You know you’re getting old when little kids lump you into an adult category that includes people who could be your parents, then ask if there was electricity when you were growing up. They think rotary phones are for the historical society; I kind of miss the feel of my finger spinning that wheel to make a teenaged, hundred-year-long phone call.
I’m part of the last generation of kids whose childhoods lacked the internet and cell phone; the World Wide Web, as we used to call it, was still pretty obscure when I entered college. I actually remember being led into the “library” (before high school “media centers” were the thing) to see this crazy new computer web. The librarian searched — before Google, even — the word “zebra,” then hit print, and about a million pages began rolling off the old-school printer, the kind with those narrow, hole-punched margins you had to tear off at the seam. Our high school class was bored, lined up and squinting against the check-out counter, because the fancy big computer was in the adult-only area behind it. There were a couple computer labs that the students could use back then, but they were strictly for typing class (I remember girls complaining that they weren’t going to be secretaries when they grew up, so why would they have to learn how to type?), and “Oregon Trail” (a computer game slower than soccer that only my generation could love).
The first sign that you’ve grown up happens in your early 20s. You’re driving along and you spot another driver who looks like he’s 12 and is clearly miles away from puberty. At first, you think that 12-year-olds are stealing cars at an alarming rate. After awhile of this, you realize these tiny babies are actually 16 and you are getting old.
Little things start happening. You become a savvy shopper. (Don’t you remember marveling that your mom knew what was a good deal at the grocery store because she’d memorized the price of everything from grapes —white and red — to the plush toilet paper with the little embossed flowers?) I’m telling you, I’m not paying a dime more than $13 for that bag of dog food, even if I have to drive to four stores to find it.
The biggest sign, however, isn’t that you think you are old. No one thinks they’re old. The older you get, the more narrow the definition of old becomes. What you realize, though, is that youngsters think you’re old. (Perhaps this begins right around the time you start using the word “youngster.”) It makes you remember the days when you thought 35 was the end of the line, and it makes you realize that with age comes wisdom. Life doesn’t slow down to a boring cadence when you tack on a new decade. It grows richer, more beautiful, more fulfilling. You know enough to savor it, to use it wisely, and share it with the people you love.