A young woman at my office is turning twenty-five. From my fifty-year-old perspective she is a mere fledgling. She however would vehemently assert that she is elderly. From her vantage point it might be true. Years ago I wrote a script for a high school assignment. The setting was an old folks home, now euphemistically called “adult day care”, which I populated with forty year olds. What did I know? I was sixteen. Twenty- four years was an eternity.
Thanks to my CV, that shorthand log of life, I can recall what I was doing at twenty-five. Four years out of college I was taking care of the behind the scenes machinations necessary to produce a semi successful TV series. I was working sixteen-hour days and loving it. I had arrived. I was an adult.
Little did I realize the majority of the journey lay beyond. I’ve enjoyed that journey. I’m glad to be fifty. I could do without my knee locking up unexpectedly as I am rushing down a flight of stairs or the nighttime hot flashes that have made me the favorite of my cat. I could not do without the wisdom, patience and experience that have made me the person I am today. A better person than I was at twenty-five. I envy my daughter her youth and future opportunities but I wouldn’t be her for anything.
Despite having come so far, sometimes I am right back in my youth. Like last night. I dreamt I was in a room with my co-workers. From nowhere appeared a softball size orb being playfully batted around. As that ball headed to me the horrors of PE came viscerally back. I watched anxiously as it came closer, closer, closer. The group shouted at me to hit it. I focused; I aimed; I swatted; I missed. I may be fifty but the twelve-year-old geek who wanted nothing more than to be good at sports lives.
I have a niece for whom chronological age means little. Born before she’d completed half her gestation, she nevertheless survived. Against all odds she fought to live. Now each day is a struggle. She may be three but what does that mean for a child who didn’t walk until she was two, whose only word is her adored sister’s name, who will be behind children her age throughout her youth. If you ignore the milestone of dates and take her for whom she is, she’s fine; more than fine, she’s stupendous. She’s patient and happy and plucky and independent (except from her sister).
The adage is you’re only as old as you feel. I would prefer you’re only as old as others make you feel. So I will treat my niece as the big girl she is becoming and I hope she continues to treat me like a playmate. I like being a kid again if it’s with her and she deserves to be respected and treated like the child she wants to be.