Age is just a number, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-223455295/stock-photo-birthday-cake-with-burning-candle-number.html'>Birthday cake</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Birthday cake image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    Lately, I have been feeling old and ruminating about my mortality — perhaps because I just turned 44 and learned that it was no longer even technically correct to call myself “middle aged.”

    On my birthday, I unwisely Googled “average life expectancy for women in the United States” and found that it was 81. This meant that I was already several years past my halfway point, if I was lucky.

    Rather than inspiring me to carpe diem, this news only made me fret. I still had so many unfulfilled goals.

    I wanted to learn to roast a turkey. I wanted to read Proust. I wanted to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture without ending up with leftover screws.

    And I only had 37 more years in which to accomplish these tasks. Who knew what would happen in the interim?

    Thankfully, I have experienced relatively sound health up until now, but I often hear stories about people who, out of nowhere, develop life-threatening diseases. I started to tally up what I suddenly realized was a disquietingly long list of creeping physical complaints:

    blurred vision while reading
    chronic neck and shoulder pain
    a nagging case of adult-onset acne
    an ingrown toenail that I thought might be contributing to the shin splints that had recently been hobbling my exercise routine.

    I had to admit that while out jogging of late — a stress-relieving pastime I have enjoyed for more than, I shuddered to calculate, 30 years — I was fatiguing more easily. Some days I just didn’t have any gas in the tank. In fact, my pace in The Narberth Cystic Fibrosis Run on last month was 10 seconds slower than it was the last time I raced it, in 2013, when I was 42.

    This year, I seriously considered halting at several points along the hilly course. A very pregnant woman passed me near the end. And when I finally crossed the finish line, I had to limp around in circles for about 15 minutes, away from the crowds, just to keep myself from vomiting.

    “It’s great you did it, though,” said my 46-year-old husband, who could only offer me such platitudes since he had miraculously finished the race one second faster than when he last ran it at 44.

    But I consoled myself that he had already gone completely gray, an indignity to which I have not yet succumbed despite the daily trials of raising twin 8-year-olds and a 4-year-old, with their relentless demands and conflicts and hungers. As much as I love my children, and as fulfilling as I find it to watch them develop, it feels like an enervating full-time job just to diffuse their endless bickering.

    “Griffin pushed me!” Jane, 4, wailed this morning. “And my toe hurts!”

    Jane and her older sister squabbled a few minutes later.

    “I’m the owner of this picture!”

    “No, I am!”

    We finish one meal, and a few breaths later my 8-year-old son tells me he is hungry again.

    His twin sister’s clock radio blared me out of a deep slumber last night at 12. Georgia had accidentally hit the “alarm on” switch sometime the day before. So even when they’re not vomiting or having nightmares, my children still manage to fracture my sleep.

    Every precious year I spend with them deepens the furrows in my brow, a curiosity to which my 4-year-old delights in drawing attention.

    “Do that thing with your forehead,” she says, and I oblige. But the truth is that I no longer have to wrinkle it for the creases to appear — worry lines that began before my kids were even born.

    I remember being pregnant with Jane and asking a friend, who already had three children, how she did it.

    “You just produce more love,” she said.

    So that’s what I’m doing. But the labor is leaving its marks.

    “How old is your cousin?” Jane recently asked, holding up a picture.

    “Almost 51, I think.”

    “Wow!” my daughter exclaimed. “She looks so much younger than you!”

    This latest insult clearly called for beer and chocolate.

    “Come for cocktails and munchies to help me celebrate the fact that I still have two more years until I am closer to 50 than 40,” I emailed some friends, growing convoluted in my senile attempt to be clever.

    “So exciting you’re turning 48!” someone replied, to my dismay.

    After assuring her that I was actually much younger than that, I began to wonder if I could open some kind of tax-exempt fund — like the 529 we kept talking about starting for our kids’ future college expenses — to pay for the reconstructive surgery I would need by then, if I was lucky enough to make it that far.

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