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Should Age Be a Private Matter?

A few  nights ago our family was invited to the100th birthday party of my mother-in-law’s cousin.  To me, the celebration of his becoming 100 indicated that he and all around him were grateful for his blessings of a long life.

It was a time to announce his age to those who were there. Something that is often private was the topic of the event.

My MIL has lots of friends around that age, including someone from our synagogue  who turned 100 a few months ago and celebrated with a party in synagogue on Shabbat. Oh, and did I  mention my MIL’s best friend, Anne who turned 102? That was a milestone which our family and Anne’s children celebrated at a restaurant.

Until about 6 years ago, my mother-in-law’s age was private. No one seemed to know her age and if they did they certainly didn’t discuss it.

After that, her age was officially public knowledge and no longer a taboo subject.

So I’m wondering: Why wait till you’re 90 or 95 to announce your exact age? I think it should be something to boast about when we are still in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

I guess this belief stems from my childhood and how I was raised.

The adults in my life always discussed their age. I had two sets of grandparents growing up and I knew all of their ages as a child. And that’s not just because I was a nosy kid who asked a lot of questions! (although that may have something to do with it.)

But seriously, when my maternal grandmother was in the hospital and not feeling very well the last year of her life, she maintained her sense of humor and shall I say, brutal honesty.  When the doctor came in to examine her and asked her how old she was, she said, “90 1/2,” in a decisive tone of voice. No one was going to leave out that half a year that she was proud of.

Every year one of my sisters writes a poem using my mom’s age that year as a takeoff for a theme. That poem gets emailed to all the cousins and friends by my mother herself.

So I grew up with the adults around me treating age as a number denoting an accomplishment.  Nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Another birthday means we have arrived. And thank G-d we have more time on this earth to accomplish things.

Still, age continues to be a taboo subject in some families and cultures. It’s still considered impolite for children or adults to ask one another how old they are. I get that.

But I wonder whether the hiding of one’s age or considering it not a topic of conversation in polite company contribute to unhealthy messages about our aging bodies and souls.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to be open about one’s age, because it helps us grow and move forward emotionally. I believe that when we pretend to be what we are not or forget that we are 56 (that would be me!), maybe we won’t take care of our health. We may neglect ourselves and skip mammograms or colonoscopies or bone density exams or other checkups… because we think we are still 25 or 35.

By contrast, when we focus on the positive aspects of growing old such as having more wisdom and experience we embrace our age.  Rather than getting depressed when we reach a new decade or big number,  I do think it’s better to reach a place of acceptance.

That celebration doesn’t have to be in the form of a party or getting gifts. It can be in the simple acknowledgment of our moving forward. Our growth. It could be a time to take stock of what we’ve achieved the past year or years and what we want to achieve in the next year. A time for gratitude and prayer.

Children are proud of their age because it denotes being more grownup and having more privileges. To them every fraction of a year counts. My young grandson has been keeping track of when his 5 1/2 years became 5 3/4 until he turned 6.

We don’t have to have that kind of glee for a new age or fraction of an age. And some people choose to keep it private. Whether we admit it or not, we feel our age. Every. Single. Day.

But instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s see it as a reminder of our blessings.

So the next time the subject comes up, be proud of your age. Whether you are 20, 30, 40, or 50 +, let’s celebrate our birthdays, not just with a party and lots of cards.

Oh and by the way, my birthday is coming up soon in a few months and I’ve been reflecting as I reach that number and as I watch others have birthdays. It could be this post is my way of working through my unconscious anxieties about the new number. Or maybe I’m just reflecting on a common societal trend of age and privacy. I don’t know.

All I know is that I  pray that we can all embrace and celebrate our birthdays by having our cake and eating it too. That means being grateful, taking care of our physical and emotional health and reaching out to loved ones.





Break a Leg!

“Break a Leg.” It refers to what well-wishers  tell people in show business before a performance.  “Hey, break a leg,” is kind of a good luck message to actors, a group of people who tend to be quite superstitious!

But in actuality, nobody ever asks for a broken leg, do they?

Several months ago, I posted about my newly engaged couple.  I explained at the time that I would be blogging less than usual due to the busy schedule of preparing a wedding while working full time as a music therapist. My writing passion would have to take a back seat.

No Such thing as Vacation from Writing:

But as writers know, we never do turn around and throw our writing passions to the back seat. Instead, we keep a back seat slot in our mind,  and every time something big or interesting happens, we jot them down or file them away in  our brain for future writing or blogging material.

