No Sugar Added: 90 is the new 50

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Much in the way December is synonymous with Christmas, for me, March means one thing: birthdays. Parents, grandparents, spouses, family and friends. Alive. Dead. It matters not. It’s a hotbed of birthday activity and memories.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the birthday celebrations of two people I admire and have come to love – both happen to be parents of different girlfriends I met after moving to Maine, but the fact that they’ve been in my life a relatively short time doesn’t make them less special.

Birthdays and the parties that mark them are a funny thing. At some points in our lives, we eagerly anticipate them. At other times, we fear and/or would rather ignore them. And then it seems we come full circle again.

If you have (or have had) young children, you are painfully aware of the seemingly never-ending string of birthday parties that you are either giving or sending your kids to. When my three children were in the pre-school/elementary school age range (which can go on for decades, depending upon how many offspring you have and how far apart they are spaced) I remember dreaming of starting a movement to ban birthday parties altogether. I couldn’t keep up with the avalanche of invitations and gifts that needed to be purchased for schoolmates who often were not even on my child’s “friend” list. Even before the stress of Drew’s illness came into the mix, I was declining and tearing up party invites with reckless abandon.  

Not that I was a birthday Scrooge; I just didn’t get it.

I believe the true birthday party madness began when, unbeknown me, a law was apparently passed, stating that every single child in the classroom, school or district must receive an invitation to a party, so no one would have their feelings hurt, or feel “left out.”

I don’t know who came up with this brilliant scheme, but they obviously hadn’t asked for my opinion, as I’ve always been of the mind that children are best raised in an atmosphere that has some bearing upon “reality” – and the reality of life is this: if you don’t play nicely with someone, if you have a rotten disposition, if you have at any point stolen the cookie out of someone’s lunch box, or if you simply aren’t their friend, you don’t get invited to their party.

This birthday party nonsense is obviously tied into “helicopter parenting” and “we must make life perfect for our children” movements and I shall refrain from going off on that tangent at this particular time.

Needless to say, although I loved baking cakes and creating special and sometimes elaborate-yet-homespun birthday celebrations (with my husband’s help – he was the actual birthday party ringmaster) for my children, I was not one of the parents who rented a bouncy-house and paid Marcello the fire-eating mime to entertain a gaggle of 8-year-olds while my child opened 45 gifts purchased by kids who barely knew him (or her).

Some parents may have been holding back tears when their children outgrew the frenetic birthday party stage. Me?  I was relieved.

When I was a child, I certainly had my share of memorable parties: the beautiful cakes my mother would create, the Martha Stewart-esque decorations, the time the paper tablecloth caught fire. And when I look back at photos, there I was, surrounded by my intimate group of true friends.  I may not have gotten dozens of gifts, but I felt loved.

Your 10th birthday is a big deal; 40 and 50 are landmarks sometimes reluctantly punctuated by major celebrations (they don’t carry the same excitement as the number “21,” for instance).

But then people hit 70. Or 80. Or 90. And suddenly, everyone wants to party. And they know how to do it.

I watch in awe, hoping to be fortunate enough to reach those milestones, surrounded by friends and family – celebrating life and smiling with gratitude.

Forget 40 being the new 30; 90 is the new 50 – and I, for one, am thrilled. So happy birthday, Bob and Judy – you’re an inspiration (and Bob, you’re cuter than most of the men I’ve dated!).

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No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at or contact her at