A couple of recent milestone birthdays have put me into pensive mode. And they're not even mine. You know you've reached the height - or depth - of sentimental foolishness when other people's birthdays send you into emotional retrograde. Not that I'm depressed, or weepy, even. I'm just feeling a bit wistful, that's all.
One of my dearest friends turned 50 on Sunday. That morning, I called to leave him a singing voice mail. I was planning to serenade him with the old "Hawaii 5-0" theme: Puh-puh-puh-puh-PAH-pum, now you're old like me.
. . . But at the last second, I reverted to the classic "Happy Birthday to You" because I wasn't sure how much of his sense of humor survived his first half-century. Having hit that mark myself a few years ago, I thought it best to err on the side of caution. I think he appreciated it.
Other folks have not been so fortunate. I remember, some years ago, seeing several cars on Maui roadways, bearing bumper stickers that read "Peter Baldwin is 50!" Or was it 40? Either way, I thought it was pretty funny at the time.
Just like the three or four instances when I merrily participated in preparing 50th birthday "care packages" for co-workers. Once, we decorated our boss's office with black balloons and draped black bunting on his desk. On his chair, we placed one of those donut cushions and filled the middle with Polident tablets, a box of Grecian Formula, a bottle of Geritol, and various brochures for nursing homes and Arizona retirement communities. Viagra hadn't been invented yet, or we would have included a giant jar of little blue pills - fake, of course - like another bunch of pranksters recently did for a mutual friend.
Now that I'm on the other side of 50, those gag gifts don't tickle me the way they used to. Thankfully, my friends are sensitive and compassionate, and I was spared the ritual ridicule on my Big 5-0. Instead, I received cards and calls with the refrain "50 is the new 30!" It's not, but that mantra helped me through my first three 50th birthdays.
Next month, I'll be attending the 13th annual 50th birthday party for a couple of friends. I like their approach. It seems to be working, too. Neither of them looks or acts like they're ready for retirement. I think holding at 50 is better than trying to recapture 30. Who wants to be 30 again, anyway? It's an awkward age; young enough to want to keep doing the things you're old enough to know you shouldn't. But still too young to command the respect of us grumpy old 50-somethings.
Last Monday, my son celebrated his 37th birthday. Well, maybe "celebrated" is not quite the right term. There's a six-hour time difference between us, so I sent him a text message at 5 a.m. his time, figuring he'd awaken and see my greeting first thing in the morning. To my surprise, he was already up, and we texted back and forth for the next half-hour. He'd had a sleepless night, and he was lamenting the fact that his body is now old enough to feel the adverse effects of insomnia.
We exchanged thoughts and pithy comments on parenthood and aging. I offered a sympathetic ear and some motherly love. Then I told him, "How do you think I feel? My kid is 37!" Now, even when I tell people he was a miracle baby - I had him when I was 8 - that still makes me a middle-ager.
Yes, he said, he got a little taste of that when his eldest daughter turned 13. "I guess time does fly when you're having fun."
"Take it from me," I texted back, "time flies whether you're having fun or not."
He went back to bed and I settled into mine, with the words of Tevye and Golde, from "Fiddler on the Roof," echoing in my head.
Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older;
When did they?
That night, I cuddled my little boy in my arms and sang him to sleep. It was the same dream I've had every few years. Jimmy is a toddler again, his head snuggled against my shoulder, and his hair smells like sweet baby sweat. I kiss his forehead, his chubby cheeks, each of his plump little fingers with dimples where the knuckles should be. Then I wrap him in a bear hug, desperately clinging to the moment as I feel myself starting to wake up.
I think I'll send him some black balloons and Geritol to cheer him up. He's still young enough to take a joke.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.