The Number Game

I’m living in the era of milestone birthdays.

Most of my close friends have turned or will be turning a half century any minute. What’s fascinating about this isn’t who made it here, who’s ahead or behind in the accumulation game, but how we’re dealing with it.

My friend Teril never once uttered her age from 40 to 49. She was too busy with work, with family, with a new husband. She barely had time to. However this year, she said she’s going to own 50 and even threw herself a sweet unicorn-themed afternoon tea to celebrate it.

Anne is turning 60 and literally doesn’t care. It’s kind-of wonderful to hear because in truth, I consider her to be my friend, my peer and my age-less colleague in work and life. And because her kids are older than mine, I benefit from her hindsight when figuring out sticky wickets.

I couldn’t tell you how old Jane is because she has literally not said her age out loud — ever. I assume she’s a minute or two older than me because she’s admitted to going to high school with a pseudo-celeb who is older, but I’ll never know.

As for myself, saying my age out loud is startling — it sounds old — but in my internal conversations, my age is an honor, a new thing, something shiny, like the red bike I got when I turned five. It’s better than being in my 40s, which sounds so 1980s to me.

However, when I’m describing someone who is old-ish, I describe them as being in their 50s, which is something I’m going to have to work on.

Last summer, I was watching Jill Kargman’s brilliant show “Odd Mom Out,” looking for Molly Ringwald because I’d heard she was making a guest appearance. I saw this woman who was Molly Ringwald-esque and remarked to my partner, “That can’t be her — that woman’s middle aged.” And she was — she looked like all of my friends’ mothers growing up.

My partner looked at me and laughed. “She is.”

“But we’re the same age.” In fact, I’m older than her. And then it hit me — I’m middle aged.

But I go to spin class and Zumba and wear skinny black pants with high boots. I wear deep red lipstick and am not afraid to go without makeup because I think I still look ok barefaced. I still assume that when men are giving me the once-over it’s because I’m attractive, not pathetic. I’m always up for an activity and an adventure. I don’t say things like, “my bad back,” or “my knees hurt,” or “it gives me indigestion,” like other “older” people say because I feel like I always have.

My mother and I had a conversation about age not too long ago. She’s an active, independent 71-year-old and the youngest of the posse of women she travels with. She has a boyfriend and a list of interests a mile long (canasta, cards, book club, lunch bunch, theater, concerts, volunteering, etc.). She said I was making her feel old because I was the old one. I reminded her that her next major milestone was 75, which sounds ancient. That made no sense to her. We are now sisters in public, or at least five years younger than we really are.

When talking about age, a friend’s father who is in his 80s, said he didn’t feel old and when he looked in the mirror, he looked the same as he always did. He sees himself every day, so the grays and fine lines accumulate gradually. It’s when he sees himself in pictures that he asks, “Who is that old man?” But he’s still the same as he always was, which is why age is just a number, with no meaning except to those on the outside.