My mom turned seventy exactly a week ago. Seventy! She doesn’t look seventy, or act seventy—whatever that means these days—but nevertheless, that’s what the calendar says, so that’s what she must be.
She’s got mixed feelings about hitting this milestone—or rather, having this milestone hit her—but she is handling this birthday as she has handled just about everything else in her life: with grace and good cheer.
I wanted to write her a happy birthday post but couldn’t do it: I wanted to be Important and Moving and Significant, so of course, I couldn’t think of anything to say at all.
Then I read that Stasha’s Monday Listicle prompt would be ten times she laughed out loud and tadah! inspiration! Because I laugh with my mother harder than I laugh with almost anyone else.
I can’t list all the things I laugh about with my mom—it would be too long a list. Instead I’m listing ten reasons I hope that my “seventy” looks a lot like my mom’s seventy:
1. Her love of language, which she has shared with her children, as well as her love of puns, the more outrageous the better.
2. She’s not afraid of bawdy jokes or off-color stories and deplores prudishness.
3. Her liberal politics and unswerving commitment to helping others, even when her actions might be unpopular or cause controversy. And unlike others of her generation, she has never stopped supporting her gay son or gay rights.
4. Her emotional bravery: in her early sixties, she started over: divorced my dad, bought her own house, traveled around with friends, then fell in love and re-married, moved to a new city in a new state.
5. She has a horrible sense of direction but loves to explore, and always finds the unexpected treasure (the great restaurant, the terrific little shop, the nifty little gallery) when she gets lost. Of course, she frequently can’t ever find the place again.
6. She has amazing name-face recognition: meet her once and then again, five years later, and not only will she remember your name, she’ll remember your kids’ names, where you lived, your profession, and who introduced you. I inherited this skill from her and it’s my greatest weapon as a professor: by the second day of class I usually know all the students’ names, which means they know that I’ll know if they ever skip class.
7. Even at her “ripe old age,” she volunteers and organizes. She put in countless hours volunteering for Obama, in her very red state of Indiana, as well as with various arts organizations. Over the years she has managed the volunteer brigades for political campaigns, run arts organizations, festivals, art fairs. Always with a list and a smile, she brings people together and gets them to contribute to their communities in unexpected and productive ways. She ran these huge volunteer operations without getting (visibly) angry and without killing anyone—I don’t know how she did it. Two measly years of running the PTA about damn near killed me (and brought others dangerously near death).
8. She listens to people without her ego getting in the way: she actually listens instead of just waiting for her turn to talk.
9. She taught us all the importance of family connections because she makes time to connect with family. She travels from the Midwest to visit her East Coast grandchildren almost every six weeks, a not inconsiderable investment of time and money. Her visits mean that she is an integral part of my kids’ lives; they know her almost as well as they know their own parents.
10. My sister and I both think of her as our best friend (and, of course, sometimes bicker about who gets more “mom time.” My sister usually wins because she’s the baby of the family. Of course, she would say I win because I’m the eldest). I hope that someday my kids want to spend as much time with me as my mom’s kids want to spend with her.
Seventy. My mom makes it look good.
full disclosure: those legs belong to mom, here doing a handstand near Ann’s Island in Lake Michigan. She was closer to sixty than seventy in this picture, but still: those are the feet of someone with some serious joie de vivre, my mom’s most wonderful gift.