What’s in a number?
That’s my age. If we look at the average lifespan of an American woman in 2019 (results from statista), we see it’s 81 years old. That means I’m still four and a bit years away from my midlife crisis. I don’t yet feel old. I don’t yet look old (though, the silver hairs gleefully populating my head in devil-may-care sprays beg to differ). I don’t yet act old. Well, not too old. And who says what’s old anyway?
My parents are in the “vulnerable” category of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; they have a hard time accepting they’re vulnerable simply based on age. I’ll probably be like that when I enter my seventies, too. And there it is: I’m assuming I’ll live as long as they do. I’m assuming I’ll reach the average age of 81. Actually, I’m an optimist – I’m hoping to be into my 90’s or even 100. Everyone likes a nice, round number.
So, I’m not old by a strictly birthday definition. But society has other thoughts on the matter. Google anything at all about getting pregnant or motherhood past age 35 and you’ll see we’re lumped under the incredibly sexy term “geriatric,” as in, you’ll have a geriatric pregnancy for anything past age 35. The only other time geriatric rears its head is for pensioners past 65, and even then it’s pushed to 70, 75, even 80. And let’s not forget those “really old” parents who attend their children’s graduations and weddings when they’re nearing retirement, playing with grandchildren in their golden years, and forgetting where they put the milk when their own children are caring for them at the end.
When contemplating expanding our family, the last thing I want to consider myself is a geriatric mother. Oh, the joy of that title. I wear many titles – daughter, sister, wife, Marine, mother – but I don’t want geriatric in my repertoire. Yes, I know a lot is based on lifestyle factors that are mostly all in my favor (BMI, underlying medical issues, tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise), but that’s not a guarantee of success in the sack. My past is testament to that. However, what I can control, I will. I guess I’d just be a lot happier if I didn’t have to refer to myself as geriatric at age 36. Silver vixen instead?
When I joined my NROTC unit in Wisconsin at age 18 – an eager college freshman riding the patriotic high of 9/11 the year prior – I thought my Captain/Lieutenant instructors were old. (They were early 30’s, tops.) When I went through TBS and then flight school, Majors were really old. They all had snippets of grey hair, or no hair, and their tired faces showed the stress of having been commissioned for over 10 or 12 years in crow’s feet and forehead creases. They had kids, talked in outdated acronyms, and knew how many years, months, and days they had left to serve until they could retire. The medals clinking on their dress uniform probably needed counterweights. Like I said, mega old.
And now that’s me. I’m a Major. I have a kid. I have ample crow’s feet when I smile. I sometimes use outdated acronyms. I have the requisite grey hairs poking through that means I’m getting old. I’m closer to my retirement day than my commissioning date. What really clinches it is that new recruits straight from high school are half my age. Half my age. They weren’t even alive when the Twin Towers came down. They barely remember the aughts. Google has always been a part of their technology-driven lives. Holy shit. The tables have turned.
Thank god for authors! We (can I say “we” yet?) are a snarky, sassy, leave-me-alone-I’m-fine-with-the-lockdown bunch of cat-whispering introverts who consider any writer published before the age of 40 to be young. Young! The fountain of youth exists; it’s simply a rewrite of the definition. In two major areas of my life I’m a crotchety old fart, but in my self-chosen new career, I’m a bubbling source of youthfulness. Compared to my octogenarian writing group pals, I’m still wet behind the ears. It’s marvelous.
Should this be the case, lauding writers (especially debut authors and “new voices”) who get something, anything published before that big 4-0 mark? No. It shouldn’t matter a whit whether you first publish something when you’re nineteen (Christopher Paolini) or sixty-six (Frank McCourt). It should matter that you are the right age to write the story bursting out of you; sometimes that takes gaining life experience in order to have something to write about. Sometimes, that takes having the time to sit down and write, no distractions, no bills, no kids. I’d like to be content with writing my memoir – a little life-slice of my time alive – as it comes to me, but the business-savvy side of me knows I need to make hay while the sun shines. My goal is to have my memoir published before I turn 40, before my old-age trifecta completes itself. But really, what’s in a number?
Happy writing, young-old me.