“And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive, And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart” ~ Frank Sinatra
Tonight my 13 year old puppy did not want to stop playing with her squeaky squirrel. I finally had to take it away from her because she was panting like crazy. Over the past couple months since we learned she was in kidney failure, Ruby has become more puppy-like than she was, even as a puppy. She walks 2-4 miles a day. She’s finishing all her food in record time. She’s rooting through the trash can. It seems she is Benjamin Button dog, aging in reverse. She’s clearly unaware of her age and condition.
Once again, this old dog seems to be teaching me a new trick. Age is just a number that only matters if you are a cheese or a bottle of wine. The young at heart never truly get old.
In the days before the Internet and FaceTime and Zoom and texting, people wrote letters. A stamp, a pen, and a piece of paper were all you needed to share the contents of your mind and heart with someone who was worth the effort of your time and questionable penmanship. As is the habit for many people, I saved quite a few of the letters I received over the years from friends and boyfriends. I kept them in a box that once held my cassette player (back in the days when cassettes were a thing). Over time, that box got rather stuffed with random correspondence. I didn’t open it very often to read its contents, but I dragged it with me each time I moved. It would relocate from the top of one closet shelf to another, from apartment to apartment. There was something about knowing those letters were there if I ever wanted to trot down memory lane or perhaps clarify a memory that had become distorted or foggy.
When my husband and I got engaged and decided to move in together, he was helping me move boxes into my car when he came across that one. He asked me why I was bringing it. After all, if these letters represented relationships that had long since gone defunct, why was I clinging to them? I honestly could not give him a suitable answer. If I’d said I was keeping them for sentimental reasons, that would only make the box more of an issue in our relationship at the time. I didn’t know how to respond. In the absence of a viable response, he asked me if I could add them to the dumpster along with the wooden case holding 100 cassette tapes I no longer needed since he had a CD player he was willing to share. I acquiesced because he had never asked for anything from me, we were getting married and he was my future, and it seemed like a small sacrifice I should be willing to make for someone who had never been anything but kind, loving, supportive, and patient with me. With a pang of disappointment, I lobbed them over the wall of the dumpster, turned around, and tried not to look back. I was twenty-six then, he twenty-four.
In the years since, we both have felt deep regret over that event. He has felt horrible for asking me to toss a box of papers because he felt a little jealous about its existence. I have felt anger at myself for not defending my right to keep them because they were harmless mementos from my youth. But there is no unringing that bell. They are long gone. So now we just carry around the shame regarding that missing box instead of carrying around the box itself, which we have both agreed is so much more emotionally cumbersome than that damn box ever was.
This decision, made in our youth when we were not emotionally mature and had no real experience to gift us with greater perspective, has laden us with invisible baggage that we have hauled for decades. It’s something he doesn’t like me to mention because he feels just that bad about it, but I don’t blame him because the box is gone. I blame myself for not being self-aware enough to tell him it was part of my life I wasn’t ready to jettison. But it’s time for us to unload our disappointment in ourselves and the choices we made when we were younger and not able to see so far into the future. Seriously. Who can see twenty-seven years into the future when they aren’t even twenty-seven yet? The guilt and shame we feel needs to go. That box has long since been replaced by countless wonderful memories and experiences as our life together has been filled with love and fun and two absolutely-perfect-in-nearly-every-way adult sons, not to mention dozens upon dozens of cards and notes we have written to each other and saved. Therefore, I am declaring it time to move on. I may not be able to read those missives again, but I have something much more important. I would never trade my current life, our family, our shared experiences for those pieces of paper and neither would he. It’s way past time for us to toss the shame and self-flaggelation in the dumpster and move forward.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had paralyzing self-doubt. Some people doubt their beauty. Some people doubt their intelligence. Some people doubt their athleticism or their math capabilities or their decision-making skills. I doubted the entirety of my self-worth. When others would point out my positives, their words might have well as been Sanskrit. I was unable to process their praise, much less accept it. I would deflect with self-deprecation, never responding with a simple “thank you” because I couldn’t own it. Still, those kind words, repeatedly offered, planted seeds. They gave me permission to entertain, at least briefly, the modest notion that maybe I was more than I felt I was.
