Thursday, November 20, 2008

I do not know where "middle age" begins.

Today's my birthday. That means it is also my twin sister Kathy's birthday, so happy birthday, Kathy, and thanks for being four minutes older than I am. If and when we hit middle age, you'll get there first.

It's an ugly phrase, "middle age." I used it last week, when discussing restaurant options with a friend. We were talking about whether to go to a popular barbecue place in Cambridge, and I said I was no longer willing to stand in line for a dinner table. "I hate to sound like a cranky middle-aged person," I said, and my friend objected -- "Stop that! You're not middle-aged!" -- which was really more about his need to deny his own encroaching age than about any effort to pay me a compliment.

But what do we call this stretch of time? Years ago, Anna and I spent a day in Annapolis, and I had my fortune told by a nice man who'd set up a table in the back of a fancy clothing store (I think it was Avoca Handweavers; I still have the green wool cape I bought that day). He asked me several questions, including my birth date and the spelling of my name; he added up a list of numbers, and told me that I would live to be 86.

I was probably 30 at the time; 86 sounded like a good deal to me, as long as any reasonable person would want to live. But now here I am at 43, and where does that put me?

Maybe I'll live to be 96, like my great-grandmother Lamb, the legendary Frankfurter Annie (she fed hot dogs to horses, for reasons I've never heard explained). Maybe I'll live to be 100. In any case, it's not an infinite stretch, and I'm into the mid-range -- or better, more accurately, the prime.

I do work I enjoy, and am engaged and present in my life; I no longer feel the need to prove anything to anyone; I am wealthy in the love of my friends and relations; I have no major physical disabilities. It's equilibrium, or as close as we ever get.

It's a good time, and I hope it'll last a while.


Kevin Wignall said...

Well, happy birthday first of all.

I often wonder what people called "The Middle Ages" when they were actually living through them.

But in answer to the main question - really, does it matter? I think age has very little to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated. And I think a big part of the growing up process is reaching the point where you no longer define yourself by how old you are (bizarrely, some people descend back into this in old age - "I'm 92!"). As Oscar Wilde said, everyone over 25 is the same age.

Again, many happy returns!

AnswerGirl said...

I have had the same thought about "The Dark Ages," Kevin!

And I agree with Oscar Wilde, but I also know that you just use that to justify dating much younger women...

Karen Olson said...

Happy Birthday Clair!

I'm older than you and have come to grips with this "middle age" thing even though I certainly don't feel "middle aged." My mental image of myself is still somewhere in my early 30s.

My husband refuses to admit he's middle aged. Although I keep reminding him that he probably won't live til 90 so he's past middle age...

Anonymous said...

Sen Robert Byrd, born this day, is 91, so you are not middle age yet.


Ed Lamb said...

Happy Birthday.

You are in the middle of ages 42 and 44. You cold do worse.

norby said...

My father turned 65 this year-everyone teased him about getting old. He's in very good health and certainly doesn't look 65, so why should he be considered old? And like he and I agreed, decades ago, someone who was 65 would have been much different-worse health, older in appearance, many different characteristics. So I'm not sure the old standards can be held as true when it comes to chronological age.

In any case, happy birthday to you and Kathy!

Anonymous said...

I knew all those years of saying I was older would catch up with me but, can we drop it now. Really it's only four minutes.

We are not "middle aged". We are just better and wiser.


Larry said...

Happy Birthday!

Not sure when middle age begins, but the desire to hibernate could be a clue. :-)

Claire said...

Big news! Google now auto-suggests "Answer Girl" when it's typed into the main search bar, and you're the first several hits.

AnswerGirl said...

Oooh, the pressure!