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Who do you think is old?

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

I was taking then-4-year-old Spencer to preschool and as was our custom, we had serious discussions during the 25-minute commute.

That particular morning, out of the blue, he asked, "How old are you, Mommy?"

I came to a red light, looked at him and asked back, "How old do you think I am, Spencer?"

I could see the cogs and gears spinning as he thought about it.

"You're very old," he finally answered. "You must be at least 21."

About that time the light changed so I turned my attention back to road safety, grinning and stifling laughter.

"That's right, baby. Mommy is at least 21."

That was 23 years ago and after all this time, it remains one of my favorite Spencerisms.

It put age into perspective back then and reminds me often that it is relative.

We may have chronological age that defines us: 18 to vote; 21 to buy alcohol; 50 to join AARP; 65 to retire, but it's our mental age that should count for something.

Too often I catch myself relating a story to Tom about my day's work by saying, "This old woman was in the office today . . . " then I have to back up and clarify, "This woman, who was our age, was in the office today . . ."

So why did I even begin with a judgment that someone is old when she's my age and I certainly don't think I am old?

Action. Behavior. Appearance.

Let me be clear: illness can age someone faster than anything. I'm not talking about that.

I'm thinking about someone who is 50 but looks and acts ancient. Surely you know someone like that too.

When I was in my 30s and 40s, the majority of my friends were in their 60s and 70s. It was those stable souls who I looked up to for counsel, life experience and humor, because they had already learned if you can't laugh through the low places you're doomed.

Last week, I celebrated yet another birthday and so many have asked me, "How was your birthday?"

As birthdays go, it was very nice. I did nothing special except I had my oldest child, Allison, here with me. It was her birthday too. I tell folks she was either the best birthday present I ever received, or the worst, depending on what day it is.

Birthdays aren't something I look forward to, nor are they something I dread.

They're just a way of saying, "Thank you, Lord. I made it. Again."

Spencer, now 27, likes to keep repeating my age to me, as if it hits some button. It doesn't.

I may be chronologically old, but in my mind I'm still young.

I find humor in most things I shouldn't.

I do things that that perhaps a 50-something grandma shouldn't do.

I never think of myself as that 50-something grandma, even when I am surrounded by the babies on the floor playing beauty shop or singing tunes from "Moana" loudly, and oftentimes off-key. It's only when I try to get up I remember the chronological age.

So what is old?

The older I become chronologically, "old" is usually 20-30 years more than me.

My once 60-year-old friends are pushing 80 now and for most, if I close my eyes, I still see them as 60.

Some I still socialize with and we continue to laugh through the pain.

The biggest difference I suppose is now I'm that senior adult who is mentoring 30 and 40 year olds. Some of my best friends are people young enough to be my children. I appreciate them for who they are and truthfully, their less-than-jaded view of life keeps my own in check. Life's a circle and I'm starting my own arc.

Who do you think is old?

It's not me. And least in my mind it's not me. And that's all that matters anyway.