Measuring with Milestones


I recently realized that I can’t remember how old I am anymore. When the question comes up, my eyes open wide and I freeze, wracking my brain for the answer. But the number is never there, not even on the tip of my tongue, and I end up staring blankly into space for 20 minutes, wondering if I have early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Before you ask, yes, I’ve tried doing the math. But that only complicates things in my mind – am I that age yet or is that my age to come? To be fair, math has never been my strong suit. Instead, I ask my husband, and he reminds me (again) with infinite patience. He can also remember our anniversary and how long we’ve been married, the other numbers I should know that constantly slip my mind.

When we’re younger, we have age-related milestones to work toward, which makes the number of candles on your cake the biggest part of your year. Reaching 10 puts you in the double digits, like the big kids. At 13, you’re officially a teenager. And everyone waits with bated breath for 15 (learner’s permit!) and 16 (driver’s license!).

Turning 18 marks an exciting, scary, and bittersweet moment in a young life – you’re officially an adult and can vote, even though you don’t know shit. Then, you start counting down for that final landmark milestone: turning 21 and being able to buy and consume alcohol legally.

You roar through the rest of your 20s with a dizzying number of firsts, at least I did. First brand new car and, with it, first soul-crushing car loan. First jobs in search of a career path. First mortgage. All of those firsts add up, making you realize when 30 birthday candles stare you down that you’re probably closer to an adult now than you were at 18.

At 40, everyone laughingly tells you that you’re over the hill, and you start noticing lines around your eyes, even when you aren’t smiling. I think that’s when the forgetting begins. The number itself isn’t the problem, you’re just moving farther and farther away from those milestone ages, so it’s harder to keep track of time. Your days are still filled with possibilities, but you can seize them whenever you want – you don’t have to wait for the “right” number of candles to show up on your cake. Well, except for Social Security, Medicare, and an AARP membership, but I’m not in a rush to claim those yet, so it’s not worth tracking the time left to reach them… Until I am, I’ll focus on the cake instead of the number of candles on top.

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  • The fact that you do not have to remember your age is a really good thing. It means you have arrived at the best time of your life and are comfortable there. Embrace the wisdom you have gained so far, and enjoy this time while you are still able to do all the things you love.

Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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