Saturday, November 5, 2011

I never liked numbers, anyway: Feb. 23, 2003

As 40 approaches, I'm happy for the chance to revisit this column and be reminded that I consider age an irrelevant factor in most respects.

The older I get,the less age matters

    My husband and I celebrated our birthdays last week. We used our tax refund money to buy an antique dresser for our bedroom and then treated ourselves to the John Prine concert at the Tivoli on Friday night.

    Yep, we really know how to party.

    It might not sound like a whole lot of fun to most people, but we had a terrific time. We always do, in large part because we have a million things in common, both big and small, that make our partnership as natural as breathing.

    One of those things is our birthdays, which fall on Feb. 19 and 20. When Jim told me, during our first date, that his birthday was on Feb. 19, I laughed out loud.

    "Mine’s the next day," I said.
    I was 24 at the time and sitting with Jim at a picnic table at the MudPie restaurant at the end of a day spent mountain biking. I remember thinking he was probably in his 30s. On our second date I found out I was right: He was 39.

    For those of you who are as bad with numbers as I am, I’ll just do this for you. That’s 15 years and one day of age difference. I’ve never done math in my head as quickly as I did it in the moments after I got that information.

    He was 20 when I was 5. He was 30 when I was 15. He’ll be 50 when I’m 35. Oh, man, he’s only 10 years younger than my parents.

    It freaked me out at first, but it didn’t scare me for long. Here was a man who would go mountain biking with me and then say I looked beautiful with mud on my face. He had a degree in mechanical engineering, a career based on whitewater kayaking and long dreadlocks he’d grown during a recent visit to Costa Rica. I was smitten.

    Now, seven years after our first date, Jim’s age occurs to me only occasionally — like when he talks about something he remembers that happened before I was born (anything that occurred during the 1960s, for example). Or on our birthdays, when those numbers flip over one more time.

    There are always 15 years and one day between our ages, but I find Jim and I seem to get closer in age as we get older. When we started dating, I was a recent college graduate working my first job and trying to acclimate to life without semesters and Christmas break. He was a single man with an offbeat career and no plans to do much but enjoy himself.

    Now we’re in the same place in the progression of our lives — raising a small child, hoping for another one, constantly scrounging for a few more dollars for the renovation of our old house. We still love to mountain bike, though the opportunities to do it are few and far between these days. The list of things we have in common gets longer as we share more of ourselves and our lives with each other.

    And I’m finding that the older I get, the less I notice other people’s ages, as well. My husband and I have a circle of friends who range in age from 20-something to 60-plus, and their ages really only come up when we’re planning birthday parties.

    My mother, who has always been my friend, seems more like my peer all the time. The 25-year gap in our ages seems to get smaller every time we plan a holiday together or shop for shoes or play on the floor with my son. My grandmother is funny and sharp, and every time I talk to her I completely forget she’s got 50 years on me.

    On the flip side, I now understand how it feels to be on the older end of the equation. I teach a high school journalism class at Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, which means I spend three mornings a week with teenagers.

    One Monday morning last month, my students and I talked for much of a class period about the space shuttle Columbia. Talking about that tragedy brought me inevitably to my memories of the Challenger shuttle and its heartbreaking end one January day in 1986.

    When I began to discuss the parallels, my students grew quiet. None of them, I realized, had any memory of Challenger. "Was anyone here even born when that happened?" I asked.

    They thought for a minute. "I was born in March 1986," one of them offered. A few more did some figuring and said they had been born but were less than a year old in January 1986.

    It’s a short distance between generations and what defines and separates them, I suppose. I look at my students and see young adults. They look at me and see a dinosaur who remembers the birth of MTV and every one of the Reagan years.

    I know how they feel. At 24, I thought 39 was old. But at 31, I think 24 was just way too young to know any better.

    At some point in adulthood, a decade — or two or three — stops seeming like much distance between congenial souls.     

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