Birthdays

Don’t you love birthdays? This is my family’s “birthday season,” when four grandsons and one daughter have birthdays within a few weeks. There will be lots of parties, cake to eat and gifts to buy. But all these birthdays beg the question: Is age really just a number?

People say that 50 is the “new 30” and that 60 is the “new 40.” Never before has the aging population been so healthy, active, strong and young looking. When I was a child, my grandparents, who were in their sixties, looked pretty darn old. My grandmother wore thick nylons, long dresses, black, sturdy shoes and had her hair in a bun. My grandfather walked with a cane and looked like an old man by the time he was 55. This is not a snapshot of your average baby boomer.

It does pose a dilemma if you are buying a birthday gift for a 60-year-old who is the “new 40.” Ties, bathrobes, scarves and rocking chairs wouldn’t be appropriate. How about leather jackets for riding the Harley or hiking boots to climb that mountain? I’ve been telling my husband, Doug, that I might get his AARP card embossed in gold for his next birthday. He doesn’t seem amused.

In a village in Africa, people cut a mark on a tree for every year of life. There is another tribe that tattoos a small dot on their neck for every birthday. We Americans don’t want to advertise our age and are running to the plastic surgeons to reverse the “ravages of growing old.” We wouldn’t want a bunch of dots on our necks so others could count them. Plastic surgery is no longer limited to the very wealthy or celebrities; even the “common man and woman” can enjoy the benefits of a nip and tuck. Age is experienced differently in various cultures. One thing seems to be universal – birthdays are special and usually a good reason to celebrate.

Teenagers who are 15 count the days until they hit sixteen – the blessed (and dreaded) day of driving. Young people practically hold their breath until they turn 18, believing that being “legal” will transform them. Birthdays get tricky from then on. My colleague is 39 and fears turning 40 because she knows her “life will be almost over.” Other people have happily said that, “life begins at 50.”

We know a couple who at age 75 moved to the country, built a house, put in extensive horse amenities and “retired” by training roping horses. My father died suddenly on his birthday, at age 79. He was getting ready for his radio show and planned on going dancing later with my mother. His motto was “live life with gusto.” And he did.

Happy Birthday to each of us for the entire year! Many happy returns to all those folks who live each day like it could be their last. If age is just a number, then the party never has to end!

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.