Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anxiety on the 9

I hate birthdays with a '9' in them. That last number in the string marks the end of one decade of life. Maybe more significant, we end our membership in a group with whom we've identified for years, and find ourselves thrust into the next-older class.

Turning 19, I knew I would soon lose my identity as a "teenager." I didn't mind, though, because entering my 20s was exciting and full of promise.

Turning 29, on the other hand, was painful. I had loved being 20-something. I was single, working hard, feeling smart, expanding my horizons. I'd enjoyed living in Milwaukee, my college town, and I'd made friends and work contacts there. After taking a few months to travel in Europe I moved to St. Paul where I'd be three hours from my family instead of 10. St. Paul people were more reserved than those in Milwaukee; networks were harder to tap into, friendships slower to develop. As I turned 29 I found myself in a town full of great things to do, but I had few friends to enjoy them with. I was stuck in a job I hated, disappointed in a recent romance, and just not quite living up to the image I'd imagined for myself. Ready or not, time for youth and hipness was winding to a close. Looming ahead was time to grow up and be mature.

By the time I turned 30, I had a much better job and a very satisfying volunteer role in an organization of women in my field, which in turn brought many new friendships. I took myself a little more seriously, and I suppose I became more mature. At any rate I got used to the new reality of being in my 30s.

Sometime during that era, I watched a male colleague turn 39. He used his office blackboard to make lists of goals unfulfilled and talked nonstop about his dread of this birthday (something I had kept to myself, by the way). I expected even more drama when he turned 40, but there was almost none. That's when I realized that the 9s really are the ones to watch out for.

My birthdays have pretty much followed that pattern ever since. Anxiety on the 9, acceptance on the 0--with the possible exception of 60. I wasn't ready to be 60, so I was very quiet about my birthday that year. Now here I am at another 9, thinking I should have appreciated being only 60. It's not that I haven't fulfilled my goals. It's not even that 70 is impossibly old. It's just that I'm not used to the idea of me being 70. That's what the coming year is about...getting used to my new age-identity.

I was born at 2:10 a.m. on March 11. Ironically, this year March 11 is the day we go back on Daylight Savings Time. Theoretically at 2 a.m. everyone changes their clocks to 3 a.m., thus eliminating the hour I was born. I'm not worried, though.

I am entering the last year of being "in my 60s" and, in fact, I'm beginning my 70th year. As hard as that is to comprehend, I'm celebrating. For a week. Bring it on. 


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