How can you not celebrate turning 90?
Family legend has it, I climbed a pyramid when I was not-yet two. We were in Mexico, an exotic escape for my father and a place my mother loved to go. The pyramid rose up and up and up with precipitous steps and before anyone really knew what was happening, I did that half-crawl, half-walk thing that toddlers master and wended my way to the top. It was my mother who climbed the stairs after me and carried me down, one step at a time, looking neither down nor out nor up, but only at the next grooved stone, worn by centuries of feet and weather. I must have been, I imagine now, completely at ease in my mother’s arms or we would not have made that descent safely.
So it’s no surprise that 47 years later I can still find comfort crawling on to my mother’s bed, where we might be joined by a cat or one of my children, and where she will absently pat me. We call these chats “morning email,” in honor of our habit of writing to each other first thing in the morning for years beginning when Mom got her first computer in 1985. When we moved in together in 2001, the missives slowed, although sometimes an electronic note still delivers a message most directly.
We’re planning a party—how can you not celebrate turning 90? Lying on her bed that morning, discussing plans, she said, as she often does, she was resisting turning 90. Then she said the most amazing thing:
Turning ninety is like waking up and finding yourself at the bottom of a pyramid and knowing you’re going to climb it and wondering how you got there.
Yes, I thought immediately, that must be exactly what it’s like.
My mother at 90 is many things she has always been—grand and beautiful, thoughtful, engaged with the world, and bold in spite of all of the times in her life when she had no sure-footing to stand up. In our bustling household where Twelve and Fifteen shift and change and the too-many felines romp, my mother bears witness to our transitions, holds forth, and carries on. She may not realize it, but she’s already successfully climbed dozens and dozens of pyramids—so this ninety business shouldn’t be too troublesome after all. And I don’t seem to have changed much either—I climb up my pyramids okay, and there’s my mother still helping me climb down safely.