The buzz starts early, almost before you’re fully awake. That sense of excitement, anticipation; the knowledge that the day dawning is your day, yours alone, and it’s going to be grand.
Birthdays. The most wonderful day of the year for children, so excited to be that one year older. Proud of it, flashing the adjusted number of fingers, eager to announce to the world that, “I’m free!!” as if turning three on that particular day is the greatest feat to possibly be achieved.
Because it is. It means you’re closer to being BIG (remember when getting big was all the rage??). And it comes with all the hoopla of celebration: cake, candles, gifts, parties, everyone paying attention to you in a way they don’t on any other day of the year. We love our birthdays; they’re ours and ours alone and nothing can ever change that.
Except having LOTS of them. Yeah. Lotsa birthdays. Becomes a tad less “whoo hoo” after a while, this adjusted number thing, a little less exuberant. Oh sure, “better than the alternative” remains the go-to assuagement but, really, how joyful is that reminder? Face it, you’re getting older. You’re talking about gluten, befuddled by your phone, complaining every time Facebook changes its template. You’re….older.
And those decade-change birthdays, my God, let’s talk about those!! Those “big ones.” When you’re younger, those are joyfully plate-shifting birthdays. My son is turning 20 this next birthday (seriously??) and we all remember the stellar coolness of, finally, being out of our teens…very exciting. For me, turning 30 was still cool. It came with a sense that I was actually a grown-up. I took to blithely announcing it to everyone at the bar where I was working at the time, ready to wrap the mantle of adulthood firmly round my very padded shoulders. But in a surely-soon-to-be-famous band at the time, I was sternly admonished by my boyfriend/band leader to keep that damn number to myself; reminded that being 30 and still on the ramp-up to a record deal was not even remotely cool. I quieted down but remained secretly thrilled by the whole thing.
Until 40. Turning 40 was a turning point, literally. You know how you go in on those commercial auditions and you have to fill out that form? The one that – though by law can’t ask your age – does require that you put yourself in an age bracket: -40 or +40. What could be more obvious? You had to “out” yourself, admit you were either worthy of consideration for the young mother hawking soap or age yourself out of the running altogether. I always marked -40 because I did, at the time, appear to be so, but that distinction made clear the Rubicon one was crossing at that particular decade in the acting world and, at the time, it made me shudder.
But what candle could that hold to the Bizarro World of the Fifth Decade. Now there’s a club I still, to this day, cannot fathom being a member of. Seriously, I mean it, how did that happen? Fifties is when you start wearing dance pants from Lane Bryant and those fun, flowery tops found in the Target “women’s” section (odd how larger women get the “women’s” label…what are the rest of the gender, “Lesser Women”??). You let your gray grow out and get that bubble cut favored by matrons the world over. You start saying “gal” and referring to people as “being a hoot.” You spend time discussing bowel movements and what meds you’re on, you stop going to rock clubs with the excuse that “we’re geezers, probably in bed watching Downton Abbey by the time you’re on stage” (this would be 9:00!), and you really do start yelling at kids to stay off your lawn. Nope, not me, nuh uh, ain’t gonna do it.
So I didn’t. I found my own way to be a member of the decade and it’s been good. My energy hasn’t flagged, I’m vigilant about staying healthy (remember those Funk Brothers-accompanied power walks?), I refuse to join AARP (at least until I actually retire from something), and rock & roll remains decidedly doable. Oh sure, those cute round cheeks seen in early childhood photos are making their inexorable slide toward gravity and one has to watch the snack foods more closely, but I’m still…me.
We’ll see how well I do at the next decade change. Let’s not rush it.
For now, I’m celebrating. Celebrating the acknowledgement of birth, life lived, the continuing quest to embrace change and remain fiercely dedicated to who I am and what gives my life purpose. I’m having lunch with the woman who brought me into this world, dinner with the man with whom I’m sharing the journey, sweet bookends that have particular meaning. That soon-to-be 20-year old boy (man?) called with warm words, cards have arrived, and the thoughtful wishes of Facebook friends who, for that moment in which they sent a birthday wish to my page, were thinking of me. That’s a lot of positive well-wishing coming my way and I’m grateful (never believe that Facebook is a waste of time).
What they don’t really tell you about getting older…at least for me? That there’s an ease to it, the clichéd but so truthful accrual of wisdom. A certain letting go of that youthful panic about where you’re going and the rush to get there so you can then BE that for the second you get before you have to move on even faster and higher and harder to get to the next level expected and then — phew…makes me tired just thinking about it! I’m grateful I’ve now gotten SO old, so far past those arbitrary age goals, that the inevitable surrender to what is rather than what was supposed to be gives me a tremendous sense of freedom. The knowledge that it isn’t all carved in stone and sometimes what you expected wasn’t necessarily the best choice anyway. Mostly you find that you still have choices. That’s the unexpected revelation…to know your life still has some sparkling, blank pages you get to fill in any way you choose. It’s different at this age, less attended to by the outside world, perhaps, but it’s still the adventure you imagined at 20 when your whole life was ahead.
Because your whole life still is ahead. It’s all yours and it still requires your hopes, dreams, optimism, confidence and commitment. And damn if I’m not going to keep at it with the same verve that’s accompanied me throughout this journey.
So don’t count on any floral muumuus. I ain’t gonna get a bubble cut, I’ll still wear black jeans even when I’m walking with my granddaughter, and regardless of where my cheeks ultimately land, know I’ll be smiling. Because I’m still kicking – still capable of kicking – and there’s cake in my future. What could be better than that? It’s my day, mine alone, and it’s going to be grand!
Thank you all for the wonderful, continuing, and very appreciated birthday wishes!
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.