Feeling old on my birthday

April 2022
Phyllis Shragge

Usually, I can convince myself that I’m not as old as I am.  I’m active. I’m sociable. I drive at night.   I can’t be the age I come up with when I count the years from my birth to now. I know I must have miscounted along the way.  Maybe I mistakenly added a few years sometime during the befuddled 1960s. And let’s face it, I’ve never been good at math.

But on the day of this writing, March 21st, 2022, on this milestone birthday, I admit that I just turned elderly.   I can’t write down my exact age.  Doing so would make it real.  That number is higher than my late grandmother’s age when I visited her as a child.  My mother’s mother was a sedentary old lady who spent much of her time lounging in a rocking chair.  She always wore a long dress that skimmed her thick ankles.  Her utilitarian shoes were clodhoppers designed for comfort, not activity and certainly not fashion.  Way back when I was a child interacting with my grandmother, I knew she was very, very old.

As I begin the downhill slide into old age, I realize that there is little I can control about all of this.  I can mask some indications of my advancing years with hair dye, weight control, clothing choices and all the other superficial attributes available for those who prioritize such things, and I do.  But I am my age. 

I had a jolt this morning.  It seemed to be a sign sent from above on my birthday.  Was it a warning that I’m not as young as I think I am?  I started my day with my usual routine, including weighing myself.  I know, I shouldn’t weigh myself every day. I don’t.  Occasionally, I skip a day.  Anyway, there I was, standing on the scale, when suddenly I ended up on the edge of it and the scale flipped up.  I was thrown across the room and I landed a few feet away, next to the bathtub.  For a few seconds, I wondered if I had hurt myself badly.  I could have broken something.  Thankfully, all I I ended up with was a scraped wrist. I was fine. Never, in all the years that I have weighed myself, has the scale attacked me like this.   Why did this happen on the morning of this milestone birthday?  Did I need to be shocked into realizing that I’m old and frail?  

As I stood up, thankful that I wasn’t seriously injured, I thought of that TV advertisement from along ago that was designed to scare people who live alone.  “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” moaned the old person in the ad.  Young people watching it snickered.   Those of advanced years were horrified.

My birthday used to be special, not just because it was my birthday, but because March 21st was the first day of spring.  When I was growing up, I was proud that my birthday was the gateway to warmer weather.  My birthday symbolized hope for the months ahead.  It meant goodbye to snowstorms and icy roads.  It meant hello to chirping birds, colourful gardens and all that was good.

And then, shockingly, in the early 1980s, March 20th became touted as the first day of spring.  I was mortified.  For most of my life, March 21st was this special day. How had the date changed?  Apparently, it had something to do with a year not being an even number of days and the earth’s elliptical orbit changing its orientation relative to the sun.  

Whatever.   So now I have a regular birthday like everyone else.   Life’s not fair.  And I just keep getting older.  But as they say, it’s better than the alternative.