Back to the future

Ellen Futterman and her stepdaughter Megan Burkett have been known to “wine” together.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Back to the future

Happy New Year! Thank you for another year of supporting the Jewish Light.

As it happens, 2016 has the potential to be pretty major for my family. For starters, if all goes as planned (God willing), my husband and I will become grandparents in late March. 

In May, our son (God willing) will graduate from high school. At the end of June, my husband retires after 33 years as an Illinois educator, the last 11 as a middle-school principal. Hopefully, by the time September rolls around, he will have found new work that covers the tuition at our son’s college, which (God willing) he will start this fall.

And in October, I will be 60 years old. Yup, me, Bo Derek, Carrie Fisher, Dana Delany, Geena Davis and Kim Cattrall all turn 60 in 2016. No question I’m in impressive company, what with Princess Leia, Lois Lane and Samantha from “Sex and the City” part of this group. Then again, I suppose Samantha always was a sexagenarian at heart.

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The thing about 60, or any milestone birthday for that matter, is that like it or not, we get to thinking about our lives – what lies ahead, where we’ve been, roads not taken, adventures we still hope to have. Most of us can’t believe we are the age we are; where has the time gone? 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that age is a frame of reference, a number that marks our physical years on Earth but has little to do with our attitude. Hopefully we get wiser as we get older, or at least gain more perspective. But with all the tsuris in the world today — war, terrorism, gun violence, natural disasters, homelessness, hunger, sex trafficking, child abuse — what’s a few extra pounds or creases around the eyes among friends? If anything, maybe we should look at those things as badges of perseverance, survival and all-around good fortune.

My stepdaughter Megan turned 30 on Dec. 24 and celebrated with a party at our house Saturday night. She made the event a Gatsby-esque affair — “Megan is leaving her Roaring ’20s and entering her ’30s,” read the evite — encouraging her friends to dress as if it were Prohibition. For her part, Megan looked beyond stunning in a glammed-up flapper dress with her hair styled in a finger-wave bob around a jeweled headband. Even stalwart Lady Mary of “Downton Abbey” would have been envious.

In the weeks leading up to the party, Megan and I talked about her turning 30. A part of her feels embarrassed that at her age, while many of her friends are married and having children, including her 28-year-old brother and his wife, she is living at home (with me, her dad and her other brother). 

I pointed out that she moved in with us for a good reason, to save money while going back to college to study art and design, on her own dime. She is doing really well at school, too. She also works full-time as a paralegal and manages to have a pretty active social life (that leaves me exhausted just thinking about it). 

Then I reminded her that when I turned 30 I was getting divorced. Talk about feeling like a loser. This period of my life also coincided with the early years of the AIDS epidemic, so I was pretty sure I would never be romantically involved with anyone ever again.

But you know what? My 30s turned out to be a time of great self-awareness and independence, when I learned to enjoy my own company and rely on my ingenuity. I was unencumbered. I indulged the things I love to do, like traveling, going out many nights to hear live music and trying virtually every new restaurant that opened in town. 

I couldn’t have predicted that “it would all work out” as others assured me when I was divorcing, but by my late 30s I was pretty dang good at being single. So when I met the man who would become my future husband, I made sure to give the relationship time to develop and grow. Perhaps most eye opening is that I realized what I wanted in a husband when I first married at 23 was very different from what I wanted when I married again at 40.

I’m not writing this to dispense sage advice about aging. Google “turning 60” and some 62,700,000 entries pop up that already do that.  But there is something genuinely empowering about learning to live in the moment, to appreciate the time of your life that you’re in when you’re actually in it. Megan is in hers and I’m in mine, and they’re both good.

We all know that physical health is key to productive aging, with eating right, exercise and staying active all contributing components. Some of us may even try to slow the process through cosmetic and plastic surgery. Heck, if I didn’t have college tuition looming I might consider it.

But I am convinced that a healthy attitude is as critical to feeling and doing our best no matter how old we are, and that we can control. Self-perception has a great impact on how the years affect us. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that people who maintain a positive attitude tend to make healthier lifestyle choices and thus age more gracefully.

Regardless, all I know is that come October, when 60 knocks at my door (not that I’m rushing it!), I plan to celebrate. God willing, it will be with my grandchild in my arms, my son succeeding in college, my stepdaughter basking in her 30s and my husband taking a day off from his post-retirement job.