And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
On Monday morning, when I opened my eyes, my first thought was, Oh, god, I’m now 59 years old. And my second thought was, The next time I open my eyes when it’s July 29th, I will be 60.
My inclination was to throw the blankets over my head and stay there for the duration.
Birthdays. I remember being overjoyed by them all the way up until the day I turned 29. My thought that day was very similar: The next time I open my eyes when it’s July 29th, I will be 30.
And all the joy left.
I honestly don’t think much about my age during the rest of the year, unless something unusual happens, like the first time I was called ma’am, or when my obstetrician referred to me as a “geriatric mother” when I was pregnant with Olivia when I was 40. On the day of my birth, I hear the toll of bells…and then I get back to work.
I remember my mother crying on the day she turned 45. She was face-down on her bed, sobbing. I asked her what was wrong and she told me it was her birthday and she was 45 and she was old. I didn’t even know it was her birthday.
I went to my room and pocketed what money I had saved in my bank, then left the house and climbed on my purple bike. It was a Schwinn Hollywood that I always referred to as my steed. I was ten years old, just turned a little over a month before. Hollywood and I rode to the Minute Mart, where I searched for anything I could afford. I bought her a scarf – not one you wear around your neck, but one you tie over your hair. My mother wore those all the time when she was out and about, to protect her permed curls. The scarf was sheer, the word that came to my head was chiffon, and it started as a deep reddish orange and then faded to a cream when it got to the middle of the material. I couldn’t afford to buy a card as well, so I decided to make one when I got home. She was still on the bed, though I didn’t hear her crying anymore. I quickly folded a piece of paper in half from my drawing tablet, drew a picture of flowers, started to write, “Happy 45th birthday, Mom,” changed my mind, and just wrote, “Happy birthday, Mom.” I tucked it in the brown bag from the Minute Mart, went into her room, and gave it to her.
She said thank you and that was all we ever said about it. I know she still wore that scarf up until the day she died in 2006. I kept it for a while after her passing, along with the ratty white sweater that used to be mine that she wore for years, before I finally put those items to rest.
But I remember looking at her that day and thinking, Okay. So that’s old. She didn’t strike me as old; my grandmother was old. But you believe what your mother tells you.
So on the day I turned 59, I felt pretty ancient. I was tired. My body ached with fibro. I was a cancer survivor, but still, it rocks your view of yourself when cancer becomes part of your bio. My last child is heading off to college in three weeks. My oldest child is 34. I’m a grandmother.
Throughout the day, I was just inundated with birthday wishes. And I heard the usual – people older than me told me I was still young. 60 is the new 40, which means, I guess, that 59 is the new 39. I look young. One very honest student, when I said I was now 59, said, “Sorry to say it, but Oh my. And I am right behind you.” And you know what? That actually made me feel better. Someone, like my mother crying across her bed, acknowledged how I was feeling. And felt the same way.
And then Olivia.
Olivia called me from work, Farm & Fleet, asking me what I wanted for a present. I gave her a few ideas. But when she came home, she handed me the bag and said, “I didn’t get you what you asked for. I picked stuff out.”
A lovely scented candle. A windchime with the moon and the stars on it. And a little teeny stuffed whale.
A teeny stuffed whale. Do you know how many years it’s been since anyone has given me a stuffed animal? A gift for a girl? A gift for someone young?
Well, not since I was young.
I’ve hugged that little whale I don’t know how many times now. It’s sitting next to me on my desk, looking at me with whaley blue eyes. And you know what?
I’m not old. I’m not young. I’m just me.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.