Sunday, November 30, 2008

Six Squared

36 has always been one of my favorite numbers. Admit it, you have favorite numbers, too. I'm not that much of a freak. But I hadn't really given a good deal of thought to turning 36 years old until it was practically on top of me. And to be quite honest, it's more than a little difficult for me to believe that I'm really 36 today.

I'm not sure what 36 is supposed to feel like, but I don't think I'm feeling it. The realization that I'm twice as old as an 18-year-old got me started on this idea. 18 doesn't seem that far away. In fact, I remember it quite well. It took forever to get to 18, but the next 18 years went by in a flash. No, I'm not quite as agile as I was at 18. Yes, my waistline has expanded a bit from when I was 18. And yes, there are a few grey hairs appearing on my head now. But when I look in the mirror, the face I see doesn't look 18 years older than the one I saw back then. And I don't think I'm alone on that - I was actually carded when I entered a restaurant tonight. The rest of my party? Not so much. Maybe the guy was just being nice to the old fart and it's gone to my head.

Here's the thing that just kills me, though: I was 18 when I met my wife. I've known my wife for half of my life. She'll have no sympathy for me on this, since she was 17 (albeit a couple of days from 18) when we met and thus pondered this kind of thought more than a year ago. But I have to say, she doesn't look 18 years older than the day I met her. Sure, we've both matured. We've been married for over 13 years now. We have a kid. We've moved more times than I care to remember. But 18 years? No, I simply refuse to believe that it's been that long.

It's not that I think 36 is old. Even at 18, I didn't think 36 was particularly old. But people who were 36 were real adults back then. And despite all that I've been through in my life to indicate the contrary, it's still hard to think of myself as one of those real adults. And therein, I suppose, lies the key to my little age conundrum. My 18-year-old self's real adults are now 54.

So when does the perception change? I suppose I should be thankful that I still feel young, and I am, but this problem of perception cuts in both directions. I was certainly reminded of that during a conversation I had with my grandma not long before the election. We were comparing the merits of both McCain and Obama when she said, "but you know, Obama is so young." I couldn't help but laugh. Obama's age (48, I believe) had never crossed my mind. On the other hand, I had serious concerns about McCain's age (72). Suffice it to say that Grandma's age is closer to the latter candidate's. And when I try to put myself in her shoes, I suppose I can't find fault in her thought process.

And I guess what I should take from all of this is not only the old cliche of "you're only as old as you feel," but also that you're precisely as old as others see you. I imagine that an 18-year-old does think that I'm a real adult, but those 54-year-old folks still think I'm a bit green. So the onus is on me to work those perceptions to my advantage, managing to feel young while remembering that I am, indeed, a capable and responsible adult.

But it's still ok if you want to card me, restaurant guy...