I clearly remember all my decade birthdays, except number 20, which is a blur. Not old enough to drink and not really happy with my life. That’s all I got.
It’s easier with subsequent decades. There was a husband and a house at 30, kids at 40, and some professional recognition by 50. And 60 seems like yesterday. Yesterday, alas, was 10 years ago.
Do I have a favorite decade birthday? Yes. When I turned 40, my wonderful husband made all the arrangements to take me on a surprise trip. This is how he did it: He called me from work in the summer before my 40th birthday and told me he was entering a contest for an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere in the United States. Where would I want to go? Boulder, Colorado, I told him. Ah—good one, he said.
Then he surreptitiously made all the arrangements—flights, members of the family to babysit and keep their mouths shut in the meantime, an adorable little log-cabin resort in the foothills to the west of town with an outdoor hot tub. He told me to pack my hiking boots and my bathing suit—that we were going on a mystery trip.
It was memorable and wonderful in every possible way. Boulder remains one of my favorite places on earth, and I still wear the earrings he bought me from an art show vendor on Pearl Street.
I have passed through decade markers without a whole lot of angst or reflection. Sixty seemed like coming into a certain kind of wisdom and serenity—newly retired, a new home, new friends, new adventures. A time to accomplish all the things I’d been too busy to enjoy while working and raising a family. A time to travel while still healthy and mobile, to garden, to read, to cook. To write about education.
Most importantly, it was a return to the absolute joy of making music—of capitalizing on all the work I did as a teenager to build and polish my musical skills. I joined three community musical groups, got a part-time gig as a church music director, and started taking piano lessons, something I have wanted to do since I was in fifth grade. I got my flute out and practiced. I helped establish a thriving flute ensemble. I played for weddings and funerals and other occasions.
I will be seventy tomorrow.
And for the first time, I feel old-ish. Not old-old, but there is a creeping realization that I have some limitations. I still plan to be around for additional decades—my grandmother lived to 103, and was hale and hearty until her last day on earth. I’m healthy and have possession of my marbles. And I have lots of plans for the future—after all, I have skills and knowledge, things I learned in school, that have made my life, into this eighth decade, rich and rewarding.
I think about my students’ parents, eager to sell that saxophone or trumpet when their child could not decide between band and football. I would ask: What can you give your child today that they can use, literally, for the rest of their lives?
I will be seventy tomorrow. I’ve been playing the same flute—the one my parents re-mortgaged their house to buy—since 1967.
Thanks, mom and dad. I made it to 70!