Since the beginning of January, I’ve been considering a party to celebrate my 50th birthday next month. But, every time I would think about it, I would determine it wasn’t worth the money. Or I’d create a guest list only to decide no one would forgo their Memorial Day weekend plans to celebrate with me. I stressed about choosing a place where my vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, beer connoisseur, and junk-food junkie friends alike could eat. I worried people wouldn’t find parking. I borrowed all manner of trouble looking out for other people, while the number of excuses I invented to avoid looking out for myself was macabre. My potential birthday party morphed into a monstrous, self-imposed migraine, and I decided perhaps it wasn’t worth marking the occasion at all.
I mentioned this during my weekly mental health session on Monday. My therapist, knowing the only way out is through and the only way through requires action, decided I needed to plan this event. The exercise in putting myself first, in believing I mattered enough to selfishly devise an entire day around my own likes and wishes without considering what others would choose, would be excellent skill-building practice. As I sat in her office pondering my preferences, it hit me. I had no idea substantive idea what I love. I had no clear preferences. It’s a blindspot I developed over a lifetime of never feeling worth the effort of asserting myself. My default has been to allow other people to choose where we eat or what we do or where we travel or when we go. I learned early on that anything I wanted was silly and wrong, not to mention undeserved. So I let others take the lead because I lacked the clout to choose. I was never in the driver’s seat, only along for the ride. By asking me to uncover my preferences, she handed me a permission slip, carte blanche to put my hands on my hips and declare, “It’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want and if others don’t like it or feel inconvenienced then they can stay home and miss out.” I didn’t have to feel guilty about it, either. It was a required assignment. Insecure rule followers are comfortable being told what to do. It’s safe.
Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I concentrated on what I didn’t want. My aversions, unlike my preferences, are clear cut. I didn’t want to go to a baseball game. I didn’t want to eat sushi or pasta. I didn’t want to cook or bartend for others. I didn’t want to invite people out of a sense of obligation or guilt. I didn’t want to stress small details. I did not want negative people, no matter long we’ve known each other, involved at all. I did not want a party where people bring black balloons and Depends to suggest I’m at the precipice of death. Little by little, through the process of elimination, my mind was freed to discover what I did want. I was able to create a game plan that felt life-affirming, fun, adventurous, memorable, and empowering.
And since it was my birthday and I could do what I wanted, I decided to rebrand it. So, I am not having a 50th birthday party. I’m having a twenty-four hour Re-Birth Day. I know I don’t want to operate my next 50 years through the same rubric. I’ve been slogging through a quagmire of issues that have plagued me since childhood and, thanks to my insightful and supportive therapist, every day I feel better about myself, more confident, less willing to deal with bullshit and naysayers and energy suckers. This is where I start owning my life rather than letting others direct it. This is where I begin self-advocation. This is my damn story. I deserve to tell it without someone else’s narration. I no longer need an advisory board. It no longer serves me.
With these things in mind, I’m approaching the next seven weeks as a growth quest. I know I won’t be able to return all my demons to the Upside Down before my birthday, but I might be able to sequester the remaining troublemakers in a soundproof cage long enough to create a better headspace for taking positive action for myself. Initially, I needed someone else to hand me a signed permission slip to look out for myself. It was a jumping off point, and you have to start somewhere. I accept that…for now. With a little practice, I’m sure that by this time next year I’ll be writing all the permission slips I need. The year after that, maybe I won’t need any at all.
Joe decided after his successful foray into track last spring that he would go out for cross-country this fall. A couple times during the summer, he received emails from his coaches encouraging training plans and providing workout schedules, emails which he deleted because denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. Once August hit after an entire summer of remaining exercise free, I suggested he do a few weeks of a Couch to 5K training app to dip his toes into the water again. Being a teenager dripping with disdain for anything requiring effort, he had less than zero interest in or enthusiasm for such an endeavor.
If there’s anything anyone who truly knows me knows about me, it’s that I don’t run. I think you should only run when you’re being chased by something bigger and heavier than you, like a large carnivore with sharp teeth or a runaway grand piano. While I have participated in a plethora of 5k events because I enjoy doing fun activities with people I like, I have not finished even one race where I ran the entire course because, as I mentioned, I don’t run. I. Don’t. Run. If you know anything else about me, though, it’s that I am doggedly determined once I set a goal. And this goal was to get Joe on his feet again.
