I’m not quite ready to celebrate the end of my 25th year.

My son’s sweet, 13-year-old babysitter calls me “Mrs. Duck.” Which is, technically, my name — but since I am the same age as her elder brother, it makes me feel old.

Really, really old.

I realized this as I planted purple petunias in my back garden bed a few days ago. I was digging in a roundabout, lazy manner, sifting the dirt through my fingers as I reveled in a bit of spring sunshine. The earth smelled damp and rich, heavier than the sharp smell of the clay I played in as a child. Tommy was pretending to be Godzilla with my newly-planted snapdragons, crawling over them and mashing their delicate heads in the mud.

A bee buzzed by my ear as the breeze tickled my bare neck, and for a moment I felt 6 years old again, digging shallow, flat mud holes in the backyard so I could squish my toes in the wet clay while I squinted into the sunshine.

“Mrs. Duck!” Angela called out as she opened the back gate, startling me out of my reverie. “Can I take Tommy for a walk?”

There it was again — “Mrs. Duck.”

I don’t even call my mother-in-law “Mrs. Duck.” I call her by her first name; before I married Mike, I avoided referring to his mother by name at all costs. She probably would have been fine with being called Mrs. Duck, but it sounds so old.

So here I am, just days away from surpassing the quarter-century point, and I have become an old lady.

This year has been full of changes. I bought my first brand-new car. I put together a crib for the first time. I gave birth to my first child. I’ve been in Bible studies and choirs, worked for a newspaper and for a church, and grown more tomatoes than my family and all my neighbors could eat.

But I’m not quite ready to celebrate the end of my 25th year and push ahead into new territory. This is hard for me to admit, because I’ve never understood women who dislike birthdays.

Many women stop aging at 29. My mother, who is in her mid 60s, insists that her “real” age is 17. But for me, birthdays have always been something to look forward to, a mark of my actual age catching up to my internal chronometer.

When I was in kindergarten, my mom used to tell people I was 5 going on 35. She would brag about me to strangers when we were out shopping, saying I was an “old soul.”

In elementary school, I rarely swung on monkey bars or ran on the soccer field during recess — I preferred to sit on a park bench and listen to my friends talk about their problems and fears. The joke was that I was the school psychiatrist.

My teenage years and young adulthood were spent waiting (impatiently) for the next thing to happen: high school graduation, college, college graduation, my wedding, my first real job. I never, ever looked back, because there was always something more exciting just around the corner.

The glory of playing in the mud was forgotten, replaced by dreams of handsome princes and gorgeous, extravagant weddings. By the time I was 9, I had designed half-a-dozen wedding dresses for myself, plus numerous maid-of-honor dresses for my best friend. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was 10, while my friends were busy with The Baby-sitters Club. I was ready to be a real grown up.

But now, I’ve passed all those milestones I was zipping towards so purposefully. College, marriage, home ownership, parenthood — they all went exactly according to plan. With my 26th birthday looming and no life-altering events left to plan, I’m finally wishing I could slow down and find the day-to-day beauty I’ve been missing all these years.

That does it — I’m pulling the brake. I’m 25 and holding.

Article © 2006 by Stacey Duck