For me, turning 40 was a breeze. 40 was a joy. 40 was a snap. I looked hot at 40. Now I look good… for my age. See that sneaky little caveat there? For my age. Three little words that make a capital B Big difference. A wise friend once told me it wasn’t 40 when things started heading south, but 43. Damn if she wasn’t right. Never mind the breasts and cheekbones and neck lines packing up and heading for warmer climes. Never mind the number of birthday candles or the time it takes you to scroll down to your birth year on those stupid slide bars. Aging gracefully, as a concept, is a lot easier to contemplate when you are still in your thirties.
You can go gray before you’ve kissed your twenties good-bye. You can even, to paraphrase Lady Gaga, be born that way, like a friend’s son who rocked his white streak in his little NICU incubator. Sun damage, smoking, a life lived hard enough to make your face look like a cotton shirt pulled straight from the washer can make you look far older than your years. You can dress in braided leather belts and pearls and penny loafers and matching twin sets from cradle to grave. Me? I still wear leopard print and cowboy boots to go with my new graying streak. I need to make an appointment for my next tattoo. Sunglasses more often than not hide the deepening crow’s-feet, the crinkling eyes. Holding the iPad above my head when FaceTiming my mother helps with the sagging neck line. But nothing, nothing, prepared me for the wrecking ball realization that I have become that person. The one over there in the corner mumbling about days gone by. The one waxing nostalgic about how good we had it ‘back in my day’. The one convinced that current trends will certainly be the downfall of civilization. The one silently vibrating with indignation over the behavior of the teenagers I see–the lack of manners, the language, the eye rolls, the blasé slouch that fairly screams ennui and apathy and entitlement.
Of course, I remember thinking the same thing about my parents and their friends (and I should note my parents were younger than I am now when I was a teenager). I remember thinking the 40-something year old guys draped over bar stools chatting up 20 year-old girls in my local were pervy and sad. I can just about remember how many times my own eyes rolled heaven-ward at the idiocy of my parents; of how they just didn’t get it. Now of course I’m the mother and my husband is the father. Now I have body parts that are losing their fight with gravity. Now I know some of those 40+ guys chatting up 20 something girls and am witness to the indescribable weirdness that is watching second and third relationships play out over social media. I’m the one sitting across from a friend’s teenager and his girlfriend,watching them laughingly whisper behind an upturned hand, wracked with the niggling suspicion that they are laughing about something they are certain we are too old to ‘get.’ They’re likely right. Thankfully, pop music has proven to be even more insipid than it was when I was a teen, saving me from any hearty complaining; so far. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did have to look up ‘Dubstep”. And my husband recently told me that the house music that was at the forefront of his clubbing dee-jaying days is now fondly referred to as “Dad House.”
I am turning into that person who starts sentences with proclamations: “When I was a kid!” “When I was your age!” “You don’t know from!”. You know you’re old when you blame the state of current affairs on failing to force your kid’s friends to call you Mrs./Mr. last name. You know you’re old when you seize upon something current and imbue it with the destructive capacity of a kamikaze nuclear weapon (for me, it’s the iPad. My mother told me for her it was Mtv. I’m sure for my grandparents it was the Beatles or Elvis). You know you’re old when you lead the rally cry to bring back detention or most dangerously, when you start to fight change for no other reason than what was wrong with the way we did it?
I have very little in common with today’s teenagers. That this bothers me says more about my difficulty in accepting my age than anything else. I’m not supposed to have anything in common with these lithe, shiny bodies–these new stars shooting their way across their own night sky. I had my turn to shine bright, and I did. Now it is their turn. That of course doesn’t mean that I can’t get cantankerous about their behavior, as I find myself doing more and more.
As an example: Today two teens sat gossiping or texting or snap chatting or What’s Apping or whatever it is they do on the bathroom floor, blocking the door from opening inward. The door was glass. They could see me and did, but they didn’t move. So I pushed the door open onto them and ‘accidentally on purpose’ stepped on one of them. “I’m an adult!” I wanted to scream. “When I was your age….”
When I was their age. A lifetime ago. A lifetime ago I would have died a thousand deaths if a friend of my mother’s told her that I had been seen lacking somehow–(Me! The girl with the Robert Smith hair and the Siouxsie eyeliner.) I may have inwardly thought they were the most uncool, ridiculous people ever, but they were adults, and I knew enough to know that I was expected to respect their standing in the order of things. But I was me and that was a long time ago. Lack of respect for authority, for adults, is nothing new. Thinking your parents and your parent’s friends don’t know anything is nothing new. Blasé and apathy and ennui are nothing new. Thinking that the generation that preceded you is full of shit is nothing new. The irony is, of course, that they are thinking the very same thing about you. And so I find myself there, treading water in the channel between.
Just last night my oldest son looked at us and said: “But you don’t know how I feel, because you didn’t have iPads when you were kids!” There are so many things wrong with his statement that it is deserving of its own post. So for now, I remain, the cantankerous and contemplative oldish woman over there in the corner, basking in the irony, trying to figure it all out. Minding the generation gap.
(Doublewhirler first used the term mind the generation gap, and I’ve been itching to use it ever since. Cheers to my fellow cantankerous adults.)