I will turn 69 next month, effectively putting an end to that same number of years on this planet. As I get ready to embark on my 70th trip around the sun, I can’t help but think back to previous birthdays and what they meant to me.
While my sense of recall is flawed at best, a few birthdays over the years have left their marks. The first one I remember was when I turned nine. I was in the third grade, and my mom had agreed to let me have my first-ever birthday party. Nothing extravagant, of course…we didn’t have the money for that…but I was excited by the prospect of inviting a few friends over for cake and ice cream. Before we had a chance to even start planning, though, another girl invited all of our classmates to her birthday party. That might not have been a problem, but ironically, we shared the same birthday. Since she’d already invited everybody, Mom decided it would be in poor taste for me to have a party at or around the same time, so mine was canceled before it even got off the ground. And to add insult to injury, Mom said it would be impolite not to accept the other girl’s invitation. So not only did I not get to have a party of my own, I had to go celebrate someone else on what should have been my special day. Not gonna lie…that was a tough pill for this former nine-year-old to swallow.
The next birthday of note was my 18th. My first husband and I, along with our infant daughter – yes, I was quite the young mama – had just moved from Indiana to Rhode Island. I don’t know if it was morbid curiosity or just my way of letting off steam, but since the legal drinking age there was 18, I decided to celebrate that birthday by getting plastered for the very first time. My husband started me off with sloe gin and Coke. At some point, I foolishly switched to straight gin, and the last thing I remember from that night was reading the TV Guide out loud to my husband. The next day was one of the sickest, most wretched days of my life. And deservedly so. I can say without reservation that I reaped what I sowed. To this day, I can’t even entertain the thought of drinking sloe gin.
The next twenty or so birthdays weren’t particularly memorable. Don’t get me wrong…my family has always made me feel special…but we don’t tend to throw big birthday bashes.
My 40th, though, kicked off a personal annual tradition. I took off work that day, had the house to myself, and did whatever I wanted…slept in, read, watched TV, and basically just chilled out. A lot of people seem to dread turning 40, but it didn’t bother me at all.
Birthday 45 came a week before my mom passed away. Her final year had been filled with excruciating pain, and my dad, brother, and I pretty much lost ourselves in our efforts to keep her as comfortable as possible. She was our only concern. The last thing on my mind that year was my birthday, but it got celebrated anyway because that’s just the sort of loving family I have. One of my daughters even gave me a gift that held a unique meaning for me…a tambourine. Surprisingly, a birthday I didn’t think I cared about turned out to be extremely special.
As I mentioned earlier, turning 40 was no big deal. But 46? That was a whole other story. I still remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror muttering to myself when my husband came in and asked what I was doing. I swung around and said, in a rather unfriendly tone, “I’m 50!”
“No,” he said. “You’re not. You’re only 46.”
“Everybody knows that 46 starts the downward spiral to 50,” I countered. “So that’s what I might as well say I am now. I’m 50.”
There was clearly no point in trying to convince me otherwise, so he wisely walked away and let me stew in my own grumpy juices.
Funny thing is, when I finally did turn 50, it was totally anticlimactic. I’d already mourned my youth at 46, so when 50 officially showed up, it was a non-event. I didn’t feel “old.” I just felt like me. I do remember wondering how I might feel when 60 rolled around, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t consider myself old then, either. I had a feeling, though, that 70 might be another matter.
And now, nearly two decades later, I’m almost there. Yes, technically that birthday is still thirteen months away, but my 70th year will launch when I hit 69 in a few weeks.
As I revisit the thoughts I had back when I turned 50, I wonder how I’ll feel in a year. Physically, I have to confess I’m noticing the ravages of time. My joints started betraying me years ago, and they don’t seem to have any intentions of reverting to their glory days. And intellectually, I think I’ve been left in the dust when it comes to technology…something that’s pretty important to stay on top of these days.
Mentally, though, I don’t feel much different than I did in my 30’s and 40’s. The biggest change is that I finally feel emotionally settled. I worry less about things I can’t control, I try to notice and appreciate the little wonders in any given day, and I’m fully aware that I’m blessed beyond measure.
So, physical and intellectual issues aside, I’m feeling pretty good about approaching 70. The looming question now is…how will I feel when 80 is right around the corner?
I guess only time will tell.