Birthday-inspired thoughts on getting older

by Kristin on March 2, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Judith Green

Today’s my birthday. I’ve always found birthdays, as an adult, to be somewhat odd. The strangeness has become even more pronounced since having kids of my own.

It seems silly to make a big to-do over your own birthday, or to secretly hope someone else will throw together a huge birthday bash. But it’s really kind of sad to let it pass without a festive nod of some sort. Do you feel that way, too?

Similarly, as a blogger it feels funny to draw attention to my birthday by writing about it, but it feels wrong to let it pass by without mention.

Sigh. I guess this is just the kind of state I’m in right now. I’m going to acknowledge it, accept it, and share with you a few of the thoughts that are in my mind today. (And then I’ll get back to all of the wonderful sharing you all did on my last post. Promise!)

Age has a whole lot to do with context

I’m turning 39 today, which feels like a big deal. It seems so impossible, and sounds so old! Living in a university town as I’ve approached 40 has really thrown me. Everywhere I look, I see 19-year-olds. I need to find out what the mean age in this town is, compared to a typical city. Whatever it is, it’s definitely mean.

After my divorce, at 33, I was suddenly VERY aware of my age. I had my kids, so it wasn’t a biological clock thing, but I sensed how old I was getting—in a hurry. A new clock ticking. It was the “I have a small window of time to meet a new man while I’m still relatively hot” clock. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but it was definitely going through my head.

When I met Jason, who is five years younger than me, I clearly had scored BIG. But at first, I was self-conscious about our age difference—it made me feel older, not younger. I’ve gradually gotten over that, though, and we feel like exactly the same age. The oldest of our three girls is his, which somehow evens it out. We were both born in the 1970s, too, which helps in some bizarre psychological way. And women live longer then men. Especially women in my family. Both of my grandmothers are in their 90s.

Embracing this reality, without a grudge

I’ve also, in the past year, experienced an overall shift in how I think about age. For the first time in probably five years, I feel great about how old I am. The fact that I’m even publishing my age here on my blog shows great progress. I think a couple of different things have helped me embrace my near-40 state.

One is that I still regularly get mistaken for someone ten years younger. I am consistently amused by this, but I’m not complaining. A little hair color, somewhat regular exercise, and the fact that I inherited my grandmother’s amazing skin and my parents’ metabolism go a long way.

The other is that I’ve met all kinds of really wonderful people this past year, on Twitter and on their blogs. These people are funny, smart, interesting, and full of wisdom and wit. And most of them are my age or even older! I kid you not!

This was like a revelation to me, living in this town with so many 20-year-old hotties. As it turns out, and as so many of you have demonstrated, being near-40 is hot.

I have experiences to draw on and stories to tell. I have stretch marks to wear proudly like war wounds, constant reminders of how my children made it onto this earth. I find I just don’t spend time worrying about so many of the silly things I used to stress about, because I have a much bigger picture to place them in, and I’m able to realize how little they really matter in that big picture.

In short, I’ve finally figured out how to really like and accept myself, exactly as I am. And it ultimately doesn’t matter what age any of us is at when that happens—it’s bound to be a beautiful one.

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  • TJ Hirst

    Happy Birthday from one who is over 35, and nearing 40! My husband hit 40 in the last six weeks and it rocked my world. But the best is yet to be!

  • Nisha

    Happy birthday, and props for being so comfortable and secure with your age. Now I feel kind of bad for being one of the aforementioned twenty-somethings who keep overrunning C-U :) But I love reading your blog because it is really easy for us 20-somethings in Champaign-Urbana, especially in the campus part of town, to get so absorbed in our own little campus bubble and forget the larger community outside of just our campus and the people there and their stories. I love the totally different perspective your provide.

  • Mike Goad

    Happy birthday!

    You’re not all that old. I was senior in high school 39 years ago. There can still be a lot of GREAT years to come.

  • Natalie Hart

    Kristin, that’s a beautiful thing, liking your age. I’m glad for you that you’ve reached it. I’ve found that looking back over old photos and remembering how self-conscious/obsessive I felt about something ridiculously minor makes me a lot more gentle towards myself now (over 40!). And don’t feel silly about adult birthdays — every year you are alive is a reason to celebrate.

  • Daisy

    And you share a birthday with Dr. Seuss! How cool is that? Here’s hoping for many more wonderful anniversaries like this one. Now, pass the cake.

  • Carmen

    Show us your stretch marks!

    Happy b-day, pal. I miss you!

  • ejly

    happy day! Keep up the great attitude. What’s the good of having a 20-something body when you’re too inexperienced to know what to do with it? ; )

  • Kristin T.

    TJ, the best is yet to be, indeed. I can honestly say I believe that now—I’m not just practicing the power of positive thinking! I’m glad you believe it, too.

    Nisha, your comment made me laugh—and cringe a tiny bit. :) I hope you know that I really don’t resent all the youth roaming this town. I think it’s energizing in so many ways, and I love having access to a student perspective on your blog, too. Thanks for being a part of this diverse community.

    Mike, that’s so good to hear. Just as Nisha enjoys the perspective of people 20 years older than her, I’m so glad that lots of people 20 years older than me are participating in social media and sharing their wise perspective. Keep it up!

