Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

This week – today (March 4), in fact – marks a major milestone birthday for my firstborn. Mac turns an age that my generation definitely feared.

And I must say it’s funny how your perspective changes as time goes by.

In reality, my generation was the age of “Never trust anyone over 30.” (Would you believe one of the people credited with this quote is Pat Boone, of all people. Go figure.)

Of course, I guess my generation was likewise the age of “If a young woman isn’t married by the summer after college, she’s an Old Maid.” I confess this worried me some at the time. I dated the same person throughout high school and part of college – a total of seven years. But we broke up when I was junior in college, I think. After that I really didn’t date anyone else much until I got to graduate school. So I guess I was in that “Old Maid” category. The summer after I graduated from college, I was a bridesmaid in a former roommate’s wedding, but only one. (Yes, I eventually had three bridesmaids’ dresses hanging in a closet, but that’s only because my husband has two younger sisters.)

Another good friend got married that summer after graduation, but the rest of my circle of friends remained unmarried. (I admit that I met Tom in January of the next year, and we were married in August of that year, so I guess I didn’t stay in the Old Maid category for long.)

Perhaps, in retrospect, I am of an age where that stereotype was changing. I was headed to graduate school, not the altar, as were most of my circle of unmarried friends – one became a banker after a short stint in law school (not her cup of tea, as it turned out), one recently retired from a career as a professor and dean, and one became a doctor. The two who married right away both became teachers – perhaps true to another stereotype that had existed up to that point. (As an aside, I first became a teacher after graduate school – and marriage – as well. However, when I decided to try something different, I applied to be a lab technician at Duke. And speaking of stereotypes, in those days women who applied for such jobs were required to take a typing test; men applying for the same job were not. I was appalled, even then.)

And then there’s the adage, “Age 35 is ‘over the hill.’” I think that one quickly became “40 is over the hill.” Of course, when I was 35, I didn’t have time or energy to fret about how old I was getting. At that age I had a 4-year-old and two 1-year-olds. I was way too busy to think about being over-the-hill. (In fact, it was around then that a local subdivision opened to the 50-plus crowd only. I recall speculating that I wasn’t sure this subdivision would look kindly on someone like me – I was looking at the prospect of being age 50 with two 16-year-olds still at home.)

And maybe that’s where my mental self-image comes into play. I’ve long ago reached the conclusion that Lucille Ball was right. She once said, “The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. So for the last XX years – sorry, I’m not saying just how long – I’ve declared that I am 39. It’s really not all my fault. When I was indeed 39, I was driving a carpool that included a first grader who announced his teacher was 56. Now this particular teacher may have been 35 at the time. I laughed out loud. The child said,”No really. She said so! It has to be true.” I laughed again. The child said, “Well then, how old are you?” Without missing a beat, I said, “23.” He believed me. “Wow, you’re younger than my mom,” he replied. (Apologies to his mom, who is indeed younger than I – but not by much.) My kids, also in the car, believed the lie, as well. This worked for several years. As my birthday approached that year, they all agreed, “You’ll be 24, right?” This worked until my kids began to realize the numbers didn’t add up.

And that’s how I became 39 for life – until now. My daughter Cat pointed out that, if I continued the claim after Mac’s birthday this week, I’d have “some ‘splaining to do,’” in the words of Ricky Ricardo. (I seem to be on an “I Love Lucy” kick here – Sorry.)

I’ve decided I’m not alone in this. My father-in-law is definitely 95-1/2 years young. He still says when he walks by a mirror, he has to do a double take at the image there. He acknowledges his self-image is of a man around 25 or 30, certainly not the nonagenarian facing him in the mirror. I have a growing appreciation for how he feels.

So as my children have begun to approach an age in which they see the reality of their own youth beginning to slip slowly away, I have offered my unfaltering advice to all:

Find an age that suits you and stick with it.

That’s what I’ve done.

My son will just have to deal.