Today is my birthday. Last year my birthday fell on Mother’s Day and the Season Finale of Survivor, which really rocked. This year my birthday does not fall on Mother’s Day but does occur on the same day that Oprah reveals her Big Family Secret. I can’t imagine what that will be since I thought we already knew way too much about her already.
I am 48 today, but started telling people I was already that age months ago. In January, after the new year changes, I start thinking about how old I’m going to be in May. Then I start practicing saying the new age in my mind. Soon after that I start saying it out loud to people. I’m a huge age-dropper and LOVE telling people how old I am, like I think people will be impressed by how many years I’ve been around. It’s a deep-seated neurosis of mine.
My mother is the oldest of her many siblings and when she had me, I was the first-born grandchild. I was fussed over and made to feel special – as is the right of any first-born child in any family – and thus I spent my formative years being treated like a little princess. Over the subsequent years, I accumulated about 15 younger first cousins and at major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas the entire extended family would get together for the shared meal. The children were placed in a separate room to eat. I’m sure you’re familiar with The Kid’s Table as it seems all families have something like this – a place where the children can be segregated from the more formal dining experience of the adults and where the chatter and messiness of children won’t mar the holiday meal for the grownups. At around age 10 I began to resent eating at the kid’s table. My cousins were all young and babyish and had absolutely no respect for my elder position. I would look at them eating their Thanksgiving meal on their paper plates, scooping up mashed potatoes with plastic forks, and think “I MADE this Goddamn Kid’s table but now I’m SICK of all of you and can’t wait until I can get out of here and take my rightful place at the adult’s table, where I really belong.” That year, I asked when I could stop eating at the kid’s table and was told “how about when you’re 12?” This seemed reasonable to me, although apparently the adult who said it didn’t mean it and probably assumed I’d forget about it over the next 2 years.
But I didn’t forget.
The year I turned 12, I was ready for Thanksgiving. I got my plate ready, flounced up to the adult’s table, and was promptly halted by my mother who held out her hand like a stop sign, saying “Hey there, where do you think you’re going?”
“Uh, I get to sit here,” I said, then added for clarification: ” I’m 12 now.”
But my mother wasn’t buying it. “Oh no you don’t. This table is for grownups, honey. Twelve is not grown up, believe me, so go on now. Scoot.”
This was very disappointing news and I began to panic. “No” I thought. I can’t go back in there. I’ll die in there with all those CHILDREN.” I began to plead with an intensity I had perfected over many years of adult manipulation but it was no use. I wasn’t going to be allowed back in with the adults, and now my protests had caught the attention of the rest of my aunts and uncles who actually started laughing at me. “What did she do, try to sneak in here with us?” they said. “Hey, don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, kid.”
The situation had definitely turned ugly and I slunk off with my plate of turkey and marshmallow salad and ate my Thanksgiving dinner under the stairs alone, leaking tears of embarrassment and frustration. It was then that I decided that growing up in a hurry was exactly what I needed to do. That is the year when I begin to anticipate my birthdays months in advance.
In my twenties I was saddled by the burden of still looking like a teenager. For years, when salespeople would knock on my apartment door, I would be greeted with a “Hello there, is your mother home?” I became convinced there was a well-coordinated cosmic conspiracy to keep me from completely being accepted as an adult and my twenties sped by in a race to get to age thirty. In my thirties, motherhood worked its natural aging process and grocery sackers started calling my ma’am. I considered this progress in the right direction.
Now at age 48, I no longer look like I’m in my teens or twenties, or even thirties. I’ve been eating at the adult table for a very long time now and took perverse pleasure in seating my own son at the Kid’s Table when he was small. The practice of anticipating my age several months in advance is a finely honed habit I’ll probably never grow out of even though I’m almost 50. Fifty. Geez, I can’t believe I’m going to be that old in just another year and a half.