A Bicentennial Baby Looks at 40

I’m turning the big 4-0 at the start of the New Year. Yep, 2016 is when all of us babies born in 1976 – America’s bicentennial – turn 40. I can’t believe it either, trust me.

I have been clinging desperately to “I’m in my late 30s” when asked my age, and I’ve noticed my skin isn’t nearly as soft and smooth as it was in years past and I’ve got crow’s feet lines around my eyes and there are a boatload of new freckles and moles around my neck and chest (curse you, 90s tanning beds)!

It’s cliché to say, but just yesterday I was 10. We were at a family reunion at the lake – it was 1986 – and we were having a big Fourth of July celebration. Life sure was fun back in those days when you didn’t have your period yet, you know, and your world was all about backyard cartwheels, hide and seek, roasting s’mores and playing Atari.
I was the third of four girls born to (non-hippie) parents in January of 1976, on Elvis Presley’s birthday. I grew up envying Soleil Moon Frye (‘Punky Brewster’) because her hippie parents named her something so cool. I wished I could have been something equally awesome like Rainbow or Unicorn or something (this is the early 80s brain talking, back when we all had a crush on River Phoenix, ok?)

My 10th birthday in 1986 (at McDonalds).
But us bicentennial kids, we were pretty cool anyway, with our Trapper Keepers and yarn friendship bracelets and scratch and sniff sticker books. We had true Ronald McDonald birthday parties, where a dozen of your closest friends showed up to eat cheeseburgers, fries and played inside that giant purple Grimace guy. Our parents probably paid $15 for that whole party.

I remember being in fourth grade watching the space shuttle Challenger take off, and moments later the teachers were sad, and I really didn’t know what was happening or why or if it was real at all. I remember perfectly, in fifth grade, when the teacher shuffled us into this small classroom for a new thing called “computer class.” We all waited in line for our turn to sit at one of about eight bulky, brownish colored machines with an apple icon on its (corded) mouse.

Fun was cheap back then – roller skating, riding bikes, climbing trees, backyard forts and 11 different versions of tag (color tag, TV tag, etc). Bicentennial kids like us rocked our walkmans at recess, with the cassette tapes and we had posters of Corey Haim or New Kids on the Block hanging on our walls (this is when the New Kids were in fact, NEW). We didn’t have cell phones nor did we know what email or texting was – we used the rotary phone in the kitchen after school to call friends (or if you were lucky, you got a cool hamburger phone in your room), and we wrote notes on paper and folded them up into the shape of a small triangle and signed it “LYLAS” (fyi, Google will not know what that means).

We wore neon, we pegged our pants and you were pretty cool if you had pennies in your loafers. We watched the Cosby Show and the Golden Girls religiously at night with our whole family on the big, wood-encased box tv that had no remote (my younger sister and I would be in charge of hitting the “volume/channel up or down” buttons at dad’s request). This was back when Bill Cosby was a saint and the Golden Girls were still alive. I remember being lucky to stay up late to watch TV with my dad, and how hard he would laugh at Johnny Carson.

In my late teens, I was a lifeguard and I remember mothers with small children would come up and tell me “enjoy it because it goes fast,” they said. I thought it obscure and weird of them to say and disregarded that message so many times. I know now exactly what they meant, and the gravity of nostalgia they must have felt looking at a young teenager who hasn’t a care in the world (or a single stretch mark or hint of a muffin top). I’ve since become that mother, sometimes warning my babysitters of how she will blink and wake to discover she's dragging around four kids wondering what to cook for dinner or if she even brushed her teeth that day.

The bicentennial kids can relate I’m sure, to that song, 100 Years, by Five for Fighting, in which he sings about “chasing the years of his life.” He’s 15 in one moment then he wakes up and he’s in his 30s with children and in another moment he’s 99. This milestone birthday is teaching me how badly I’m trying not to blink. I don’t want to wake up and realize my kids are in college and I’m the one wearing the diapers.

Yes, road trips with four kids under age 8 aren’t fun, but they still think getting in the car to drive four hours to grandma’s house is an adventure. There will be a time I won’t be able to wrangle my children all in one room to see them for four minutes. The twins ask too often for extra books at bedtime and I sometimes skip words to make the book shorter if I’m tired. But my heart aches thinking of when there isn’t going to be a storytime, and they will be more interested in boys and clothes than with books with mom. Yes, my 3-year-old colored the chair cushion with green marker the other day, and I was fuming about it, but I don’t want the alternative – my baby all grown up. Yes, I hate that my son teases his sisters nonstop and I frequently scold and send him to time out, but I’m glad I’m alive and well to see him playing with his sisters, loving life and just being the little boy he is. I know he’ll be a man before I know it, and who knows if he’ll visit his old diaper-clad momma.

Turning 40 may be rough -- I surely don’t get carded anymore or haven’t danced on any bar tops or pool tables lately (hey it was the late 90s and we were all scared about the world ending in Y2K). But I’m realizing it’s not over yet. I still have a ton of living yet to do and I always promise myself each birthday to try and enjoy it. Yes, this bicentennial baby can still do a cartwheel or two -- in fact just a couple months ago -- I nearly stuck the landing at Drakes bar (the dj wasn’t exactly thrilled though). It’s ok now though, I'm training for cartwheels til I turn 50. I'm going to make my fellow bicentennials proud. We can still rock.


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