In our minds we are young, but the evidence is mounting that we are fooling ourselves:
Our children are college-age, and we often feel like going to sleep when they feel like going out. We can’t believe that 1990 was 20 years ago. Or that we could have graduated from high school 35 years ago. Or that those 55-Plus Communities are meant for us.
When we read the Class Notes at the end of our college alumni magazines, we’re surprised that our graduation year is way at the back with the “old guard” and the “venerable alums” — not at the front, with those who graduated in this century.
When we fill out forms on the computer, we often have to click and scroll down … and down… and down through the list until we find our birth year buried deep below 2010. The only solace is that one list went as far back at 1891! We can only hope that the folks born then are still clicking and typing on their home computers.
Okay, we’re not young, but we don’t see ourselves as old. So what is the right word for those of us who are . . . mature? We don’t always act mature. That’s good! We aren’t elderly. That’s our parents. Older adults? Older than who — our kids? Seniors? That brings to mind “seniors” in school — much more fun than the seniority we see looming on the horizon.
These days, we’re always forgetting where we put our keys or cell phones (thankfully our teeth are still attached). Yiddish has many adjectives to describe that state of confusion (farmisht, farblondjet and farchadat), so we wondered what it would call us older people. Well, there’s alter-kacker, a decidedly uncomplimentary and vulgar expression that means something like “old fart.” We don’t want to be alter-kackers. Then there’s Zayde (grandfather) and Bubbe (grandmothers). We’re definitely OK with the latter title — just NOT YET!
In recent years, when people have asked us our age, we’ve noticed that we’re not really sure. We actually find ourselves doing the math, silently subtracting our birth year from the current year. (We might struggle to remember that it’s 2010 as well!). Of course, around our birthday we’re forced to figure out our age repeatedly, but when the day is past, we don’t store the offending number in our memory bank for retrieval. We delete it.
Happily, it’s rare to see our ages in print these days, except occasionally on a birthday cake. So it was a shock recently when Joyce signed up for an art class and saw her name — followed by her age! — posted on the art room door. Who needs a shock like that? Names, followed by ages, should be reserved for arrest warrants, obituaries and gossip columns: “Prince Albert II of Monaco, 52, who has fathered two children out of wedlock, will marry the willowy blonde Charlene Wittstock, 32.”
Which is why Joyce asked that her husband’s age be left off the giant JumboTron scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park when his name was listed with all the other birthday boys and girls in attendance at the Phillies’ baseball game. She thought he wouldn’t want to see his age up in lights in front of 45,000 other fans. The scoreboard simply read: “Happy Birthday, Ted Eisenberg ???” leaving the fans to figure out on their own if the birthday boy was hoping for the new Nintendo or a glass of prune juice.
Perhaps we can draw on the ancient system of Hebrew numerology to disguise our ages. According to this system, every Hebrew letter is assigned a numerical value. For example, chai, Hebrew for “life,” consists of the letters het (equaling 8) and yud (equaling 10), giving chai the value of 18. Monetary gifts are often given in multiples of 18 for good luck.
Using this, we could state our ages in terms of chai: Joyce would be 3.26 and Ellen would be 2.60. Unfortunately, the chai system won’t fool anyone. It’s like Chico’s sizing system, in which a women’s large is a size 3. We love it, but whom are they fooling? It’s like giving your weight in kilos and hoping no one else knows the metric system.
We’re in that gray zone – and we don’t just mean our hair. It’s no longer fun to hold up our fingers when someone asks how old we are – not to mention that no one has 40+ fingers! And it’s not fun yet to brag about our longevity.
But when we complain about growing old, all we have to do to snap out of it is to consider the alternative. We’re happy to be here. Just pass the hair dye and our bifocal reading glasses, please!