Squawk Radio

Friday, February 10, 2006

Liz Asks: What's Your Number?

The band Bowling for Soup has a funny song out now called “1985.” It’s about Debbie, a woman of a particular age who is unhappy in her current life, because marriage and motherhood have robbed her of her dreams. Normally, I want to hit with a brick any artist who writes a song that equates marriage with disappointment. But I do love this song. Not just because it’s a catchy little tune, but because it’s made me think about aging and how we go about it.

The year of Debbie’s birth is the same as my own. She was 24 in 1985, as was I. She got married that year. I got engaged. Her kids are in high school now. Mine is in middle school. She was “gonna be an actress.” I was gonna be a writer. We had a lot in common in 1985, Debbie and I. But in 2006, she “hates time” and wants to “make it stop.” “Her dreams went out the door when she turned 24.” Nothing’s been all right for her “since 19-, 19-, 1985.” But that’s about the time that I really started making plans for my life.

The song really struck home this week for a couple of reasons. First, I celebrated the mailing of a finished book to my editor the usual way: I spent two days shopping. I took advantage of the post-post-Christmas-sale markdowns and bought embroidered, ripped jeans, beaded velvet tank tops, fringed, sequined shirts. When I took one of those last to the counter to pay for it, the salesclerk, a woman my age, held it up, sighed wistfully and said, “Gee, I remember being young once upon a time.” To which I replied, “Oh, so do I.” She gave me this funny look and said, “You ARE young.” I said, “Hey, I’ll turn 45 this year.” She gave me a funnier, kind of sad look and said, “So will I.”

And I thought, “Holy !@#$%. It’s Debbie.”

Then yesterday, my preteen son’s preteen friend was over, and he picked up some CDs in the family room and told my son, “Dude. Awesome tunes. Can I borrow these?” To which my son replied, “You’ll have to ask my mom. They’re hers.” His friend responded, with clear incredulity, “Your MOM’S?”

And I thought, “Holy !@#$%. His mom is Debbie.”

Of course, I still see commercials for “Saturday Night Live,” and when they announce this week’s host and musical guest, I say, “Who the hell are they?” I have lines around my eyes, my hair is a good one-third gray, and my early books aren’t the only things with sagging middles. I don’t care. I’m still drawn more to the clothes in the junior department than I am career coordinates. And instead of not watching SNL because I don’t know who the hell is on it anymore, I end up buying the latest CD by the musical guest and checking out the host’s obscure niche film. Debbie, I’m sure, would change the channel to a rerun of “The Breakfast Club.”

Debbie has let her kids make her feel old. My kid makes me feel young. She's let her marriage make her feel incomplete. Mine makes me feel whole. She let her dreams fade away. I went after mine. She looks at her life and sees missed opportunities. I look at mine and see a million things I still want to do. But it's not that we took different paths and mine turned out better. It's that she stopped at the fork in the road and never chose either route.

They say the first wave of Baby Boomers will turn 60 this year. But what does that really mean? Physical age is nothing but a perception. Mental age is what really counts. Some people in their 20s act and feel like people in their 70s, and some people in their 60s act and feel like people in their teens. Debbie kept aging after 1985. That seems to be the year I stopped. At 80, I’ll doubtless still be putting on my leather motorcycle jacket and squeezing into my hip-huggers. I’ll be an embarrassment to my son and grandchildren. Teenagers at the mall will point at me and snicker. I don’t care. I’ll still be 24. And I’ll be happy.

I won’t give a thought to 19-, 19-, 1985. I’ll be too busy buying fringed, sequined tops and checking out who’s on “Saturday Night Live.”

So what age are you? Forget the year you were born, what age are you REALLY? Younger than your chronological age? Older? And what is it that makes you feel that way?
Elizabeth Bevarly, 9:17 AM