More than My Number, by Beth Manes

bethRemember how exciting birthdays used to be?  Yeah, me neither.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still love my birthday and manage to celebrate for a whole month.  But at this point, it’s more about celebrating me and spending time with friends than it is about being another year older, and having a higher number associated with me.  Because seriously, will I ever feel the same excitement as I did when I reached double digits?  What could possibly give me the same charge as finally being old enough to drive?  Or vote?  Or order a drink with my real ID? It was probably around 21 when I stopped defining myself by my age.  Last January, I turned 42.  Woo hoo.  Again, I loved the excuse to celebrate and get together with friends.  And what’s better than a birthday on facebook, right?  But, no one cares about the number anymore.  In fact, most of my friends have, by this point, done something to hide their ages.  Whether it’s coloring their hair, injecting a foreign substance into their faces, or actually going under the knife, many women my age want to look like their number is lower than it actually is. I haven’t yet jumped on that bandwagon.  The reason is three-fold.  I don’t have the time, I don’t want to spend the money, I don’t yet dislike what I see in the mirror.  That said, I also don’t introduce myself to people and say:  “Hi!  I’m Beth and I’m 42 and a half!”  I don’t even really like telling people how old I am because it sounds older than I feel.  In fact, I even once almost lied about my age at a PTA meeting.  Three years ago, on my son’s birthday, someone remarked that I didn’t look old enough to have a 12 year old.  I replied:  “Well, I was a teenager when I had him.”  “Oh, that explains it,” the well-meaning PTA mom said.  I quickly recanted because being 39 with a 12 year old sounded better to me than being 16 with an infant. In general, I can go weeks, probably months without my age ever coming up in conversation.  And that’s fine.  But 2 weeks ago not only did it come up, but I was branded with it.  Yep.  That’s right.  Branded!  I competed in the Jersey Girl Triathlon with my childhood friend, Lauren.  I knew that our waves and transition areas were organized by age, so everyone starting with me would be 42.  (Although I got my driver’s license before Lauren, she would start the tri before me because her birthday isn’t until November, so she’s still 41.)  What I didn’t know was that they were going to write a big black 42 on my calf.  Really?  Was that necessary?  Apparently, it was. So, I lined up on the beach with all the other 42-marked women.  We bounded into the water together and began the triathlon together.  At the end of the swim, I got into the transition area, chatted with a few 42s as we donned our bike gear and off I rode.  A few miles in, I passed a 41.  Then a 38.  Then a 34.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of upper-40s (and even low-50s!)passing me, too.  But, that didn’t bring me down.  It inspired me.  I can’t wait to have a higher number on my calf! I can’t imagine any amount of hair dye or plastic surgery could ever make me feel younger than competing in a triathlon and being faster and stronger than someone whose number is lower than mine.  Although I’ve never really tried to hide my age (okay, except for that one time) I’ve never really flaunted it either.  Well, that’s going to change right here and now:  “Hi!  I’m Beth. I’m 42 and a half.  I have grey strands in my hair, laugh lines on my face and I am a triathlete!”

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