I just had a birthday, and at this point in my life, the celebration is mostly for my kids. They gleefully plunge candles into frosting, and enthusiastically help me blow them out. (We don’t put the actual amount because that might be a fire hazard.)
The real truth is I don’t keep track of candles anymore. (Honest, just ask my friend who one year calculated my age as we drank wine on my couch, astutely pointing out that I was, in fact, one year younger than I thought!)
My lack of age awareness isn’t a sneaky way to avoid acknowledging that the years have continued to creep up. Mostly, it’s laziness. If I’m completely honest, my brain is so busy with calendar dates, vet visits, field trips, hot lunch orders, and the ever-present needs of my children, that keeping track of how old I am is not high on the list.
But the biggest reason I don’t keep track is that I’m unconcerned with the number of candles on my cake, as long as I get to keep adding more.
Growing up, I saw firsthand the fleeting nature of life. I lost several family members to cancer, including my mother. She turned 30 in the hospital after accepting a terminal diagnosis for which there was no treatment.
In my 20’s I was terrified I’d be dealt a similar fate due to genetics and superstitious foregone conclusions. So sure was I of my impending death, that for much of my life, I lived in fear of my 30th birthday, looming over me like the End of Days.
To my relief, I turned 30 without incident and am genuinely grateful for each year since. Over time I’ve seen friends face their mortality, lose parents to cancer, and struggle with the unimaginable ache of watching their children become chronically ill.
Months after having my first baby, I watched my husband nearly die in front of me. He was just 33 when he almost left this life for good, without ever knowing our newly born son.
Now, we are lucky to be raising two boys, who together have provided us with more than our fair share of trips to the ER, sometimes propelled by heart-thumping, gut-wrenching, please-let-my-kid-be-ok, fear.
At the risk of oversimplifying and sounding trite (which unavoidably, I do). I’ve come to realize that this life we are living is a gift.
Each time life has flaunted its impermanence in front of me, I’ve thrown out all my hopes into the universe and asked for more. More hugs, more laughter, more time, more years. I want as much time as possible with the ones I love, which inevitably means growing older.
We can look at aging as something that is happening to us, beyond our control. Or we can view it as a badge of honor, and the awesome privilege it is. Whether we focus on the destination or the journey is up to us.
The wear and tear of aging is evidence of all the living we’ve done; marking our bodies with keepsakes, reminding us of where we’ve been.
My scars are reminders of the times I tested personal limits, pushed boundaries, and learned about caution, risk, and judgment.
My freckles mark the carefree, sun-filled summers and mid-day hikes of my 20’s, tanning my skin and taking me to the tops of mountains and the shores of lakes when time stretched wide open, and there was nowhere I needed to be.
My once toned legs have been softened over the years by fewer gym visits and more giggling bodies piled onto my lap for bedtime stories, or late night starry-skied cuddles.
My tummy, at one time lean and flat, found its purpose as a safe-haven for two little humans to evolve from tiny bundles of cells into babies, my babies, ready to enter this world. Now squishy and round, it serves as a soft landing for tickle fights and frequently a pillow for my wildly-coiffed boys, while they watch clouds shift in the sky on lazy-park-Saturdays.
The lines on my face tell the story of my experience. Happiness, gratitude, sadness, fear — and everything in between — are the rivers of emotion that, over time, formed grooves around my eyes and mouth, leaving a map of how this life has shaped me.
It’s tempting to pine for a re-do of the years behind us. Given the chance, would we push pause? Preventing distance from forming between our youth and our inevitable end game— when we won’t have the luxury of lamenting another candle on our birthday cake.
I continue to welcome the candles and embrace the privilege of age. Each birthday is another year I get to be here, living this life, surrounded by friends who support me, a husband who accepts me unequivocally, and my children who have taught me more than I ever knew about unconditional love.
If I’m lucky, I’m somewhere near the middle of this journey.
So bring on the wrinkles, belly jiggles, and gray hair. Each has brought me wisdom, peace of mind, and the unmatched comfort I’ve found in my own skin, age spots and all.
When I blew out the candles this year (wedged between squealing children) my wish was the same as always — to take another trip around the sun and add more candles to my cake.
This post was featured on HuffPost