Author's Note: The following post will sound whiney. But bear with me...there is a point.
I've never had a hard time with birthdays and the concept of aging...until last week when I turned 26. Suddenly, everything about me seemed old. My knees throbbed on runs, my hands suddenly showed age and looked worn, my gray hairs were in abundance, and I was not carded the few times I ordered a beer with dinner. It occurred to me last week that I hadn't been mistaken for a student in some time (my first year of teaching, I was frequently mistaken for a high school senior). In conversation a few weeks ago I expressed my love for cardigans, NPR, and...birds. Yes, birds. Late nights are a kick in the pants. I'd trade an evening on the town for a quiet night at home in my pajamas any day. I stopped in at some trendy little boutique here in Omaha last week and found myself scowling at the dresses that only reached my mid-thigh (WAYYYY too short for this old lady). Lately, excitement for me is a trip to Trader Joe's. I never worried about eating sugary foods, but as I ate a slice of homemade carrot cake a few days before my birthday, I wondered what part of my body I'd soon see this cake on.
I know it sounds crazy--especially to those of you have a few years on me--but for the first time in my life, I feel old.
I don't really know what to do with this. I don't know if I should do something crazy like get a tattoo or purchase a motorcycle to remind me of how young I am. I don't know if I should embrace it and give in to my not-so-secret desire to pick up a birds of the Midwest identification book. It's exhausting.
It's also difficult to accept that your life may not look like what you dreamed up when you were a kid. In my teen years, I had this romantic vision of what my life would look like at 26: a husband, a house, a few kids with popsicle stained smiles, long hair (because I seriously believed that all really mature chicks had long hair), a dog, a long list of countries traveled to, and casseroles on the dinner table. I do have a swell husband and a feisty little dog...but that's it from the aforementioned list. We have no kids in sight. I live in the basement of someone else's house. I've had short hair for three years because I'm too lazy to have long hair. I don't plan ahead enough to make casseroles. And I don't make enough Benjamins to travel around the world.
After my run this morning I flipped on the Today Show and watched the Smucker's Jam guy give birthday shout-outs to lots of people who are 100 years or older. The last woman on the list was 113 years old. I wondered if she felt the same way I do when she turned 26. I wondered how she feels today, on her 113th birthday. The Smucker's Jam guy said something about her secret to longevity is putting others before herself.
Of course that made me feel pretty terrible about my week of whining about "getting old." I feel like I lose so much time sulking and feeling sorry for myself (in many situations) that I miss out on opportunities to serve others or simply enjoy being alive and healthy. This year I'll embrace being 26--even if 26 doesn't include a house and kids.