It’s my birthday. I’m forty years old today. Forty years old. Isn’t this the birthday where I get canes and bifocals as gag gifts and t-shirts that say things like I’m not old, I’m vintage and at least one coffee mug with the words lordy, lordy look who’s forty printed along the side?
I’m not old enough to be forty. Really, I’m not. It’s not that I fear aging or think that anyone over forty is hideously uncool – it’s that I just cannot believe that I am grown-up enough to have the numbers 4 and 0 apply to me in any context other than grade point averages. I’m not a grown-up; I’m a girl in a state of arrested adolescence. Sure, I have kids, but if anything that has only driven the point home more clearly: ain’t nobody here but us childrens.
I was at Disneyland last week, without my kids, which you would think – given the company of hordes of children and giant chipmunks and dancing teacups – would cause anyone over the age of, say, 24 to be hyper-conscious of their adultness. But not me. I giggled and skipped and squealed and might have knocked over a twelve year old or four running to get in line for Space Mountain. I cried during our special guided walking tour – there’s no Journey To Inner Space ride anymore! My Dad took me on that! – and told anyone who would listen that I wanted to be an Imagineer when I grew up. I ate Mickey Mouse shaped cookies and – please don’t tell anyone about this, okay? – wished, fervently, that the princess dresses came in my size and that I could spend an hour or two in the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique getting fitted for a tiara and having glitter sprinkled on my cheeks. (Every time I saw the sign for the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique I shouted Bibbity Bobbity BOO-YAH, and more than one adolescent girl rolled her eyes at me, so it’s probably for the best that they wouldn’t let me in there, but still.) I wanted to move into Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I wanted to spend weeks in Tarzan’s tree house. They had to pry Katie and I out of the Zephyr after letting us ride it four times in a row.
Mickey ears are almost as good as tiaras, but also, totally not.
How can I possibly be considered a grown-up? How can I possibly be forty?
I was about six when my parents took my sister and I to Disneyland – we drove from Vancouver to Anaheim in our camper, camping our way down through Washington and Oregon and Nevada – and what I remember most about that trip – other than getting the mumps on the way back – is that Mom and Dad seemed to enjoy Disneyland more than we did. We loved it of course, but my parents loved it, they reveled in it, and when my sister and I started to lag at the end of each day, my mother would crouch down and say, let’s just go on Pirates of the Caribbean one more time, okay? Okay? I can still see the anticipation on her face. She didn’t seem a grown-up to me then. She didn’t seem a grown-up to me for a long time after.
I think that she started to seem grown-up sometime around the time that she turned forty. Which was when I turned thirteen, so it’s possible – it’s likely – that that was a function of my adolescence, of me entering the stage of girlhood wherein one’s parents begin to seem impossibly old, but still. I remember when my mom turned forty, and when my dad turned forty, and the fact that I am turning forty – and that my youngest child has just turned two, and that my oldest will soon graduate junior kindergarten, and that I have my own little family now, and that my mom is so far away, and that my dad is not here to see any of this, that my dad is gone – seems impossible, impossible, as impossible as magic wands and pixie dust and relocation schemes involving a Goofy moving van, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and a sub-prime princess mortgage.
I suppose that I imagined, that I always imagined, that as I grew older I would carry my childhood with me, and my family, too, and that we would someday all go to Disneyland together, children and parent-children and grandparent- children, and that we would all ride Pirates of the Caribbean together and laugh until our sides hurt, but time has moved too quickly for that; time has moved too quickly to make those dreams come true, time might continue to move too quickly to allow for so many dreams to come true – will we get to Disneyland with Tanner before he dies? will he get to introduce Emilia to Buzz Lightyear, as he’s asked, or take Jasper on the submarine ride? – and I suppose that it’s that that has me drinking deep from the cups of melancholy this morning, rather than feasting on birthday breakfast cupcakes. I am a grown-up: I know this because I have felt the passage of time blow by like the coldest and most merciless wind, and I feel it blowing still, and I know that no matter how closely I hold my inner child, no matter how desperately I cling to her, neither she nor I will escape the sting of that wind.
I am a grown-up. But I’m also a child who loves Disneyland, who has lost her Dad, who fears losing others she loves, who believes in fairies but worries that sometimes, the fairies fade, no matter how hard you clap your hands. And I’m not sure whether I should just keep clapping and believing and wishing the hurt and the fear away on clouds of pixie dust, or whether I should just do whatever it is that grown-ups do to not be sad and afraid, like drink more coffee and take more Ativan, which can be almost as effective as pixie dust, if my own experience is anything to go by, but far less magical. Or can I do both? Can’t I please do both?
I don’t want to stay in Neverland forever. I just want to visit once in a while. Is that too much to ask?
*That was a rhetorical question. I’m closing comments, because I need to go off the grid for a day or two to eat cupcakes and pretend that I’m still in Neverland, albeit a Neverland with good espresso.
*Oh, also: my mom wrote me a birthday letter at her blog. It didn’t make me cry too much and has nothing to do with the fact that I will need five cupcakes to perk me up this morning instead of two.