The Pesky Paradox of Aging

Many of us are aware of, have read about, and probably discussed extensively this foremost paradox of aging: when we are young we want to be older, and as we get older, we long for aspects of our youth again.

With equal fervour, children encourage, and then later as adults, discourage “the aging process.” But often, we get downright confused about what it is we really want.

The dichotomy begins early, long before we reach double digits. With little regard for accuracy, kids regularly augment their actual age by adding increments of a quarter, half or three quarters. Then, each year, with no recognizable perimeter on which they base this mysterious calculation, a switch occurs, and they begin to precede the upcoming age with “almost.” It’s not unusual to meet a child who turns “almost six” three days after actually turning five!

Some older kids might even embellish their age in an attempt to purchase or publicly consume alcohol. Hopefully, as our taste and desire for these beverages becomes more sophisticated as we age, so too does our approach to making this type of purchase.

Upon actually reaching the age of majority, when asked for identification as proof of age, a 19-year-old typically becomes righteously indignant. Never mind that the same 19-year-old, when 18 (almost 19!) only the week before was shuffling feet, avoiding eye contact, and at the absolutely mercy of the clerk.

Then, at some point between 25 – 30, a request to produce identification becomes a thrill, and reason to engage in loud, juvenile banter with the clerk. “Really? You think I’m under 19?” says the patron while coyly looking around to be sure the feigned sense of injustice is attracting the desired attention. Those who haven’t been mistaken as underage for a few decades roll their eyes, because after 30, successfully purchasing alcohol is about as exciting as standing in line to pay for a loaf of bread.

There is also a tendency of the younger among us to yearn for more responsibility, while alternately, many adults I know could do with a little less.

Given the opportunity, both my 12 and nine-year-old kids would actively seek full-time employment in order to earn their own money.

With a flourish of self-promotion, the kids argue over which of them is best-suited for the paper route (neither!) that is being advertised in our neighbourhood. But then, they suddenly and effortlessly digress, as self-promotion turns to self-deprecation as they quarrel about who is better able to empty the dishwasher (both!).

After eagerly anticipating a life of employment responsibilities, a noticeable attitude shift occurs here too, as many adults begin counting the years until retirement!

When our son was nine, and our daughter six, I witnessed and was part of an interesting difference of age perception shortly before my husband’s 40th birthday.

Age was a relevant part of a conversation, and Nick tentatively mocked his father for being (gasp) “over 40.” Having not yet reached 40, Dad attempted to remain calm and retorted simply, “Am not!”

Nick, realizing the ball was in his court, but not quite knowing what it do with it, hurled it back with a wholehearted “Are to!”

A wrestling match ensued and my daughter and I cheered for the opponent closest to our own age.  Elena felt that Nick, at age nine and a quarter, was clearly the underdog and deserved her support, as he was wrestling a grown-up.  I felt that my husband, at age “almost 40” was clearly the underdog and deserved my support as he was wrestling a child.

I still have no idea who won!