A time to reflect, an occasion to celebrate. Or, a time to dread, an occasion to ignore. Milestone birthdays — from turning 21 to the big 4-0, 65 and beyond — hit some hard. They can be days fraught with emotion. Others let them glide by without bemoaning the passage of time.
With thanks and permission from the author Barb Berggoetz, published in The Indianapolis Star/ USAToday.com. Photographs representing Celebration Stadium milestone events.
"It's a state-of-mind issue when people can view this as a choice in how they look at it," said Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor at St. Vincent Stress Center of Indianapolis. What's healthy to ignore, he said, are the negative aspects of these milestones: "This means I'm old and decrepit. It's all downhill from here." For many people, birthdays, especially the big ones, make you think about how your life is progressing — or not going as well as you hoped. They can be wake-up calls to improve your health or ditch bad habits. "Sometimes we get so busy we don't stop to think about what we want out of life," said Richardson, who recently turned 50 and spent time re-examining life goals. People, he said, can ask themselves: "What do I want to do with the years I have left? What do I want to do with my career? Is there something I want to do in my life that I haven't done yet?" Regardless of the birthday, Richardson said it's a time to celebrate accomplishments. It can be a time, too, to hit the bucket list. Go for that job that's a passion. Volunteer for a cause that's dear to you. Do something adventurous. Maybe take some calculated risks. While birthdays can stir up buried angst about aging and death, they should be, more than anything else, a tribute to life. Here is how four women marked milestone birthdays...
30th birthday: Leah Shattuck
More than 16 years ago, Glamour magazine published "30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She's 30." Since then, it has gone viral in chain emails and was even made into a book. "Thirty, for whatever reason, sounds like you should know who you are," said Leah Shattuck, who hit that milestone on May 10. "You've done a lot of self-discovery by this point, but you still have many decades left." Shattuck said she used her birthday as an opportunity to reflect on what she'd like to do during the next decade — and to dye her blond hair red. "I felt like I had lost my sense of adventure as I've gotten older — I have a 2-year-old. I've been married six years. This was a way to be fun again," she said. She and her best friend, Rachel Hill — who turned 30 two days after Shattuck — started a new tradition. "Every new decade we're going to take cheesy portrait photos at Target." Shattuck credits her professional life for the positive approach she takes to birthdays. As the outreach manager at Joy's House, a day service for adults living with physical and mental challenges, she said she's a baby in some of the guests' eyes. "It doesn't matter how old you are, if you have dementia or physical challenges," she said. "You have so much of you that never leaves your side — your favorite song, the dance moves when you were 25 — there are things that never really go away."
40th birthday: Angie Smitherman
Some say this birthday milestone is the worst. The BIG 4-0. Youth is behind you, vanished. Onto the not-so-golden years. Depression. Sadness for what hasn't been accomplished. Wrong, says Angie Smitherman, who turned 40 in April and celebrated with a big bash in June that included more than 50 friends and family and a live band. "Actually, I've never felt this good," said the structural computer-aided design technician from Pendleton. "I love it. The older you get, the more you appreciate life." The divorced mom of 15- and 22-year-old sons said she feels healthier than ever. She runs half-marathons, with a goal of running a race in all 50 states. She cycles. She eats healthy, throwing spinach leaves into smoothies to sneak in the healthy stuff. Smitherman has gone back to school and will get her bachelor's degree in criminal justice in December. She then will immediately begin courses for a master's degree in public administration. She's a coach for Girls on the Run, which teaches young girls life lessons through running. "I don't sit still for very long," she said. "I'm picking up speed. I refuse to feel old. Everyone has to grow older."
50th birthday: Melissa Seibert
Big birthdays don't mean much to Melissa Seibert. She can't remember what she did when she turned 21, 30 or 45. So when it came time to mark her 50th birthday in February, she decided to do good for others. A volunteer with Schools on Wheels for about three years, the Downtown Indianapolis resident sent a letter to 50 of her closest friends and family members, asking them each to donate $10 to the organization, which tutors homeless children. If they each complied, she figured she'd raise $500. Instead, she raised $1,730. "I know if I do it this way, it will benefit the kids and it will make me happy," said Seibert, whose day job is at the IUPUI School of Physical Education and Tourism Management. The staff at Schools on Wheels wasn't surprised at Seibert's choice. "You can tell that she's connected to our program and our kids; she cares deeply," said Laura Alvarado, director of programs and partnerships. None of this should suggest that Seibert is anti-party. One year, she helped come up with the idea for a party in which a few people got together for dinner, and about an hour later, another friend popped in. Ten minutes later, another friend arrived. And so it went for an hour and a half with another surprise guest showing up every 10 minutes. Seibert spent her 50th with her family. Her sister had conspired with the staff at Schools on Wheels in advance and persuaded them not to tell Seibert how much money had been raised. Seibert thought she was around the $500 mark. Instead, that night, her sister announced the fundraiser had reached $1,000. And that alone made it a birthday to remember.
65th birthday: Dolly Craft
The idea of a cross-country bike trip had been in the back of Dolly Craft's mind for some time. An active cyclist since the mid-1990s, she had other friends who had done it. The timing was right. She had helped take care of her mother, who died in late 2011 at age 100. "As I finished up closing out her house and was feeling some form of liberation from that responsibility, I decided to think about something, for lack of a better word, on my bucket list," said Craft, a retired administrative assistant from Carmel. Scouting out Women Tours, a business that takes women — specifically those 50 and older — on bike tours, Craft learned the bike trip would take her through El Paso, Texas, where her mother lived and died, on Craft's birthday, March 25. She took the leap. What a way to spend a birthday. Craft left on the 3,100-mile trip on March 8 with 29 other women. They rode an average of 50 to 60 miles every day, tackling steep hills, traffic, heat and cold. "Not only was I interested in accomplishing the miles, but also connecting with and meeting people along the way," Craft said. On her birthday near El Paso, the tour cook made her a special meal and a birthday cake. She isn't bothered by milestone birthdays. "Birthdays are inevitable. People tell me I don't look 65, and I certainly don't act 65. But my intentions of healthful living are probably better than my execution." Craft felt good about raising $11,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through donations from Northminster Presbyterian Church members. At St. Augustine on May 2, she and the rest of the women dipped their front wheels into the Atlantic Ocean in the rain.