Birthdays, Death and Other Cheerful Topics

I am about to find myself in that awkward position of turning 20 while in my first semester of college. The one casualty of taking a gap year: being this old for your grade is not your typical first-year experience. It’s actually a bit uncomfortable, as there are also people in my grade who have yet to turn 18. Being considered a “cougar” has never had positive connotations, except maybe in contact sports. And I’m about as excited about being 20 as Big Bird is about having Mitt Romney elected.

For one thing, 20 is halfway to 40. And 40 is halfway to being old—maybe not if you’re Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez (note to future parents, name your kids Jennifer; they will set unrealistic expectations of what being old will look like), but for the rest of us, the wrinkles will come. 

Second of all, turning 18 was cool and adult and all, 19 was chill and we all know what a party 21 will be, but 20? That’s just freaky. That’s the second decade of life you’ve been alive for! Now you’re just that much closer to being a hundred and dead, or in my case, 65 and dead (I really need to lay off the candy corn). We all know what this second decade of life means, too. It heralds the era of having to deal with real-world problems, like which bill to pay with your dwindling cash rather than grappling with where to have a pre-paid dinner.

The worst part of birthdays, though, is feeling old. I mean, when I was the age of the kids in middle school now, Pluto was a planet. Yeah, that’s right: I had to memorize nine planets instead of eight, so suck it up, wimps. I remember life without computers and Lindsay Lohan without drug problems. I collected Beanie Babies and Trolls with rhinestone belly buttons, read Goosebumps and the Magic Tree House books and knew how to use a VHS player. I begged my parents for Dunkaroos and played MASH on long car rides. I thought the Macarena was cool.

But times have changed. Instead of Beanie Babies, girls now collect those creepy Bratz dolls and teens would rather read a book about horny vampires than one about a tree house that teleports you to Ancient Rome. I didn’t walk to school uphill both ways, but I did walk to school.

As my elementary school science teacher used to tell us, “The sky was bluer back in my day,” because it literally was.

Even though I feel old compared to all those little tykes texting “OMG” on their smart phones, I definitely don’t feel like I’m about to be 20. Just last week, I ran around campus carrying a Nerf gun to shoot pretend zombies. I still cut people in line and have difficulty sharing my dessert. (You want a cookie from Scripps? Well, you go out there and fight for your own!) I catch myself saying stupid things, but sometimes will continue to back them up rather than admit I’m wrong. I enjoy sneaking onto people’s Facebook accounts and giving them statuses such as, “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” or, “525,600 minutes of pooping.” Clearly, I am not ready for any real responsibilities.

On the bright side of being old for my grade, I took a gap year and got a chance to hold a baby monkey in Africa and get kicked by a kangaroo in Australia, not to mention got an extra year to work out all those hair issues. Now that I’m in college, I can take advantage of my age and the wisdom that comes with it to convince my younger peers for at least a week or two that I’m mature. I will also turn 21 sooner, thus allowing me to really take advantage of that free beer Pomona gives out. However, I don’t look forward to people’s surprise upon learning that I’m kind of old and, you know, dying sooner.

Unfortunately, becoming older is not determined by any maturity test or willingness bar. It just happens. Whether you or I like it or not, on Oct. 20 at 10:30 a.m., I will become 20 years old. So I’ve just got to lie back and bear it, as those English mothers once told their soon-to-be-married daughters.

Sure, I could try to hide my age by never smiling and always wearing a hat, but both smiling and wearing sunglasses are a lot cooler. I’m going to get older regardless, so it might as well do so gracefully. But I will tell you this: should you ever try to fountain me, I will go kicking and screaming—except the much older version, known as clawing and biting. They don’t call me the cougar for nothing.

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