Mid-century defiance

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

I recently passed that dreaded mid-century milestone, and once I finished crying over the AARP application I received in the mail, I realized that 50 isn’t quite what it used to be. Neither is 40, 60, 70 and so on, for that matter.

It’s not just my fresh perspective on the matter; the numbers back it up. In 1910 the average life expectancy in the United States didn’t go much past 50. It jumped to 70 by the time I was born 50 years ago and the current number, according to worldlifeexpectancy.com, is 78.2. Wow. Maybe 50 really is the new 30.

If you take the cold data out of the equation, there are examples of 50, then and now, abounding — in my life and the world around us. When my own mother turned 50 she was living in a retirement park in Southern California with her husband. Although they were considered “the kids” in the neighborhood, the thought of myself in that situation is, well, unthinkable.

Instead of golf and hip replacements, I’m busy with my fourth-grade daughter and retirement is a fairy tale. Later motherhood is just one facet of the new 50. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) verifies a noticeable increase in births after 40. Whether it’s career, later marriage, or an altered biological clock, the reasons are irrelevant.

The fact is I’m definitely not the only mom rocking gray hair at the school pick-up line.

That’s another perk of being 50 today — many of us have forsaken the ritual dying of the gray. My hairdresser confirmed (sadly) that much of her clientele has decided to embrace the silver in recent years. But even with the gray it’s harder to tell how old anyone is. Colorado’s active, healthy seniors look great no matter how many laugh lines and gray streaks they sport.

Our brains are younger too, by the way. U.S. Department of Education statistics from 2010 showed that 25 percent of college students in this country are over the age of 30, and a good chunk of them are even older. Mature students seek the mental stimulation and are more committed to academic success (probably because we’re paying for it ourselves) and, like the current generation, enjoy reinventing ourselves every few years.

Sure, part of it is out of necessity. The recession and subsequent job loss has forced many people of all ages to rethink their career choice or up their educational value to stay competitive in the field. But it’s also made us more creative. Instead of swallowing a bottle of Geritol in the face of losing their job to a 22-year-old, more seniors are starting their own businesses or capitalizing on their years of experience by offering consulting services.

Let’s face it, the new 50 — or 60 or 70 — does not mean retirement age anymore. I couldn’t even find the word “retired” in the definition of AARP on their website. If this is the new 30 and the average life expectancy continues to rise, then people won’t be whiling away their days in a rocking chair until they’re edging toward the century mark.

Although putting my feet up and reminiscing sounds lovely right now, I’m afraid it will have to wait until after I meet today’s deadline at work and take my kid to her play date and happy hour with the girls and …

I guess I’m too busy having fun to get old.

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The gift your kids can’t open

If you’re like me you checked your budget for the holidays and made a noise somewhere between a whimper and a groan. The money just doesn’t stretch as far as we’d like. It’s an inevitability that parents want to give their kids what they didn’t have, so trying to decide what to cut when faced with those excited little faces can be an impossible task.

This year, as I cinch my belt a little tighter and look for another corner to cut, I decided to give my daughter a gift she can’t open but will cherish and hopefully nurture through the years. The gift of generosity.

Why, yes that is a devil horn behind the Santa hat. Ignore that. Santa Kid is all about the giving. Really.

Although I’ve always instilled the need to help those less fortunate, this is the first year that my nine-year-old seems truly aware of how money works and how much it affects her directly. Instead of making this the Christmas she remembers as the year mom said “we can’t afford that” 359 times, I want her to enter 2012 with the knowledge that we are always better off than someone else, and why not share that?

We started discussing it a few weeks ago and have already begun our giving efforts with success… maybe a little too much success.

After making a trip to the huge store that will remain nameless, but is commonly known as the one where souls disappear along with large amount of cash, I assigned my daughter with two giving tasks. There was a Toys-for-Tots bin at the front so I allotted her $10 to spend on toys for other kids. Would she be able to choose something without being sucked in by all of the coveted items on her own wish list?

A few years ago, this probably would have been impossible, but she admirably moved on after a few oohs and ahhs, choosing several toys that all fell under the $10 limit. I was sure to let her separate them out and deposit them in the bin herself, feeling the warmth of giving without seeing the end result.

Her school is sponsoring a food drive for needy families, so I also gave her a canned food budget, allowing her to choose several for the cause. Her overflowing generosity backfired a little when I found her backpack stuffed full of all our canned goods from the pantry.

While money is tight, these were small expenses that I could take from somewhere else without too much pain, but to young children it was the joy of helping that was priceless. I also think it’s important to help a child choose a charity by keeping their vested interests in mind.

While it’s true we’ve all struggled these past couple of years, you may be surprised and pleased to discover that people still give, in spite of tough times. According to a report compiled by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, generous Americans still gave over $307 billion to their favorite causes in 2009. Figures for the number of youth in that amount weren’t available, but you can bet that many adults who give learned it as a child.

A few easy — and inexpensive — ways to share the gift of giving with your child are:
• Sign you and your family up to help serve at a local soup kitchen
• Make extra cookies and holiday treats to leave anonymously for your neighbors
• Bring goodies or homemade soups and breads to the local nursing home
• Save change all year in a jar, then give the entire amount to someone less fortunate

Raising a generous child — even if she does try to give away all of your own food — is worth the effort, the time, and the money. It’s a gift they will pass on to their children in the future, and even lead their peers by example now. The best part about the gift of generosity is there’s nothing to wrap, tape or hide… just give it with all your heart.