When we’re kids, we have little understanding of age. We understand that some kids are older than us, and some younger. We understand that adults get to do what they want and tell us what to do. We understand that some people are old. But exactly what all those mean is very vague.
And we want simple categories. A teen-ager is anyone aged 13 through 19, right? First graders are 5 or 6, right? So how old is a parent? How old are grandparents?
I was the oldest child in my family, and my parents were teen-agers when they married. My paternal grandparents had been 20 & 18 when they married, and my dad was their oldest, as well. My mom’s parents married similarly young, and while she was their second child, they were still quite young when she was born. That’s one reason most of my great-grandparents were around as active, alert adults throughout my childhood and teens.
My middle school basketball coach had been one of my dad’s high school buddies. His oldest son was in the same grade as I was. My middle school wrestling coach, on the other hand, had been my dad’s high school wrestling coach. Yet, his oldest son was only one grade ahead of me in school.
When you’re in middle school, you understand that adults can keep having children into their 30s and 40s. You can understand that the coach’s son who was only a year older than me had two sisters, both more than 10 years older than he was, and therefore coach could be both the parent of a middleschooler and the grandparent of one or more small children at the same time. But when you’re younger, the notion that parents can be a wide variety of ages isn’t even on your radar.
I had an example closer to home. My Mom’s baby brother (half-brother) is only three years older than me. So, one of my uncles was a senior in high school when I was a freshman in high school.
A friend of mine from college had a bad habit of hitting on high school girls. It was only a bit embarrassing when we were in college, because we weren’t that far out of high school ourselves. But when he kept doing it into his late twenties, it was getting more than a little disturbing.
But I don’t have much cause to talk. When Michael and I started dating, I was 37 and he was 27. He’s ten years younger than me, the same difference I was finding disturbing when my friend was lusting after those high school girls.
Obviously, a ten-year age difference isn’t that big of a deal when the younger person is indisputably an adult, or course.
One of my great-grandmothers was a 28-year-old widow with two small kids when she married my great-grandpa… who was only 16 years old at the time! Of course, that was nearly 100 years ago, and a 16-year-old who had been working as a ranch-hand full time for several years was not considered a child. And they stayed together for the rest of their lives, very happy together.
Then we have that much-abused term, “middle-aged.” It used to mean 50-ish, or more broadly 40-60. Men were expected to have their “mid life crisis” during the 40-60 time frame, for instance. It was sometimes defined as the third quarter of a typical lifespan. Medical and mental health people have started shifting the definition up, as life expectancy increased. I noticed a lot of people shifting it the other way, referring to anyone in their 30s as middle-aged.
I keep catching myself referring to one of the neighbors as a kid. He’s coming up on thirty, he and his girlfriend have lived together next door for more than five years. He works, pays his own bills, and is otherwise a fully functioning adult. He’s one of the most responsible people I know. When he and his girlfriend moved in, he just looked way too young to be getting his own apartment, so part of my brain pigeonholed him.
I don’t want to be that old guy who calls everyone “kid” or “son” and so on. I still feel weird when a stranger calls me “sir,” for goodness sake!