Today is my birthday. I’m 70 years old. OMG, right? What can I possibly share with readers so much younger than I am? But I don’t think or feel as old as that number seems to signify. I know I’m not young. I know I have lived many lives, but in my heart I start fresh every day.
My younger brother talks like he’s minutes from the nursing home and the grave. I adore my brother, but I want to smack him and say, “You’re too young to be so old!” Does he feel older because he has adult children and grandchildren? I have seen this in other parents, too. Are the rumors that childless people are immature true?
When I was researching my Childless by Marriage book, I asked people if they thought not having children made us less mature than parents. The answers varied from “They’re the immature ones” to “I refuse to grow up.” Having children is certainly not the only way to learn the lessons of life. By my age, most of us have experienced caregiving and loss with their parents and other family members. That stuff grows you up in a hurry. The grief of the growing list of losses, including the children we never had, can eat you up if you let it. All we can do is have a good cry and move on.
My childless friends seem more youthful and more active. Why? Is it that we have missed the milestones of graduations, weddings (and divorces), and grandbabies being born? Maybe we have simply had more time to take care of ourselves. Maybe we don’t have anyone to remind us that we’re the older generation and the kids are the new and improved model. What do you think? Does not having children make us less mature?
Another aspect of having a milestone birthday with no children or grandchildren is you may not have any family around to help you celebrate. When my aunt turned 70, her children threw her a huge party. I knew that wouldn’t happen for me this year. Even with kids, COVID might have prevented it. I have spent some sad birthdays alone, and I was determined not to do that this year. I stewed about this a lot, then woke up one day with a plan.
I went to church this morning, Catholics offering Mass almost every day. I thought it was good to bring God into the celebration. Then I went on a hike on a section of the Oregon Coast Trail that’s known around here as the 804 Trail. It follows a rocky coastline with wild waves and stunning views. The path was muddy and the air was drizzly, but I enjoyed it, happily greeting the people and dogs I passed, feeling strong and free.
Afterward, I parked by the Alsea River outside Waldport and played my recorder, badly, just because I wanted to. I followed that by having a 2 ½-hour lunch with friends whom I invited to the restaurant of my choice, the Salty Dawg. It’s downhome and friendly, and I like it. The waitress sang happy birthday, a friend gave me flowers, and I pigged out on a Reuben sandwich, fries, and chocolate lava cake. I had so much sugar and caffeine I may never sleep. But it’s my birthday, and I did it my way.
Back at home, I took the dog on a long walk, talked on the phone with family and friends and enjoyed an online poetry reading. You do you, the obnoxious saying goes. I did me. As a childless woman with no one taking over my day, I was free to do that.
Do I feel 70? No. Well, my knees do, and my hair is graying very quickly now. But otherwise, no, I feel the same as I did at 40, 50, 60, and yesterday.
Not having offspring to celebrate your special days is both sad and wonderful at the same time. Yes, it would be nice having a daughter bake me a birthday cake, maybe have grandchildren singing to me in their squeaky voices or helping me blow out the candles. But I was able to take charge of my own birthday and do it my way. I choose to be happy about that.
I welcome your comments. Know that I treasure your presence.