I've entered that stage in life in which age becomes more or less meaningless. I suppose every age is arbitrary, since it measures nothing more than how many times the Earth has revolved around the sun (subject to an adjustment every fourth year) since that moment (several weeks after we're formed and functional) when we no longer depend on our mothers for nutrients and shelter (except that we still do).

When you're a kid, particularly an American one, every year means something. Seven-year-olds are smarter than six-year-olds and eleven-year-olds can beat up ten-year-olds and the state of New York says that you're physically and emotionally capable of riding a bicycle without a helmet after fourteen orbits of the sun.

Sixteen means driving. Seventeen means viewing graphic violence or strong sexual content or those long-coveted adult situations without being accompanied by a guardian. Eighteen means voting and smoking and buying porn (that precious combination of adult situations that lead to strong sexual content and the occasional violence; a combination so volatile that it takes an extra 365.25 viewings of the moon to prepare for it). Nineteen and twenty just bring you closer to the age that really counts in this country: the day you can drink alcohol without a fake ID or an apathetic bouncer or a consenting parent or a setting in which those over twenty-one have provided it for you.

From there, different ages mean different things to different people. For me, twenty-two and twenty-three were akin to infancy in the post-college world, particularly in the workplace. I got engaged (24) and married (26) and bought a house (27) young, so my mid-twenties birthdays all seemed to justify the life I was already living. I don't think I could have gotten through the last few years without the beard, which helped me pretend I was ready to buy a headboard and negotiate mortgage points and manage a sixty-five-year-old man when the face under the beard was better suited for food fights and Little League games.

That brings us to tomorrow, when I turn twenty-eight. I've honestly thought I already was twenty-eight for the past several months, but people keep asking me how old I'll be and I have to subtract 1980 from 2008 to remember that I'll be twenty-seven for a few more hours. "Just a baby," they reply, and I remember that they're right. I still struggle to tie a tie. I still operate fake sports leagues in which I can dictate the outcomes of games and winners of awards. I still giggle when I have to abbreviate Cumberland County in three letters on a caucus form. And I don't think any of that will change tomorrow.

Once the federal and state governments have largely stopped dictating our actions on the grounds of our ages, that "2008 minus 1980" calculation really doesn't apply anymore. Age is measured in gray hairs and crow's feet. It's late nights at the pub or early mornings with the baby or early bird tee times. It's miles on the bike or creaky joints and bad backs. It's whether ones actions are responsible for one or two or three hundred other people's lives.

I'm guessing tomorrow will be like any other birthday in my twenties. I'll eat cake and drink beer and count my blessings that I don't have to be up with the baby the next day. It's good to be young.


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