October 5, 2011

Birthdays used to be a pretty exciting occasion.  Sure, having a fall birthday meant that it wasn’t widely known that it was my birthday at school, where people were just getting to know each other (spring is much better for that), but still, people knew and made a big deal out of it.  Even in college, birthdays were celebrated with enthusiasm.

It’s not really like that now.  It’s not that I’m upset about aging (hey, it beats the alternative), but that the ages are relatively insignificant the older you get.  The teens all mean something, the twenties are still feeling young, then you get to the fives meaning things, and at this point I’m not sure that when I hit 45 it means anything at all.  (45 denotes a form of musical media that no longer exists, but aside from that it doesn’t seem important.)

I didn’t publicize my birthday at school today — it feels kind of cheap to let everyone know.  I received lots of wishes on Facebook (since Facebook notes my birthday on every friend’s page) and it felt celebratory.  Late in the day, the students discovered that it was my birthday thanks to a birthday cupcake from a co-teacher.  I told them my age, because I feel that getting older is a normal thing, despite the fact that society treats aging as a crisis.  Several announced to me that I’m their parents’ age, which isn’t surprising given that I have a child the same age as my students.  But it did make me recall in a flash the days when I first started teaching at this school fourteen years ago and my students would comment on how young I was.  I’ve gradually moved into the category of teachers who have been at the school a long time, and I have been there longer than all of the administrators except for the head of technology, who arrived the year I did.

One of my co-teachers never announces how old he is, and students have spent a lot of time over the years trying to guess.  It’s his right not to tell anyone, but I think he’s missing out on a good opportunity.  I want to teach the students that people get older in different ways, that one person might seem old at 60 and another at 80, that wrinkles aren’t bad, that you can be old but still know the lyrics to Lady Gaga songs.  I’m old enough (and perhaps wise enough) not to try to be hip — and the odd thing is that I used to try a lot harder to be hip when I was younger and probably more naturally hip — but if you teach students and you’re paying attention, you’re aware of lots that goes on in their culture.

Yes, I’m 42 now.  I may not actually be the answer to life, the universe, and everything (which has been my nerdy excitement about this particular number), but I hope to show my students that aging is part of life and it’s nothing to be afraid of.