Do you recall being asked by an adult, “So, do you feel any older?” on the occasion of one of your childhood birthdays?
I do. In my earliest youth, I thought this question was a physical one. It prompted me to give myself a pat down beginning from the chest and working the way to my toes in an attempt to locate the exact place where I felt “different.”
As I grew older, I understood the question to mean that I should feel more mature. But I remember only disappointment that I felt no different; as if my birthday should have caused an epiphany which I had somehow missed. On each occasion, this left me feeling kick-the-dirt sad.
Now, over age 50 (holy sh** when did that happen?), I understand it was a rhetorical question all along, or at least a stab at some cornball humor.
What might I say to my 20-year-old self, if I were to meet her today?
“You will never feel any older.”
Hell, you might not even realize that you are an adult for an extraordinarily long time—well beyond the point when 16-year-olds view you (at 36 or 37) as out of touch. For men, the date to this realization happens so late, it is often termed a mid-life crisis, but it is nothing of the sort. Men merely experience a rude awakening into adulthood which causes them to freak out.
To my early 20’s self I would say:
I know. You think you are an adult now, but just now you are too busy making all of those early decisions: cultivating friendships and other relationships, maybe considering who is “the one,” contemplating whether, when, and how many children you will have, determining how its going career-wise, or where you will go on your next vacation.
Weddings and funerals, work, monthly gatherings, quarterly meetings, promotions, schlepping to and from retirement parties, anniversaries, baby showers, and holiday gatherings, are all events that conspire to obscure a particular moment. As if predestined, in the midst of it all, you will find yourself innocently marking yet another birthday of your own when someone asks, “Do you feel any older?”
Suddenly, for the first time, you say, “Yes.”