To that end, being the super annoying mother I am, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app to my phone, waltzed into his room at 8 a.m. one oddly cool morning, tossed some socks and his running shoes onto his chest, and told him we would be leaving in 10 minutes. That was two weeks ago. I have been running with him every other day since then because it turns out I love complaining about running while running with Joe more than not running.
Today we were finishing up the last minute of our brisk-walk warm up when I noticed an elderly couple traveling side-by-side on the narrow path in front of us. He was moving along unsteadily with the aid of a cane while she held a walking stick in each hand to assist her. It was a bittersweet scene, at once a charming vision of long-term commitment to a life partner and yet a heartbreaking exhibition of the difficulty of aging. I couldn’t decide how I felt about it.
The gentleman heard us approaching, turned to verify our presence, and slowly moved behind his wife to allow us room to pass. Billie (our annoying, imaginary running coach) barked from my phone that it was time to jog. Joe sprinted off with his long, sixteen-year-old legs. I plodded along behind him and offered a polite greeting as I prepared to pass the couple. The gentleman replied in kind.
Then as I hit my stride next to them and began to leave them behind the way Joe had left me, she sighed and spoke.
“To be that young. Oh, to run again.”
That hurt. I mentally clutched my heart with my hands.
We spend a lot of time bitching about what we must do. Our monkey minds run a non-stop chyron of obligations through our heads, preemptively sucking the joy out of doing. I’ve spent considerable time the last two weeks bitching about running, mainly while running. It didn’t make the running any easier.
Life is not about what you have to do. It’s about what you can do, even if you haven’t found your way to enjoying it yet.
Wobble Bunny lives in our yard. I first discovered him a couple weeks ago. I glanced out the bedroom window and there he was, resting close to the fence near a hole I hadn’t previously noticed. I know that bunnies are bad for our lawn and our garden, but that has never stopped me from appreciating them. Not sure if it’s their skyscraper ears or their soulful round eyes or their puffy white tails that tug at my heart, but the bunnies speak to me, and so I have decided to let them do what they must to our yard in the name of survival.
Wobble Bunny is not like other bunnies we’ve shared our yard with before. As he munches in the grass, he often rolls over. It starts with a wobble and then he lists and rolls onto his side or back. At first I thought perhaps he has neurological issues or had gotten into something he shouldn’t have. Upon closer observation, however, I discovered he has an issue with his back left leg. It is weaker than it should be and this causes Wobble Bunny to lose his balance and topple over while sitting or lapse into a barrel roll as he hastily hops toward his hole to avoid danger. It’s simultaneously comical and heartbreaking. It’s an outward display of his vulnerability, and it just makes me adore him more.
I’ve lost hours observing Wobble Bunny. I never let the dog out until I am sure he is safely hiding under the neighbor’s shed or ours. When Ruby perches herself over his hole, her legs mindlessly dancing the doggy Charleston in excitement over a furry prey, I scold her and rein her in. I’m vigilant about protecting this wild bunny, not because I can save him or tame him, but because Wobble Bunny’s shaky existence is a metaphor for all humanity. We are all Wobble Bunny.
The First Noble Truth of Buddhism explains that life is suffering. This does not mean that life is a continual sufferfest. It isn’t. There are rises and falls, but we are constantly exposed to suffering. It begins at birth and continues as we get sick, age, lose loved ones, and don’t get what we hope for or want. It is an inescapable condition of life on this planet. We all suffer. Learning to acknowledge, accept, endure, and alleviate our own suffering (and the suffering of others) is the way to a peaceful heart. It’s a bitch of an obstacle course to run.
Wobble Bunny is my daily Buddhist meditation. There he is. Hopping through his life the only way he knows how, with wobbles and tumbles and missteps. He goes on falling and getting up over and over again because he must. He knows no other way. I wish I could take away his suffering and his weakness. I can’t. But in watching out for him, in doing what I can to make his life less stressful and insecure, I make my own life better.
“My responsibility it not only to other bunnies. It is to all creatures everywhere.” ~Bunny Buddhism
Wobble Bunny reminds me daily to let go of negative thoughts, to be compassionate to other creatures, and to face suffering for what it is…a given. I can’t eliminate all the undesirable conditions, but I can learn to negotiate the minefield with greater skill.