Which is what I’ve been doing the past few months. My blog topics of  grandmothering, mother-in-law-ing and adult parenting may have fallen on the back seat of my writing caravan. But my thoughts about how to make sense of the joys, oys, pain, suffering, ups, and downs of daily life, have continued on while various personal issues came to the fore.

Stresses and Stumbling Blocks:

One such event was when one of our married sons had a scary (but temporary) medical situation. The situation is treatable and he’s on his way to recovery, thank G-d, but throughout that ordeal, I developed ways of dealing with difficulty, coping with adversity and seeing the good in whatever G-d sends us.

As the weeks of the engagement continued on, my elderly father became ill and my siblings and I  helped my mom make some decisions regarding care at home, feeding tubes and rehabilitation care. My mom and siblings who live near my parents in NY are the major deciders and effectors of events related to my father. One sister who lives in Baltimore, and I who live in Los Angeles, made several visits to NY to pitch in with my father, in whatever ways that we can.

Giving a Speech to the new couple

Giving a Speech to the new couple

Life is good; G-d is kind. Daddy is getting better. We are all healthy from the flu, bronchitis, and even strep. Our son is getting married the the most adorable girl around. And Daddy may even attend the wedding in a wheelchair. Yay! These  were some of my thoughts during the past several months throughout the major and minor stresses of our lives.

Hey – This wasn’t in the plan!

And then, just when things were settling down, and our family had traveled to the NY area for the wedding and various festivities before and after the wedding date, something happened to me. Something that solidified all the thoughts about the previous events of the past months.

I broke my ankle.

Yep. Right there, in Brooklyn, New York, where my parents live and where my husband and I were relaxing. This was after completing all preparations for the upcoming wedding to take place in Lakewood, New Jersey, I left the house to take a short walk to visit my dad in the rehab center. I slipped  on the ice, and twisted my right foot, thereby breaking the ankle in 3 different parts of the bone.

Did I mention that it was 1 day before the wedding?

This: One Day Before Wedding

So at that very moment that I took that leisurely walk, twisted my ankle, landed on the sidewalk writhing in pain, and felt the strongest, most powerful sharp pain run through my foot, threatening to take my breath away, I thought of several things.

  1. No, no, no, no! This cannot be happening!  2. Get me to the hospital. Fast. Something is very wrong with my foot. 3. G-d, please take away this pain, or let’s just turn back the clock to five minutes ago.

As I phoned my husband on my cell phone, tried together with him unsuccessfully to hop on my good foot  back to clear ground, sat down in defeat and simply called Hatzala EMT’s,  my thoughts of the past several months began to coalesce.

Could it be Denial??

But I wasn’t conscious of those thoughts at that time. At that time, if you were a fly on the wall following me around those early hours on the freezing cold sidewalk, in the ambulance gurney, and at the ER while the first doctor examined me,  you would have heard comments as such coming from my mouth:

To the Hatzalah EMT at the scene of the accident: “Listen, I have my son’s wedding tomorrow night. Okay? So please tell me that this is just going to be a sprain of my ankle. Right?”

Or, to the doctor who examined me before sending me for an x-ray in the ER:

“Remember, my son is getting married tomorrow night, so you cannot admit me for surgery. Got that?”

Or, recounting the moments before the turn of events, to any random person listening:

“I was all packed and ready to go. Everything was ready. I just wanted to visit my dad in the rehab center. This wasn’t part of my plan!!!…”

I note when speaking to others who have had similar experiences that these things often occur when “everything is packed,” or they were “all ready to leave, and just had to run one more errand…”

For my experience, it seems that these thoughts that everything is packed and all is well, are what may have sent me on that last minute “Just one more thing” walk down the street.

Happily Every After!

Yes, the fabulous wedding took place.

Yes, I attended the wedding the next night, wearing a cast up till my knee. Yes, I enjoyed every moment of that wedding (thank you, Advil, Percocet and other friends of mine!), including wheeling myself around in the scooter or knee-walker that we obtained for that purpose.

Scooting and Dancing

Scooting and Dancing

I may have broken my leg. Our show, our wedding was a smashing success,  and the couple is thankfully happy, so yes, in actors’ jargon we broke a leg.

But after all the music quieted down, and caterers cleared the ballroom, and the last of the guests left the hall, the realization of G-d’s running of the world twisted its way in a skidding but definite fashion from the back recesses of my mind, all the way toward the front.

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