Monday, September 09, 2013

Bittersweet Days

My parents, circa May, 1955

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. A few days ago, I lit a candle and chanted yiskor on the 1st anniversary of my mother's death. Tomorrow I turn 50. In a few weeks, it would have been my mother's 90th birthday. It will be my son's 20th on the same day.

The fall has always been a time packed with events. Aside from the myriad of birthdays and annual celebrations, it brings the Jewish Holidays, the start of the school year, and the turn of seasons with its march toward winter.

This year feels more significant, somehow, even though I know just how arbitrary those numbers are. Why should being 49 feel any different than 50? 24 years of marriage versus 25? It's not like there's any special prize or privilege associated with those particular milestones. At least when you turn 18, you get to vote. 21 and you are legal to drink. 50 is just a day with what feels like weight attached. My husband's mother died when she was 50. At the time, while I knew 50 was too young to die, it also felt old. At least it was from my vantage point of 18.

I've never made a big deal about my age. Honestly, I'm not sure what 50 is supposed to mean. If this is a mid-life crisis, it feels more like confusion than angst. Even if I had the power to change my life, I'm not sure if I would change anything. (Other than I'd like my husband to not have to work as many hours as he does.)

My sons are racing toward adulthood. The eldest is in college; the youngest starting his college applications. My writing life is rich and full (though a birthday gift of a book contract would not go amiss). I have no regrets and I continue to look forward to each day with anticipation.

And yet, there is a melancholy that colors this happiness, like the brown edges creeping across my basil crop and withering the tomato leaves. Perhaps that is what 50 signifies for me--accepting that a hard frost is coming, yet raising my face to the September sunshine anyway.


  1. From the age of thirty on—the world being the decimally-obsessed place that it is—we do tend to stop and pause every ten years or so and try to assess our progress. Where should I be at 30? At 40? At 50? I was watching TV yesterday and there happened to be a programme about the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh which just coincidentally turned fifty and they were referring to it as “middle aged”. When I turned fifty—four years ago—what I realised is that, if my parents were anything to go by, I was two-thirds done (my mum and dad both died in their mid-seventies). That’s a sobering thought. I’m now fifty-four, my daughter is thirty-three and my little brother is fifty-one; little brothers should not be fifty-one.

    When I was a kid I bought a copy of Action Comics #393 which contained the story ‘The Day Superboy Became Superman!’ I don’t remember many comics from that time but that one stayed with me and for years I kept waiting for the day when I went to bed as a boy and woke up as a man and despite what Bobby Goldsboro sang (Summer (The First Time)) simply having sex did not miraculously turn me into a man. I’m a man now but Christ knows when that happened.

    I’m actually not that big on anniversaries and I can never remember the dates my parents died but it’s been over fifteen years. I get nostalgic every now and again but I’ve really not been one for looking to the past for comfort.

    Some days these days I feel twenty or thirty. Mostly I feel sixty or seventy. I was never a young twenty so why did I imagine I’d be a young fifty? Having a wife who’s twelve years older than me doesn’t help. That I have less time now that I had yesterday is a fact of life and there’s no point whinging about it. That I didn’t know yesterday and won’t know tomorrow how long that time is is a good thing though but I’m aiming for seventy-five. Anything after that it a bonus.

    1. Jim-thank you for your comment. I found it very honest and very moving. We have no guarantees in life. I try to be mindful and find something joyful each day in the general insanity.

  2. I've never cared for birthdays or holidays. When I was younger it was easier to conceal my real feelings behind a mask of phony happiness for the benefit of the family, but being polite that way eventually evolves from an unpleasant chore to a dreadful ordeal.

    Right before I turned fifty I decided it was time to take back my birthday, and for once make some plans to actually enjoy the day. I think it was my version of a mid-life crisis. I asked my family if I could spend the day doing something I loved as my gift, and ditch the usual cake for something I really wanted. They were surprised but agreed to go along with my idea.

    Thus the day I turned fifty I spent at Universal Studios with my family (I love visiting theme parks.) I got to see the then-new Harry Potter world, and went on all the rides, and probably walked twenty miles. Later that night my crew helped me demolish what had to be the world's largest hot fudge sundae (my choice in lieu of a cake.)

    My celebration left me with blisters on my heels and a sunburned nose and so exhausted I could barely twitch, but that was the best birthday I'd ever had in my life. Since then I've made an annual request to spend my birthday with my family at a theme park as my gift, and have ice cream with them instead of cake. It's completely selfish, I admit, but it is my day, and I think I've sacrificed enough birthdays to the conventional celebrations to spend the rest doing as I please. Now I never dread my birthday, plus my family looks forward to it as much as I do.

    1. I like how you think, Lynn! That's an AWESOME way to spend your birthday. Hubs and I do that for our anniversary when we can. The two of us LOVE roller coaster, our teens, not so much. So we run away without them to the nearby sixflags to scream and laugh like idiots. :)