We have all heard the longstanding cliché, age is just a number. It is the typical go-to saying when someone advanced in years (whatever that means) acts in a manner, whether playful or foolish, usually reserved for youth. A somersault on the grass performed by a sixty-something year old, a cannonball splash by a grandparent with targeted intent, or in my case a McDonald’s “Happy Meal” on the rare occasion I crave junk-food and can’t pass up the toy prize. Whatever the case may be we engage the right to act outside of our number by calling upon the quip.
Yet as a mom navigating this new life of one living child, age is NOT just a number. It is a scary question presented to me in new social settings. Do you have children? Yes, an easy enough question to answer…I have two, a boy and a girl. How old are they? This second interrogatory statement is not so easy to avert, though avert it I try–
Person: How old are they?
Me: My baby is almost 21 years old.
I lead with “my baby” to imply that my other child is obviously older, a tactic I use to hopefully satisfy the question and move on from there. I am happy to report this technique is often successful, because I then respond with a “re-direct” of sorts–
Me: My baby is almost 21 years old. Yes, I am older than I look. And you, what was it you said you do again? OR, tell me more about that project your involved in. OR, tell me about your children, what are they into? Sports? Art? etc.
Re-direction is my safety net because with my daughter coming up on 21 years of age this Fall, she will, within the next year, surpass the age her older brother lived up to. Yes Cole lived only 22 years on Earth and his baby sister is gaining ground upon him, which is weird as they were nearly 5 years apart. It is also a difficult task for me to undertake, accounting for Cole’s age. He would be 25 years old according to our earthly calculations. But since he no longer inhabits earth is he still aging? Is he 25? Is he 22? And if he’s stuck at 22 how do I answer the question when he is supposed to be the older of my two children, when his baby sister becomes older than he? Do I change his name to Benjamin Button?
My Averting Plan is flawed.
In fact, this past month I attended a lovely gathering with wonderful people where my typical line failed me. We were all new to each other and so the opportunity was ripe to ask personal questions. Now please keep in mind I tend to be a master of the re-direct, so the fact I was caught and cornered fell upon me with some surprise. No matter how I skirted the topic of my children, this new acquaintance circled back for a landing. Finally, exhausting all averting techniques, I fumbled and gave some sort of sloppy response such as, “My son is in Heaven, he left us at 22 years and I don’t know how old he is currently.” Super party foul! Thankfully a watchful friend came to my rescue, though not in time to completely prevent the mess my statement made. She was able to jump in and take the conversation in a new direction–whew!
I imagine loosing a spouse presents a similar social incongruity. Are you married? The widow/widower is put in the tough position of facing the inevitable. This not only forces the opening of a wound, but creates a divide within a social situation where joyous enthusiasm is roaming free. Let’s face it, death is not usually invited, nor welcomed, to a party. And honestly I am trying my best to keep it at home.
But what is a mother to do when age is NOT just a number? When it rules my story and is tough to avoid? I don’t have the answer at the moment, I am too busy averting!