Today is my birthday. I’ve recently been reflecting on how we handle the annual coming of the birthday. As we grow older, our perspective on aging changes, and with it, our level of excitement, anticipation, celebration, and even depression surrounding that big day.
In our very earliest years, it’s all about letting us put our fists to the beautiful cake, and then snapping photos as we smash it all over ourselves. Aren’t we cute, making such a mess of a perfectly good cake and birthday outfit? Then at around age 4, we move into the period when it’s all about who has the best and most elaborate birthday party…clowns, magicians, horseback riding, water park parties, trips to the Mall of America, or maybe group reservations on the next space shuttle to Mars! When we are around 8 or 9, we start to mark the half birthdays, the golden birthdays, and the initiation into the double digits. We absolutely can’t wait for our birthdays to arrive! Then we start on the pre-teen and teen years, when we start reaching some very important milestones…turning 13, and becoming teenagers, driving at 16, voting at 18, and finally, drinking at 21. We are still wishing away the years, so we can arrive at that next big thing.
Now we find ourselves dumped out into adulthood. We quickly discover that age is working against us. I’m getting too old to have a family. I’ll never find Mr. Right and get married…I’ll be a spinster. I’m still living with my parents. I’ll be 40 when my kid is in kindergarten. I’m starting to get out of shape. My kids are wearing me out. What do I have to show for my life? Where has the time gone? We start to feel old, and become very conscious of each physical and mental change. We want things to slow down. Time is getting away from us, and we want to hang onto our youth.
At this point, some people start grasping at straws, and will do anything to stay young. Face lifts, tummy tucks, gym memberships, personal trainers, diet pills, liposuction, wrinkle creams, botox, implants…we either want to put more in or take some out, depending on the body part. We also start to become aware of our limitations, and make changes accordingly. Moving to a single story home to avoid stair climbing with clicking knees, hiring a young person to mow the lawn, finally breaking down and getting those glasses, or giving up sunbathing in a bikini. And finally, we reach the point where we start to come to terms with the inevitable…we make out our wills, start checking our retirement fund balances, and talk to our families about advanced directives.
OK…this is getting depressing! But the interesting thing that happened to me this past couple of years is that my birthday perspective was changed. I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. At 54, I thought all of those things in the last couple of paragraphs were going to get condensed, or never addressed. I have been very fortunate, and have come through this with flying colors. But some interesting things have changed for me. I wake up every day, and say to Polly, my doggie, “We woke up! We have a day!” I don’t worry about gray hair, sagging skin, or stiff joints. I take each one as a reminder that I am still alive. Now I gladly celebrate my birthdays, and hope to keep reaching the next one each year. Maybe I’ll even start celebrating my half birthdays, or start to plan the best or most elaborate party for next year!