that go along with getting older, but I seem to find slights even when none are intended. Not long ago, a younger friend was telling me about an afternoon backyard birthday party she was having for her mother.
“Just my luck. It’s supposed to be cool and cloudy that day,” she said. “At 68 it’s probably too cool for them and I should just move the lunch from the backyard to inside.”
“Screw you,” I said.
She recoiled as if I had just sneezed in her face.
“At 68 you are not too old to sit outside when it’s a little cool and cloudy, for God’s sakes.”
She looked at me and spoke to me gently and deliberately as if she were trying to talk me out of jumping off a roof.
“No, Phyllis, the temperature is going to be 68. My mother and her friends are 87.”
So you can see I’m more than normally sensitive about this upcoming birthday.
The double whammy about being embarrassed about my age is that I’m embarrassed that I’m embarrassed. But let’s face it, this is not without reason. Take being 65 as an example.
Just like at 16 when you get your drivers’ license, 18 when you can vote, 21 when you can drink and gamble, 65 is that turning point age when the specter of retirement is upon us when we get our Medicare card and take our first step over the other side of the mountain. Carrying that card around says to the world, “Hey look at me, I’m old and I have a government card to prove it!” Surveys we occasionally fill out for various things look something like this:
Check the box if you are:
18 to 25,
26 to 35,
36 to 49,
50 to 64,
So if you’re 65 you might as well be 95 as far as statistical information goes. The nuances, the sharp edges of youth disappear with your jawline and now we’re just one big lump. When telling people my current age, I’m afraid that my “Phyllis-ness” will disappear only to be replaced by that number and magically I’ll be looked at differently, or worse, not looked at all.
A friend who is my age sent me an email recently and wrote:
“You’ve got to see this video. It’s so positive and I love stuff like this that just makes you feel good.”
The video is a montage of old people in some senior citizen community, dancing (meaning throwing their arms in the air a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the assumption being this is their most recent dance reference), carousing (read “Bingo”) and exercising in what is clearly a class for people with limited mobility. But everybody is laughing and smiling, the point apparently being that to be happy when we get old we no longer need to be in the company of younger people who have obviously abandoned us and where no one outside our demographic ever has to witness us having old people fun.
It doesn’t have to be this way and I’m railing against ageism in whatever form I can. To the young man who recently asked me if I needed help in opening the twist off top of my Diet Coke bottle, thank you very much but I can still handle that one on my own. My baby boom cry is not that 60 is the new 40, but more that my 60 and beyond is the new 60 and beyond.
My 60 plus says, don’t expect me to be at home looking at photos reminiscing about times gone by. It says to my children, yes, you are still the most important people in the world to me but please don’t take it for granted that I’ll be available to feed your dog or be at your house when the plumber comes because I may be on an adventure of my own.
I’m as curious as ever and still open to what life still has to offer. The task at hand is to silence the voice that says “at your age, what’s the point of trying something new?” and to find the new normal for what aging is. I intend to have a good time figuring it out.
So happy $%@##! birthday to me.