When you are 8 years old or 11 years old (like my children), every birthday is a big one. You are keen or shall I say eager to tell the whole world that you are now one year older, and hopefully also, one year wiser. When you are approaching midlife like me, birthdays tend to take on a different feel to it. As much as I still enjoy being treated to a nice dinner, I prefer it to be a low key family affair. I realised this year that low key was not quite possible, thanks to Facebook alerts.
I remember an ad on TV sometime back about how we look forward to birthdays when we are young and then it tapers off when we reach our midlife years, then it springs back again as you age. I suppose when your age is a single digit, you look forward to the next one. It could mean moving from a junior year to a senior year, or that you have grown an extra 3 inches or even the mere fact that your shoe size has increased. Moving from 12 to 13 is a major milestone I guess. My son is so looking forward to that big 13 as he can then officially call himself a teenager. Then comes moving to college which is a rather significant step for him. Another year after that means independence - you can now legally stay home alone and don’t need a babysitter. After that each year has privileges of some sort like being eligible to drive, drink alcohol, date, work, vote and the list goes on.
When you reach your twenties, I guess this sense of “growing” tends to get a little fuzzy. How different is 24 from 23 or 28 from 27? I once remembered being stopped by a pedestrian asking for directions, who referred to me as “uncle”. I immediately went home and looked in the mirror. The only image that stared right back at me was a balding one, which was no comfort. It’s scary to note that the pop group I grew up with is now categorised under “oldies”. Songs my kids listen to these days are noise to me. As I grow older, I tend to try very hard to hold on to the earlier age as long as I possibly can. So, one day before I turned 40, I still declared that I was still very much 39. My son on the other hand who has another 9 months to go before he officially turns 12 has conveniently declared to everyone that he is now 12.
As I grew older, I was very conscious of how everyone else seemed to look younger. When I look at someone’s birth date now and see that they were born in the 80's or the 90’s, I cannot help but feel ancient. In my 40’s I went to see a doctor and felt nervous because he looked like a kid because he was in his 20’s. My first reaction was “Do I trust this kid with my life?” I fly regularly and each time I fly I cannot help wondering how young the pilots are now. We somehow relate age in experience to age in years and it only gets more pronounced as you grow older.
My wife and I often explain to our kids what childhood was like for us but it is difficult for them to grasp what it might have been like for us. I know my parents have tried very hard to explain how difficult life was for them which I often found hard to appreciate, let alone picture in my mind. Likewise, my son cannot imagine life without the TV or the computer, can’t see why we still need to stick a stamp on a letter when it can be sent with a click of a button.
For me at least, it feels like I am on this tightrope suspended in midair. On one side are the needs of my ageing parents as they hang on to me tighter as they approach their golden years. On the other side are my children who push me away wanting their freedom and independence.
This is as good an age as any to reflect on how much has changed between the three generations and yet how we are so interlinked. This is as good a time as any to be grateful that I have parents who still depend on me and children who still remember my birthday and take the trouble to make it special for me. And in between all this, a wife that ensures I don’t fall off the tightrope. What more can I ask for?