Monday, June 05, 2006


By Marion Kelley Bullock

Tomorrow's my birthday, and I'm forty-nine—again. I really don't mind aging as long as I don't have to admit it.

My grandson, William, started asking my age when he was about seven. Certainly, if I were the secure, positive person I claim to be, this would not have concerned me. On the other hand, given my sensibilities, I couldn't help temporizing. I usually just changed the subject, hoping the question would go away.

William has lived with me and my husband most of his life, and though he knows we're his grandparents, he thinks of us as parents, just as we consider him our own child. I suppose that, at least by the time he turned seven, he had realized that most moms are younger than I. Oh, well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

When he got a little older, he asked again, when I picked him up after work. “Mimi, how old are you?”

“Thirty-nine,” I said, giving him the kind of grin I bestow on him when I say, “No, of course I don't love you more than I love the cat.” You see, I wanted him to know I was stretching the truth. I just didn't want him to know how far.

He assumed a thoughtful look. “I thought grown-up started at forty-nine,” he said.

“Okay, already,” I said. “So, I'm forty-nine.” I kept the grin pasted on my face. What’s another ten years, right?
“My,” he said, “you're just a teen-ager, aren't you?” That was his current attempt at humor.

He didn't really expect an answer, nor did he believe me. Which was just as well. I wanted him to know I was prevaricating. My thesaurus says that's the same as lying, but I disagree. In this case, I was good-naturedly letting him know that I would not—at that time—divulge my age to him.

I hadn't always been that way, but let's face it; I hadn't always been that age. When our daughters were growing up, I was young by anyone's standards—except theirs. They rolled their eyes when anyone said we looked like sisters. Then when our son became a teen-ager, I was old again, even though our daughters had by then re-discovered my agelessness and wisdom.

It didn't bother me to write my age on the numerous forms I filled out. I didn't worry that friends would dig and discover it. They—after all—are in the same birthday boat, more or less. It was just this one small child, to whom I'm parent and grandparent, who had me quivering with apprehension about the next ten—or so—years. When would he stop telling me I'm beautiful and smart and that he loves me more than anything? When would he begin to realize that he is much smarter than his old grandmother? In short, when would he decide I'm dumb?

Who knew? Maybe I'd have five more years of beauty and wisdom left in me. Or maybe I'd get lucky. Perhaps he'd bypass the I'm-smarter-than-Mom Syndrome. After all, I'm not really his mom. I'm his grandmother. And everyone knows some kids maintain especially close relationships with their grandparents. So maybe he'd keep on wearing blinders and I'd remain loveable—like his well-worn teddy bear—as long as I hold together. It couldn't happen to a more appreciative person.

In March, just before he turned eight, William asked me, “Is there a number somewhere inside of you that changes when you have a birthday?”

I assured him that there is no such arrangement.

“Then how do we know we're older?” he asked.

I gave him a scientific explanation, but I don't necessarily subscribe to it. I don't have to let my hair turn grey, or wear granny glasses, or lose my enthusiasm for life. And when I look in the mirror—without my glasses—my near-sightedness protects me from worry over the tell-tale wrinkles that are obvious to everyone else.

The truth is: I intend to cling to my non-aging convictions with a tenacity born of desperation—as long as I live. Tomorrow's my birthday and I'm forty-nine—again. Aging really doesn't bother me—as long as I don't admit it.