Relative Age

Dusk was falling on another Saturday night in the Chicago suburbs. My siblings and I, all under the age of ten, had been entertaining ourselves during a long, lazy day at home. It was just before dinner and we’d pulled a gigantic floor pillow in front of the couch, jumping like acrobats from the couch to the pillow, risking a broken bone with each leap. Mom had run to the grocery store for some staple items while Dad cooked hot dogs on the stove. It was the most ordinary of evenings.

Until, that is, the doorbell rang. Who on earth would be at our house on this lazy Saturday evening? Excited, my two siblings and I ran to the door.

There, with the biggest grin on her face, stood my Grandma and cousin, fresh off a plane from Missouri. My Dad, standing just behind us, exclaimed in disbelief as he saw his mother-in-law and niece standing at the front door with a group of his local friends surrounding them, ready to celebrate. Several minutes later, our house packed with family and friends, my Mom returned home from the grocery store, the gallon of milk barely surviving her shock when she saw her Mom standing in her kitchen.

It was my parents’ 40th birthday and this party was the epitome of surprise. Their friends had orchestrated the perfect celebration for their entrance into this new decade. My parents, who were practically “elderly” in my young eyes, had a 40th birthday none of us will forget.

Now, almost three decades later, I’m working with my friend to plan her 40th birthday. As we dream and scheme about her epic party, I can’t help but think of my Mom, surprised to tears with a gallon of milk in her hand, as her community celebrated her 40th trip around the sun.

When did my friends and I become our parents?

I suppose it must have happened around the time our parents became our grandparents. Age is such a relative term, isn’t it? Now, as I have my own daughter who will soon be old enough to experience the boredom and beauty of lazy Saturdays, I realize that she may always see me as being old, yes, but also incredibly knowledgeable.

In my eyes, my parents knew and could do it all. They were, after all, 40 entire years old! Now, as my friends and I make our way towards 40, I understand that we’re all just doing the best we can—each decision made with a pleading prayer that we’re not screwing up our kid, job, or self too severely.

I guess we’re not really that old when we think we’re old, and we’re not really that wise when we think we’re wise. What does that mean for us? Well, for one, we can stop writing ourselves off because we’re “too old.”

Guess what?

You’re younger today than you will be tomorrow so take that leap, do that scary thing, and wear those patterned pants!

This also means that we deeply need those who are a few steps ahead of us. You know, the ones we think are somewhat elderly until, a few years later, we find ourselves celebrating that same ancient birthday. They may not know it all, but the wisdom they’ve collected throughout the years has the potential to make our years a little bit easier.

I’m sure that around the time my 40-year-old Mom found herself at her own birthday party, stunned to tears in her kitchen with her arms full of groceries, she was still calling her own Mom, asking for advice on what to do when my legs were cramped up from growing pains or how to soothe my brother when nightmares plagued him. I thought my old Mom knew it all, but now I know my young Mom knew more because of the ones who had gone before her.

We’re always growing, in age and in wisdom. It will be much more fun and at least a little bit easier if we grow in both together.

Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and daughter, Evelyn. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.