39: When Grandma Stopped Counting Birthdays

39: When Grandma Stopped Counting BirthdaysA week ago Sunday I had a birthday. I wasn’t one of *the* major milestone birthdays but it was close: I hit the age my grandmother was when she decided to stop counting. I’d like to say that her reasons were good ones–that age is but a number, or because women are castigated for aging. But instead, grandma decided that after this age was Old, and she wasn’t going to be Old. She never told us her actual age no matter how often we asked, nor what year she was born so that we might do the math. She only changed her mind when she was eligible to retire, at which point 65 was a thrill.

For the record, I’ve only just turned 39.

I was born when grandma was 43, which meant that she told us she was 39 for about twenty years.

I am glad I don’t feel obliged to lie about my age, in jest or otherwise. It’s striking to me that grandma felt my age now was old for her–that it was the end of her youth. Being blessed with a young face, perhaps I feel inured against such thinking. Perhaps I’m in denial that I’m not as young as I once was. But when I look back at my near-40 years (shocking though that number is) and I take stock, I’ve done a lot of things without feeling like those are the only things I’ll ever do.

I’ve also done a lot that makes me happy, and I’m not sure she ever felt or feels that way. I don’t know that she ever felt that she could choices for happiness alone. I’m happy in my marriage. I’ve pursued my own dreams–she never talked much about having them, nevermind pursuing them. I don’t have kids, and it’s ok to make that choice now if that’s what one wants. My grandma is a tough nut and not always easy to get along with. I suspect she sees herself as a victim from time to time, even if it’s truly of her own unwillingness to do otherwise.

So I am very ok with 39. I am not Old.

39 isn’t the end of my youth, even if I’m not exactly young. I like to think I’m just gently aged, wiser for my time here. I don’t have bitterness at the past that might encourage me to feel my youth was wasted. I don’t care too much about the cultural imagery of youth that might see me older.

But that’s not to say that I don’t have aging anxieties. I realize I’m a little anxious about being considered not-young, whether in my own head or otherwise. I know it’s irrational, and that the alternative is awful. But it’s a thing that looms somewhere in the back of my head and surfaces at weird times. For me, I think it’s more about feeling relevant–and that’s not a concept actually attached to age but how one is in the world.

Speaking of relevancy: coming up soon is a post on the hideous plan Betsy DeVos has for Title IX, my thoughts on HRC’s book What Happened (my copy just arrived!), and a discussion of my “side hustle.”

 

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