My Mom turned 80 this year.
I hope (sort of) that my mother does not read this article and that none of her friends, family, or remote acquaintances do either because my mother, like other women in our family going back several generations, has customarily shaved off years of her life at every opportunity. As a person who appreciates precision and likes to document everything, I find this tradition both amusing and exasperating. For instance, long before she died my maternal grandmother insisted that her tombstone must omit her date of birth so that nobody could “do the math.” Her wishes were respected. She passed away at 82, I think.
Usually, the age-related, little white lies go undetected. But sometimes there is a slip. A few years ago a friend of my mom’s mentioned to me that she had just turned 75. When I began telling her about my Mom’s 75th, she said, puzzled, “But your mother is only 73.” I begged the friend not to let on that she now knew the real number, and she never did.
This brings me to this year’s paradox. In our family, we believe that you can never celebrate a round-number birthday too many times. In fact, it is perfectly logical to celebrate a round-number birthday for the entire year. As I approach 50, the prospect of all this reveling is appealing. But the issue at hand is that my mother has not yet signaled to her friends that she recently had a round number birthday. And that trustworthy friend who kept Mom’s secret has apparently lost track of time. As a result, my mother’s 80th went unacknowledged by her friends, much to her totally unjustified chagrin. After all, if she had been candid from the outset about her age, her friends would have taken her to dinner to celebrate the milestone, as they customarily do with one another.
In contrast, my partner and I took Mom on a week-long visit to see her older sister in California to celebrate my mother’s 80th and her sister’s I-dare-not-say-which birthday. Highlights of that trip included a visit to the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s magnificent Golden Gate Park and a meal at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ not-to-be-missed restaurant in Berkeley.
About a week later, we reconvened with my mother at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York City. When we checked in, the front-desk manager asked what brought us to the city. I explained we were there to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday (again), and she would be joining us soon.
That evening, as we were leaving the hotel for dinner, a handsome, 30-something doorman asked Mom, “When are we going out on a date?”
“You’re too old for me,” she replied, and everyone within earshot cracked up.
As usual, it was challenging to keep up with my mother’s energetic pace. During that trip, the three of us walked off our feet and discovered some outstanding eateries we look forward to visiting again, including Buvette Gastrothèque, an ultra-cozy French café in Greenwich Village, and Kori, a swank Korean place in TriBeCa. There were many memorable moments, but the climax was a surprise architectural tour of Mom’s favorite museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Jerry Boryca, an architect friend with the firm, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates (KRJDA), who has worked on Met renovations.
Moreover, at the time of this writing, Mom has been 80 for less than two months. So, there is still plenty of time this year for more celebrating.