    Natalie, reading what you wrote, “remembering how self-conscious/obsessive I felt about something ridiculously minor,” is like looking into my own thoughts. I was SO much like that, and I’m so glad I’m not any more. One of the very lovely things about gracefully aging into our selves. :)

    Daisy, sharing a birthday with Dr. Seuss has been one of my favorite random details about myself since I was a little girl. I can’t think of many famous people I’d rather share a birthday with. Your blog post about him is great, btw. (And I’d love to share my cake, too, if I could. Jason made me an amazing cheesecake with dark chocolate and pistachios.)

    Carmen, I’ll make you a deal: You get yourself out to Central Illinois for a visit, and I’ll show you the stretch marks (said with a “show me the money” inflection). I wear them with pride, but I’m not *quite* proud enough to share them on the Internet—they’re reserved for my closest, long-time pals like you. :)

    ejly, well said. Experience can’t be gained from reading articles in checkout aisle magazines—it only comes with time. And we’ve earned it!

  • Cobalt-Blue

    Happy Birthday, KT!

    Grey hairs, crows feet, & stretch marks are all about life experience and gaining wisdom. That’s what I like to think about mine. Enjoy the weeks ahead while celebrating your birthday because, you know, birthday festivities need to last for more than one day.

  • Ashley

    Happy (belated) Birthday! Maybe it’s a silly notion, but I think laughter (or maybe a good sense of humor?) makes you younger. You seem to have no problems there.

    I agree with ejly – As long as you’ve got the attitude, you can work the body. :)

  • Linda Davenport

    Happy Birthday (albeit a little late)!

    Congratulations on your great attitude about age and life! I’m 52 and I honestly believe every year is worthy of celebration. If nothing else, it means that for 52 years I’ve managed to avoid falling victim to my own stupidity or someone else’s malice! Seriously…the notion that we should avoid revealing and celebrating our age has always confounded me. It’s not like living another year is a dirty little secret. It’s a good thing! Celebrate your comfort, your beauty, and your growing wisdom…and keep shining your light. There are people coming along behind you who will appreciate it.



  • LisaNewton

    Last year, when I turned 50, I asked my father how it felt to have a child who was 50, and he just laughed.

    This year, my daughter will be turning 25, which should make me feel pretty old. But, it doesn’t. I just makes me proud that I’m healthy, happy, and young.

  • Betty Duffy

    This post resonates with me so much. I was trying to think of something about myself to offer in the comments of your last post, and I think this is it: In my mind, I am still nineteen years old. I go around thinking I’m still young–when someone says something like, “Let’s get the youth involved” in our Parish, I still think they’re talking about me. I don’t know if it’s because time has passed so quickly, or if my mind just has a “failure to progress” syndrome. But every now and then, the reality hits me: I’m old enough to be my nineteen-year-old self’s mother. It seems impossible. I still feel like I’m on the cusp of my life–just embarking. Probably because there is so much still to do, and I finally feel smart and capable enough to do it (a perk of getting older: one is less likely to suffer from “imposter syndrome”).

    Happy Birthday!!

    (and thank you so much for the link)

  • The Modern Gal

    Happy birthday!

    It really is all about how you feel, isn’t it? I think you’ve got a beautiful attitude about age that will serve you well!

  • Loren

    Happy Birthday! I’d be turning 39 this year, too. We’re on the same boat. I exactly feel the same way that you do.

  • Trina

    yay you! Happy Cake Day! I love being my age, 47!

  • Bamboo Forest – PunIntended

    Happy Birthday.

    I think the key is to focus on the present moment and all the potential that is there. When we start thinking about the past, we compromise the potential we have right now.

    Life is a start to finish for anyone, regardless of his or her age. So in that sense, it is as if we are all the same age.

  • Kristin T.

    Cobalt-Blue, I wouldn’t mind having the wisdom without the marks to prove it, but they do seem to be a package deal, don’t they? :)

    Ashley, I think you’re exactly right about the importance of laughter and a sense of humor, and I’m so glad that part of who I am comes through in my writing.

    Linda, you said “the notion that we should avoid revealing and celebrating our age has always confounded me. It’s not like living another year is a dirty little secret.” I love it! So true. And I’m glad it’s finally starting to confound me, too. Thanks for your encouragement and blessings.

    Lisa, I plan to take the very same approach when my daughters reach 25. Is the secret to keep walking? :)

    Betty, what you write resonates with me so much, too. A big part of coming to terms with how old I actually am is just what you said: I feel like I’m 19, so being 39 kind of takes me by surprise! We *are* on the cusp of our lives, in so many ways, and I love your take on getting older: “one is less likely to suffer from ‘imposter syndrome.’”

    The Modern Gal, my “beautiful attitude about age” was mighty slow in coming, but I’m glad it is finally making an appearance.

    Loren, thanks for keeping me company in my boat. I hope you’re feeling great about turning 39!

    Trina, I think that’s all that matters, is that we are able to say “I love being my age,” whatever age that is. Hearing you say that about 47 is a breath of fresh air.

    Bamboo Forest, I’m really glad you brought up the potential in the moment, and how we compromise that when we fail to be content in the moment.

    Thanks for the birthday wishes, everyone!