So it’s my birthday today. And it’s a big’un.
As of today, my personal odometer has officially flipped to the half-century mark. I’ve been mentally prepping myself for a while: every year, a few weeks prior to my birthday, I start referring to myself as having the higher age number. This gives me time to get used to how it feels. I try it on and break it in a little bit so by the time the actual day arrives, I’ll have mental bandages for the parts of the number that rub me the wrong way.
My daughter, who is in her first grownup job, got me considering this milestone recently when she shared an “adulting first” of her own:
(Pro tip: If your 401(k) offers matching contributions – go get that cash, kids. It’s literally FREE MONEY and will almost always offset any investment risk. My last company was sold, and participating in the new company’s 401(k) for just three months before I was laid off netted me SIX HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS in free, immediately-vested dinero, which I’m rolling into my new company’s 401(k) as we speak. And I’ve also just realized in five short years, I’ll also be eligible for catch-up contributions to my Health Savings Account., even though having permission to save more money does not mean more money appears, despite the probability of medical expenses increasing as you age. <sigh>)
Side note – my son had his own rite of passage this week – he bought himself a (used, new-to-him) truck. Here’s a
crappy picture of it parked next to his “old” car (which I’d named Jessie):
…which prompted this exchange:
Anyway – I’ve had a few other “wow, I’m hella old” moments as of late. Most recently: I was entering a convention (the Oddities & Curiosity Expo, in case you’re wondering, and yes, it is exactly as awesome as it sounds) with my sister and mentally checking off that I had everything I needed: tickets, car keys, purse….mask?
Me <patting pockets frantically>: Dammit, where the hell is my mask? I JUST had it when we left the car, I must have dropped it…. <turns and looks behind myself>
Sister: …do you mean the mask you’re… wearing? On your face?
As I contemplate what it means to be fifty, I can’t help but do a bit of reflection on what’s transpired to date. As the kids today would say, “Tell me you’re old without telling me you’re old”, where my parents would have used the “Back in MY day…” or the much-dreaded “When I was your age….” And I certainly have collected my share of samples.
Let’s start with video games. Anyone else remember Pong?
The version we had plugged directly into our TV, and as I recall, there were three distinct games:
- Ping-pong (as above)
- Tennis (where the background was green) and
- Hockey (the “players” were light blue on a white background.)
(Points for creativity, I suppose.)
Eventually, of course, we upgraded our technology. We were strongly an Intellivision family – while the disc controller left something to be desired, the graphics were CLEARLY superior to their main competitor, Atari.
I mean….there is no comparison. We had dramatic displays like this:
And Atari? Well….
And speaking of technology….what about the TV itself? Not only did we have all of maybe six channels (including that vague, fuzzy UHF channel, which if it existed today would certainly be labeled as Satanic, cancer-causing, or both) – but for many years, we didn’t even have a remote control. So if you wanted to change the channel, you had to physically GET UP out of your La-Z-Boy recliner, WALK to the TV (without your Apple Watch or FitBit tracking your steps, mind you) and TURN THE KNOB with your actual HAND.
Obviously, this was EXHAUSTING, so like any resourceful cavemen, we resorted to child labor and trickery to get the work done. It wasn’t unusual during the evening hours to hear my dad, nestled snugly into his plush recliner and tuckered out from the day’s labor, call out to one of us to come to the living room where he’d ask us change the channel. (And maybe bring him the box of Ritz crackers and the tub of vanilla ice cream while we were up.)
And then there were these sorts of exchanges:
Me, from the living room watching TV: HEY SIS! COME HERE! QUICK! YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!
Sister <rushing to living room>: What?! WHAT?
Me <calmly>: Could you please change the channel to 4?
Sister <commits eye murder>
(P.S. I wasn’t always a jerk. I mellowed out in my 30s.)
School was largely different then, also. To be fair, the last eighteen months have created a seismic shift in what’s “normal” for education, but most students today won’t know the joys of things we had. Like… actual slate blackboards. And how sometimes, in a really old building, one would fall off the wall and shatter. That was cool. Only happened occasionally but was certainly memorable – like when a teacher would play a filmstrip backwards, and/or it’d get stuck and the projector bulb would melt it and the molten blob would disintegrate on the white screen while we all cheered. Not the science lesson that was planned, but it was way more engaging for sure. Pyrotechnics always are a good way to attract attention.
