“How old am I?”
I ask at dinner one night. “35,” declares my eight year old, immediately. “And your birthday is in January.” “Three and half,” says my three and a half year old, somewhat predictably. “You’re 34. No you’re 35. Old lady,” reports my husband gleefully because I am eight months older than he is. “Milk?” offers my other three and a half year old, not interested in my impending chronological crisis.
My friend shared an article on Facebook the other day about the increased risks of drinking in middle age. The article cited data collected from 35 year olds. “35 is not middle aged,” she screamed in the comments. But since the average life expectancy for American women is 81.2 years old, it’s not that far off.
I don’t feel middle aged but I don’t really feel 35 either.
No one has asked me how old I am for years. I think it’s even illegal in some situations. I actually have to calculate from the year of my birth when I think about it. Age seems irrelevant to me these days. It feels so important when you are young and longing for being 10 or being 16 or 21.
But when you haven’t had the right number of candles on your birthday cake for years or perhaps no birthday cake at all, it feels like it doesn’t even matter how old you actually are.
There is, of course, that old adage, “You’re only as old as you feel.”
For a long time, I felt 15. 15 was great. Old enough to stay home or go places alone, free of any kind of real responsibility, surrounded by a large group of friends, life a series of high peaks and low troughs exciting in its unpredictability. I was 15 at the height of Britpop. The best weekends we would take the train into London to see bands at Wembley stadium or the Astoria- Blur, Pulp, Ash, The Verve – drinking vodka and coke in McDonalds cups. I was 15 in my mind for about 10 years.
Then I started to feel more like 22. But not Taylor Swift 22. No gold cat ears, falling backwards into swimming pools or racing on the pegs of BMX bikes driven by a crew of all my hottest friends for me.
I was in grad school writing my dissertation on the loneliness of the modern man in the American Novel, 1920-1960.
22 was pretty great too, less angsty, even more freedom. I was living 3000 miles away from where I grew up. I could spend hours and hours reading one paragraph of ‘Babbitt’. That dissipated after a while too.
But I’m not 15, I’m not 22, I am not even young anymore.
Several years ago, I was labelled “an older generation office lady” by a 14 year old student at the school were I worked. He came to this determination because I did not know enough lyrics of Nicki Minaj songs. I mean, I did work in an office and at least he called me a lady.
I was 26 when I had my first child and that felt very young to me.
Though, in 2014, the average age for American women to have their first babies was 26.3. My second pregnancy came before the dreaded 34 years that would mark me as geriatric. That’s worse than being middle age surely?
It seems that as soon as I had kids it just didn’t matter how old I was any more. It is just another one of those things that is chipped away from you when you become a parent. Unless of course you are a 65 year old giving birth to quadruplets implanted via the IVF skills of a questionable doctor, then it’s all anyone talks about.
We measure the age of babies in hours at first, then days, then weeks, then months even after we could use a year. The first question you ask about an infant or of a child is how old they are. It feels important. It gives meaningful context to everything that they do or don’t do.
But age doesn’t really tell you anything about adults. Being married, having kids, where you work, where you live is all more important. I don’t even know how old most of my friends are. It becomes like a puzzle to work it out, gleaning clues from what kind of music they liked in college or what sort of outfit they wore to prom.
So how old do I feel? That really depends on the time of day, what’s in my soda cup and whether Nicki Minaj is on the radio. Now, I must get some gold cat ears, and where did I leave my BMX?