Life, from the very beginning, is full of the signposts of age. There's the brit
mila (circumcision) at eight days; the bat/bar mitzva at 12 and 13; driver’s
license at 16 or 17, depending on where you live; the right to vote at 18;
drinking at 18 or 21, again depending on your place of residence; and then the
changing of all those decades: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 ad infinitum.
of those milestones, obviously, have more impact than others.
both physically and spiritually, does of course have lasting significance. But
regarding the bar mitzva, honestly, I didn't feel – or act – much differently
the day after my bar mitzva, than I did the day before. And I’m not
By contrast, starting to drive at 16 was a truly liberating and
memorable moment. Casting my first ever ballot in the US in 1980 for Independent
Party presidential candidate John Anderson, however, proved far less memorable
than anticipated. (Who remembers Anderson?)
I'm not a big drinker, so being able
to legally order a whiskey sour in a bar at the age of 21 did nothing to float
my boat; and the changing of the first digit of my age never really freaked me
But in another 21 days – if all goes well – I'll be reaching another
milestone, one which not everyone hits, and one which really has me thinking. In
another 21 days I will have lived longer than my mother.
My mom died
suddenly 27 years ago, just two weeks past her 52nd birthday. She was a
wonderful woman and mother: kind and wise, giving and caring, and inspiringly
resilient. My mom was a Holocaust survivor, and I was always amazed at her
ability – despite everything she went through -- to carry on, raise a normal
family, and live a good, creative and productive life.
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that I'm almost at the age when she died is, if nothing else, an odd feeling;
odd because in my mind she seemed so mature, so complete, so grown-up when she
passed away. And now at her age, I’m so – well -- none of the
“This is an interesting family,” a friend of my youngest son
deadpanned last week after spending Shabbat with us. Numbering me in with my
four kids, but keeping The Wife apart, he said, “What you have here is five
kids, and a mother.” My son’s friend was commenting on why I was trying to fop
off the bad tasting jelly beans on him, leaving the better-tasting ones for me
and the family.
I never saw my mother like that – like one of the kids.
She would never give the bad jelly beans to the guest, or complain if the
company brought red dry wine, not chocolates, as a gift. She was always up there
in my eyes – wise, good, mature, very parental.
LIFE IS funny, in that
the stages of life never quite fit your idealized version of them; how you think
they will be. Everything looks so much more dramatic, important, and significant
from a distance.
I remember in elementary school looking at a cousin who
was 16 and thinking how mature he seemed, and how I couldn't wait to be that
Then you get to that age and you envy those in college, thinking
they are different, cool, don't worry about acne, know how to act and what to do
in all of life's complex situations.
Then you go to college, don't feel
that different, understand your friends are as clueless as you -- even if they
might be able to cover it up a bit better -- and say that life's long awaited
grown-up period must come with marriage. Marriage arrives and with it the
realization that you remain who you are, just now with someone else by your
side, and you think that the long-sought after aha maturing moment will come
with the kids.
Until you have the kids -- even a job, insurance policy
and a mortgage -- and it finally dawns on you that you still are who you are,
only now with little people tugging at your pant leg, some authority and a whole
lot of responsibility.
What pleased you before pleases you now. What
bothered you before bothers you now. Your strengths remain what they always
were, as do your weaknesses. Maybe you can control them better, maybe not. You
grow, you learn, you accumulate information, your thoughts develop. But there is
no transformative moment when it all changes and comes together and you finally
get it all under control; finally get life all figured out; finally feel and
think and act like you imagined beforehand that people in your station in life
feel, think and act. Life's proverbial goal line is never
When I was 24, I thought my mother had crossed that goal line
before she died. But now, as I approach the age of her death, I realize that she
probably didn’t. We never do, regardless of how old we live. She was as I am
now: incomplete, unfinished, full of joys and fears and pleasures and
insecurities and hopes and dreams, some realized, some not. A work very much in
It's a lot more fun turning 16. Or, at least, so it seems from
a safe distance.
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