Usually I go around telling people that it’s my birthday when it’s an entire month away. “Only 30 more days,” I say. “Only two more weeks. Only 12 more hours!”
Usually, I announce this to everyone and anyone. It’s not a birth day, I explain. It’s a birth month. And usually I feel shortchanged because my birth month is February.
This year was different. This year I was strangely quiet about the whole thing. Not grumpy quiet, but incredulous quiet.
The quiet you get when you realize there will be enough candles on your cake to boil eggs, and the sleep lines that used to disappear five minutes after you woke up have long been permanent.
I remember how shocked I was by the number 40. I peered in the mirror that day and looked at my face and inspected my forehead and thought, “I have so many lines!” So I started wearing bangs.
I remember how I felt when I turned 50 and looked in the mirror and couldn’t find my waist. I’d had a waist my entire life. I’d had a waist just the week before. But then 50 came and, poof, it was gone. So I started wearing sweaters.
I remember the day I turned 60. I had learned by then not to look in the mirror.
Now I am post-60. Post-post. Actually, pre-70 is more precise. In less time than it takes to pay off a car loan, I will be 70. If I’m lucky. “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,” is the phrase that leaps to mind.
My father always said, when I began to be stunned by the numbers, how they accelerate every year and how they push you into categories you’re never ready for — your 30s, your 40s, middle age, late-middle age.
“If you think you feel old, how do you think I feel having a daughter your age?” And then in a kinder and more philosophical tone, he’d add, “How old would you think you were if you didn’t know how old you are? If there were no mirrors and no one around to tell you your age?”
He didn’t always know the right thing to say, but sometimes he did.
My birthday came despite my inattention to it and my grandkids called and sang to me, first the Canton contingent, then the New York kids.
When the first group finished “Happy Birthday,” I said, “Aren’t you going to sing, ‘Are you 1? Are you 2? Are you 3?Are you 4?’” And they laughed at me. Except Adam, who hung in and counted all the wayto 67, which took some time. Luke, who is 4 and wanted to count too, said, “But, Mimi, I can’t count that high.”
Mimi. This is the antidote to age, what turns gray to silver and straw to gold, this name and this role in a person’s life. “Auntie” is the same, and “Caryn” and “Nona” and “GAA” and any name that’s said in a tone that children use when they love you so purely and so blindly, that it makes your heart hurt in a place you didn’t even know you had.
Until you had them.
“Mimi, will you read me a book? Mimi, will you sing me a song? Mimi, when are you coming to visit? Happy birthday, Mimi.”
I hear that word and wrinkles and a lost waist and even the ever-accelerating years cease to matter. Because these children don’t see my wrinkles or my missing waist. They see Mimi. They see me.