It occurred to me early on in the month that I was going to be turning thirty-one. More specifically, it occurred to me on the first day of the month because both my brother and mother called me to wish me a happy birth month. This happens to be a custom that goes back so many years that I don’t remember when it started; either that, or it is so new that I just don’t realize that it only has started within the last few years. Maybe turning thirty-one has done something to my memory.
All kidding aside, what milestone is there when one turns thirty-one? Why do we even bother with milestones at all? Let us examine some milestones from my own life and see to what extent they are still relevant today. We can start with birth because that is pretty much the very first thing that I can say happened to me. I’m positive that this milestone has had a lasting effect on me because if I hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t be sitting here in Seattle for the next to last month writing to you, humble readers of Go Inside Magazine. We then progress to my entering preschool as a very young child.
They were so taken with me in preschool that the teacher immediately went to my mother to declare that I might have some mental challenges because I kept on prattling on in some gibberish tongue that nobody at the school recognized. I guess nobody told the school that English was not my first language and that I would be speaking Romanian for awhile until I learned the English language.
I resisted watching that adorable show with the large puppets (including what I’m sure turned out to be my favorite, the monster who liked cookies) because I didn’t understand what anybody was saying. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that by watching the show I would be educated in how to properly speak English. I have to assume when I hear people on the street stringing together words in a completely nonsensical way that the practice of watching the show has died down a lot since I was a child.
Let us now go forward all the way to when I hit the tender age of thirteen. When I was a child, I associated the number thirteen with two things: one of them was the public broadcast channel where I had previously been educated by the delightful puppets, and the other was the turning of age event that happened when I, as a member of the Jewish people, turned thirteen. At the time, knowing nothing of what the word halacha meant, let alone its relevance on my life, I thought that becoming a Bar Mitzvah was a social event and a voluntary one at that; why, there were people who were fully grown adults who were still holding Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. What I didn’t realize then was that becoming a Bar Mitzvah had nothing to do with having some kind of a celebration as much as it had to do with precisely thirteen years passing from the day a Jewish male – twelve for a female, called “Bat / Bas Mitzvah” – is born.
Turning thirteen in Judaism is a bit like turning eighteen in the United States; you get new rights and responsibilities. As a Bar Mitzvah, a male may be counted in any situation in which a group of ten or more males are needed, be it the reading of the Torah or the recitation of certain prayers. Both Bar and Bat/Bas Mitzvahs entail that the person is no longer considered a child under Jewish Law and that they are liable for anything they do, whether it is stealing or sneaking a taste of a shrimp cocktail.
What makes turning eighteen particularly special in the United States? We are suddenly given the right to vote, and to purchase both pornographic materials and tobacco products. Why this age was chosen for the year that one could do all three of these things, I honestly am not sure. I wonder if anybody has ever celebrated their eighteenth birthday by going out to buy cigarettes, adult magazines, and voting. I know that I certainly did not do so.
Embarassingly enough, I first voted when I was nineteen, in the 1996 election. I guess that’s better than first voting at the age of 31, in the 2008 election. Before you ask, I did vote for Nader; no, it wasn’t the election where Nader helped Gore lose the election. Interestingly enough, by the time I was twenty-one I was into the tobacco products, though I didn’t realize it at the age of eighteen.
In the United States, when you reach the age of twenty-one there are two priveleges that are bestowed upon you. Those priveleges are the right to purchase and imbibe in alcohol in a public setting and the right to legally gamble wherever it is allowed; this is accomplished either in a casino or through any number of ways that one can play the lottery. When I turned twenty-one my family celebrated the event by going to Atlantic City, one of a few cities where you can find numerous casinos in the United States. Not only did I gamble that evening, but I even had a few drinks and smoked half a pack of cigarettes; this was perhaps to make up for the fact that I didn’t smoke when I turned eighteen.
When I turned twenty-five, there was just a bit of apprehension. I had just gotten engaged but was half way to thirty. My mother told me that the metabolism really started to take a tumble after you turned twenty-five so I started taking the stairs whenever possible, even if going up thirteen flights of stairs. Of course, we all know how the engagement went since I am not living in Australia right now and married happily. The other thing about turning twenty-five was that all of a sudden, rental car companies had a burst of new confidence in my ability to drive their cars. I’m not sure why the companies choose the age of twenty-five but there it was. I could drive a rental car without having to pay a larger amount of money due to being under twenty five. Interestingly enough, I didn’t really take advantage of this until I was just about twenty-nine.
From the time I turned twenty-one right up until I actually turned thirty, I was nothing but fearful of turning thirty without at least being married with a child or two. This seemed to amplify a little bit after I became more religiously observant although I was pretty confident that it would also help me in the quest to find the right person for me. On the day I turned thirty I was more than upset but my friends all told me that forty was the new thirty, and that I had nothing to worry about. Well, I guess nothing to worry about for at least nine or so years.
Thirty-One is en route and I don’t feel anything towards it. I am not upset that I am going to be thirty one sans wife / children nor am I looking forward to it. As I mentioned above, I didn’t even remember that my birthday was coming up until my brother and mother mentioned that it was my birth month. Perhaps thirty-two will be a more interesting milestone year for me. Then again, perhaps not.