And textbooks. You had actual, printed books for school that you had to carry around from home to school to all your classes. You’d be issued your books on the first day of the year, and you had to print your name inside the front cover, below the name of whoever used it last year. The teacher would record which book you had, and theoretically, if you damaged the book too badly (or lost it entirely)
you your parents would have to pay for it. To protect our butts from a swatting them, we all made book covers out of brown paper bags (come to think of it, I’m pretty sure our grocery store ONLY had paper bags, and not plastic ones) which we’d decorate with stickers and random doodles proclaiming our love for random celebrities and sports teams, which we had to read about in newspapers and magazines whenever they got around to arriving.
Not everything was simpler in simpler times. While I only had 108 elements of the periodic table to memorize (the last three of which were written in by hand, in Sharpie), some things took more time and effort. Gossip, for example. We didn’t have texting or social media (or cell phones or the internet, even) so we had to pass notes to spill the tea. We’d write all our secrets and hearts’ desires on pieces of notebook paper, fold them up, and physically hand them to other actual people. Activity would increase tenfold if you had a substitute teacher or if you were at a band or choir festival, where we’d be grouped with other students we didn’t know. Fun fact: the first primitive form of Tinder was born via this process. (“Please pass this to the cute bassoon player with the brown soulful eyes.” Ah, Ed, if you’re out there, I never forgot you.)
And who didn’t spend hours demon-dialing their best friends on a rotary telephone, only to be foiled by the ubiquitous busy signal? It was maddening – you had no way to know when the other (obviously completely unimportant, Dad, hang uuuuuupppp) call would be finished so you could FINALLY ask Tammy if Jeff really might say yes if you asked him to the dance. (The flip side of this, though, was that we also didn’t have Caller ID, so it was relatively easy to call Jeff yourself and pretend you were Tammy when you popped the hypothetical question. Saved you a ton of embarrassment when Jeff responded with a quizzical “Kate…who?”)
You know what else is WAY easier nowadays than it used to be? DIETING. Obviously, we didn’t have all these calorie and activity trackers (save the prehistoric version of pen and paper), but you young whippersnappers (LOL) will never know how damn HARD it was to get actual calorie data in the first place. If you needed to know the calories in a popular chain burrito bowl, you would have to look it up in an actual BOOK, which you’d either borrow (not own, TEMPORARILY BORROW) from the library, or buy from a bookstore. If the ingredients or the menu changed, you were plumb outta luck until the next edition was published two or three YEARS later. (Makes me twitchy just thinking about that now. We didn’t have nearly the number of anti-anxiety drugs then, either, other than Valium, which if I believe the soap operas at the time was only prescribed if you were a housewife.)
Turning fifty (!!!) is a bit of an adjustment, for sure. Having to write a 5 as the first number of my age is a mental shift that I couldn’t adequately prepare for, and I imagine getting used to identifying with it will take some time. But, I managed to move from the 8-tracks and record players of my youth to figuring out how to stream my favorite tunes online, and I suppose I’ll be able to adjust similarly to this next phase.
I mean…I don’t feel fifty. I certainly don’t think I look like what I perceived fifty to look like. My multi-colored, asymmetrical hair and a few piercings may have something to do with that, as well as my wardrobe which seems to model itself after the “kindergarten art teacher” aesthetic.
And, as I’ve mentioned previously, my weight is at an all-time low. Well, at least since the age of 10, when they weighed me in front of my classmates, which is how they did it back then. Nowadays I suspect the practice would be labeled as bullying or harassment and prohibited. And rightly so; I can still hear the metallic shh-shh-shh as the gym teacher slid that little marker higher and higher, and then the resolute CLUNK of shame as she moved the “big weight” from the 50 slot to the 100-pound mark.
But I’m entering my fifth decade with a BMI in the mid-16 range (and a lot of heavy sighs from the hubs, who doesn’t like it very much but doesn’t want to bring it up so often that I withdraw entirely.) I did schedule a physical for this week, and I’m hoping that I get a clean bill of health so he can stop
overreacting worrying and…just let me be. (I’ll update next week after I go. I suspect I will be gifted a free ride on the colonoscopy train, too. Happy birthday to me. It’s party time.)
Even though this birthday has sucker-punched me square in the feels box, I’m doing my best to stay young at heart. I scheduled myself for some
fillers and Botox a peel/facial in a couple of weeks, and put a new piercing (forward helix) on the calendar for mid-June.
And while I value the wisdom that
age life experience has granted me:
I’ll keep exercising my talents in
<takes deep breath>
I am fifty. I am fifty years old.
And so far, it’s okay.