Throwing myself a birthday party
Celebrating double nickels with intention
“Are you 55 or older?”
So intoned the announcer in a TV commercial when I was a kid. I don’t remember what he was selling — probably life insurance or denture cream or the Clapper.
I do remember clearly getting the message that 55 was the beginning of old age.
I turn 55 this week and I don’t exactly disagree. Technically I’m beyond midlife, or near the end of it. I’m chipper as hell but I don’t expect to be kicking around at 110.
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My take on old age has evolved.
When I was much younger I associated old age with declining vitality.
Of course, it’s a basic fact of aging that we’re more likely to face health problems as we get older, but the cultural subtext was more ominous. Old age wasn’t simply the inevitable downward turn of life’s arc, it was something to pity and dread, or even be ashamed of.
Now that I spend time with my Mom at her retirement community (and I’m older and wiser myself), I see how unfair that association is. Old age is no longer an idea, but it’s also no longer a bogeyman. It’s simply a phrase that describes people who’ve lived beyond an arbitrary number of years.
Is that number 55? 60? 70? 🤷🏽♀️
In terms of health, vitality, engagement, and curiosity, Mom’s neighbors are as different from one another as any other diverse group of individuals. I can make a couple generalizations: everyone has grey hair, and older bodies work less reliably than younger ones. Beyond that lies a thicket of ageist stereotypes I was blind to when I was younger.
Mom might say, “You’re still a baby! Come back in 20 years! Your rose-colored glasses might not fit so well!” Fair enough. I don’t mean to downplay the challenges of getting older.
I’ll let you know in 2043.
I’m not wasting any more opportunities to celebrate my birthday.
I have a bad habit of doing that mom-martyr thing of waving off celebrating my birthday at the slightest hint of inconvenience. It’s okay, things are busy, it’s almost Thanksgiving, we can go out to dinner in December or something.
Yeah, no more. Things like grief, pandemics, wars, and kids living 1700 miles away tend to supercharge the beauty of good days.
Also, yay mortality! It’s time to carpe some diems and CEL-E-BRATE GOOD TIMES, COME ON.
So what should I do for my birthday? I’ve never been a partier, so no benders or extravaganzas. I can barely finish a full glass of wine. I’ve got some plans up my sleeve but I still want to hear your ideas. What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your birthday? What’s the best thing someone has done for you? What’s your favorite birthday treat?
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Speaking of Thanksgiving…
…there’s something else I must say before we all disperse for the holidays.
There are almost 3500 of you here now, and I want to thank each and every one of you for growing with me.
If you’re new, that’s pretty amazing given the thousands of Substacks and the millions of other places you could spend your time.
If you’ve been here a while, you’ve seen me flounder as I got my newslettering legs under me. Creating something and asking people to support it is awkward. Not only have you encouraged me on this journey, 52 of you have taken the additional step of supporting my work with your actual dollars. One of you (Sandy!👋🏽) has signed up for a Lifetime subscription!
Thank you so much. 😊🙏🏽
(I think this is the first time I’ve ever used the prayer hands emoji.)
I’ve been writing this newsletter for 15 months. It has taken longer than I expected to feel settled here (my writer/OG blogger ego didn’t help). YOU have helped me get to this place, and I’m so grateful.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday week, whether it includes a big reunion with all the trimmings or a quiet evening with takeout. See you on the other side of 55!