Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I am Not Middle Aged (Just in Case You're Wondering)

Sounds like last week's Jen's World is hard to find on the PB site. (Shocker, I know.) So here it is, for your reading pleasure:

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One evening last week, I was spending time with a group of friends and acquaintances when a man I don’t know very well said, “Well, you know, when you’re middle aged like we are…”


I shot incredulous looks at my friends. “Who the hell is HE talking to?” my expression said. “What does he mean, when you’re ‘middle aged like we are’?”

Ha. Ha ha ha.


But I was unsettled. Was I middle aged? And, if so, why hadn’t anyone told me? I went home that night and Googled, “What is middle age?” And then I did what I’ve told my kids they must never, ever do: Used Wikipedia as my primary source.

“Middle age is the period of age beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age,” the entry read. It went on to state that the Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition as “…the period between early adulthood and old age, usually considered as the years from about 45 to 65.” And that the U.S. Census lists middle age as including both the age categories 35 to 44 and 45 to 50.

It didn’t take me long to do the math. In roughly one month, I’m hitting the big time—a milestone birthday. 40. Which means, according to the U.S. Census, I’ve already been middle-aged for half a decade.

And that, my friends, is why you should never use Wikipedia.

I’ve always been the girl who quotes Abraham Lincoln when it comes to birthdays: “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” And I believe that—wholeheartedly. But I’m also beginning to see, in fits and starts, the places where I might, kind of, sort of, be entering into if not middle agedom… then at least older than young adultdom.

Here’s one example: I sat in my car in a parking lot for 10 full minutes this afternoon, riveted by what was on the radio. It was NPR. (In my defense, it was “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” NPR’s “weekly hour-long quiz program”—and who doesn’t find Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell irresistible? Don’t answer that.)

Here’s another: When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is open and close my fingers in loose fists to see how my arthritis is doing. I’m not even lying. And then I shuffle—I’m shuffling, people—to my closet, where I put on my robe, which is not only flannel, but embroidered with Scottie dogs. (Once again, I feel I must defend myself by pointing out that the robe in question was actually a gift from my mother-in-law.)

One more: I found myself using the word “persnickety” this week. Also, curmudgeon. That can’t be good.

The thing is, though, that occasional grandma-like vocabulary, a bit of arthritis, and an affinity for NPR weekend programming aside—I feel young. Like really young—like 27. Or 32. Or, hey, maybe even almost-40.

Because here’s what else I’ve discovered: No matter what the U.S. Census says, 40 is young—or at least it’s youngish, if “youngish” indicates vitality, vigor and much future promise. (And I would argue that it does.) I mean, heck: Leonardo Da Vinci painted The Last Supper at 43. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn at 49. Jack Nicklaus won a Masters, and Martina Navratilova a Grand Slam in their 40s. Even Orville Redenbacher didn’t start his popcorn company until his late 50s.

Not that I’m trying to emulate Orville Redenbacher, mind you.

This time of life, as far as I can tell, embodies the confidence of youth with a bit of the experience and wisdom of age thrown in. The truth is, most days I feel energetic, enthusiastic, and excited for the future. If that’s middle aged, I’ll take it.