[ed note: kind of long, very self indulgent. if you make it to the end, you're more intrepid than i give you credit for]
There have been few birthdays in my semi-long life that bothered me to the point of angst.
There was my eighth birthday. We had a party the day before. Well, my aunts threw a party for me because my parents had to be out of town. At one point during the festivities (which basically came down to a bunch of cousins running wild through the yard, which was no different than any other day except this time we were wearing birthday hats. At least I was) my older cousins informed me that I couldn't play any birthday games because it wouldn't be fair for me to win. The odds of me winning were rather slim, though. I was a clumsy, uncoordinated kid and I wouldn't have been able to pin the tail on the donkey if he shoved his ass right in my face. When I cried to one of my aunts about this birthday game injustice, she told me to stop acting like a little kid.
Huh? Stop acting like a kid
? But...but I am
a kid! Then the light bulb came on. I would be turning eight the next day. What if eight meant you weren't a kid anymore? Did they give more chores at eight? More homework? Would I suddenly have to worry about taxes and war instead of spending my time watching cartoons and playing with my Easy Bake Oven?
I spent a very restless night imagining that I would wake up old and crippled. Never mind that I had eight year old cousins who were still as youthful and worry-free as ever. Once an idea like that entered my mind, there wasn't a reasonable fact you could throw at me that would get me to stop worrying.
Of course, the next day dawned and I was still a kid
. My skin was still smooth, my pajamas still had teddy bears on them. Just to test things out, I watched some cartoons and was relieved to hear myself laughing. Well, at eight I assumed that only kids laughed at cartoons. 34 years later, I'm still laughing. At the same cartoons.
So that was my first bout with birthday angst. I was relatively birthday-worry free for the next 17 years. Then came the big 2-5 and crisis of major proportions. All my friends were following the proper life time line set forth by generations before them. Some say there are four stages to life, but in between the Birth, School, Work, Death
phases was Get Married, Have Kids. It's what us suburbanites did. Or maybe it was just an Italian thing.
I find it laughable now that at 25 I was having what essentially boiled down to a mid-life crisis. Where was I going? What had I done with my life? I was going to be A QUARTER OF A CENTURY OLD! For weeks leading up to my birthday, I refused to entertain any ideas of a party, not even the traditional bar crawl. To make matters worse, my cousin got engaged the day before my birthday.
If I knew then what I know now.....eh, you know how that one goes.
That was the last birthday crisis I had. The milestones of 30, 35 and 40 came and went without a care. It was easy enough to combat the creeping-of-age poltergeists that were threatening to possess me at 40. I got married that day. Yes, it was my bright idea to combat another life crisis by hijacking my birthday with my own wedding. It worked, oh yes, it worked. But now I'm doomed to a lifetime of combined anniversary/wedding presents, which always translates to "something for the house."
So here I am two years later and already I'm faced with another birthday crisis. I thought I was off the hook until 50. I mean, who has nightmares over a 42nd birthday? 42? I should be thrilled to be celebrating the age that represents the answer to life, the universe and everything
Let's take stock of things here, to give this questionable fear of 42 some context: I love my life. I really like my job and all the people I work with. The thought that I'll be there the rest of my working days does not depress me at all. We just became first time homeowners. In short time, I will be a business owner.
My marriage is great. My kids are wonderful. My entire immediate family is healthy. Sure, money is tight, but I've already accepted that will always be the case. I already have everything I need and most things I want. I have wonderful friends. I'm satisfied with what I have done with my life and what I'm doing now. The future looks good.
So, what gives? If I'm so damn happy with life, why would 42 pose such a challenge? In a word: time. See, now that I'm fully enjoying life and all it has to offer, it occurs to me that I already reached that half-way mark. I waited too long to become self-satisfied! And honestly, I wouldn't really notice the passage of time if it weren't for those two daily reminders that the clock is ticking. That is, my children.
You know that Bugs Bunny episode where he's on a desert island with those two guys who keep eyeing each other as hamburgers and hot dogs? It's kind of like that. Every time DJ says something about starting middle school next month or Natalie say something about starting high school next month, my children disappear and are replaced by images of Father Time. And he's laughing at me.
I have a kid in high school? How the hell did that happen? Wasn't I in high school just a few years ago? Sure, if you can call 24 years a few. What doesn't help is this "everything old is new again" culture. I took the kids to Kohl's the other day for some back to school shopping. And lo and behold, the demon ponchos I've been writing about were front and center in the junior department
. Every mannequin looked like it stepped out of my junior high school yearbook. It's as if a time machine exploded in space and puked the 1970's all over America. How soon before I'm sitting in a high school auditorium wringing my hands over the rebellious youth taking over the town
Yea, went off on a tangent there. But it's all related, somehow. The prevalence of 70's nostalgia here in 2004 has opened some kind of age wound. Seeing all these fringed skirts and ringer tees (with ironic 70's era logos on them) is making me face the fact that I'm old enough to have the accouterments of my childhood worshiped by the kids of today. I'm a dinosaur, a fossilized relic of a time when Earth Shoes were fashionable and 8-tracks were cool.
So how do I combat the onset of 42? How do I counter attack the feeling that time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the futur
e, that I'm shorter of breath and one day closer to death?
I buy myself a lava lamp, listen to some Led Zeppelin and play a game of Pong
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. But I draw the line at ponchos
Ok, 42. I'm ready for you.
[Update: In light of the email I'm getting, I really should note that my birthday is not today, it's next week. I like to agonize in advance. But, thanks for the pre-birthday wishes!]