We are all wobbly bunnies. Practicing acceptance and patience around that knowledge is the greatest gift we can give the world.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” ~George Burns
Midlife is weird. You never think about it until you’re in it and by then you don’t know what the hell hit you. Right around the time I turned 40, I began feeling this sense of urgency, like life was heading into its final stages and I was running out of time. I became stressed out by the act of aging. Every day I would notice something new in my body, a twinge of pain in my wrist or a soreness in my toes as they hit the floor in the morning. I wasn’t so much young anymore. My body was in slow decline, and it became the focal point of my attention. So, I went at life like a bat outta hell. I had things to accomplish before it was too late and I was too old to do all the things. I put exercise and eating right at the top of my list and became so concerned about them that they morphed into a job rather than something to enjoy. I would compare myself to others my age to see how I was holding up. It was all about not looking or acting my age, as if my age were a brick wall I was swerving around. And, in that fog of temporary insanity, I traveled through ages 40-46, too busy crossing things off my to-do list to be in the moment and too tired from doing all the things to enjoy every other part of my life. I missed tuning in for some of the best years of my sons’ lives by being too focused on silly, self-imposed goals that in the end didn’t bring me as much satisfaction or joy as I expected they would.
Partially because of the disappointment of not finding what I was looking for during my furious race to be everything I was supposed to be in my early forties, around age 46 I entered the who-gives-a-shit-because-I’m-just-gonna-die-anyway phase. During this phase, my husband and I started sharing complaints about our bodies and how they weren’t acting the way they used to. It went from a general noticing into a full on festival of physical misfortunes. Despite our constant complaining about them, our aches and pains weren’t getting any better and our sharing these details (while making us at least momentarily feel better in our not-aloneness) kept our focus on them. This, in turn, led to a depression of sorts. If the period between 40 and 46 was my Bust-It-Out phase, the two years between 46 and 48 were my Give-It-Up-Already phase. I mean, it’s not as if twenty-somethings couldn’t tell by looking at me that I was old, at least by their standards. I wasn’t fooling anyone, so why bother? I swung right from busy and focused on outward appearances to sluggish and apathetic about everything. I ate too much, drank too much, and checked out, trying to come to terms with the knowledge that I would in fact die at some point, whether or not I had everything checked off my bucket list. And who the hell would care about what I had accomplished or not accomplished anyway?
I’m 48 and midlife crisis is mostly finished with me now. My friends who told me I would feel much better on the other side were right. The shoulda-coulda-woulda thoughts are gone. I’m not wasting another minute feeling bad about something I want that others think is inappropriate. I’m on the precipice of IDGAF, which is pretty freeing. I’m not running around trying to accomplish goals, nor am I just sitting around thinking my best days are behind me. I’m living my life where it is now, grateful for the opportunity to do just that. What I’ve learned in the past eight years is that midlife crisis is an evolution. If you’re lucky, you go through it all the way and don’t get stuck either too busy with the future or too depressed about the past to live life in the present.
I’ve been observing older people recently, looking for those who model what I would like to become now that I’ve emerged through the rebirth canal of midlife. What I’ve found is that, like most things, aging largely comes down to attitude. If you think you are old, you are. The minute you start putting labels on what you can or should do at your age, you are screwed. Age is a number. What comes with it, a natural slowing down and some measurable physical changes, is unavoidable. But how you approach those changes is a choice. I have seen 65 year olds who seemed 85 and I have seen 85 year olds who would pass for twenty years younger. The older people I admire most are grateful for their journey. They work at seeing the good around them. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They don’t care what anyone else thinks. They take care of themselves but they don’t obsess over it. And they never put unnecessary limits on themselves. They are comfortable in the wrinkly, saggy skin they’ve earned by treating their body like the soul vessel that it is and they don’t let its appearance stop them from putting on a swimsuit and getting into the surf. They know life isn’t over until it’s over.
These days, I find I’m not as concerned about the number of candles on next year’s birthday cake. I’m just excited about the possibility of cake.
The seven and a half years between when I turned 40 and today have been the best seven years of my life. They have not been the easiest. During this time, I learned my oldest son has ADHD and my youngest has dyslexia, and I struggled to gain acceptance and create a better situation for them at school and in their lives. I had a devastating falling out with a person very close to me that caused years’ worth of complications in my family. I began experiencing the unpleasant side effects of early perimenopause. I was depressed for a while. And I went into counseling for the first time in my life as I wrestled with the external changes messing with my reality and the internal battles being waged in my head as a result of aging and staring straight into the face of the midlife beast. As a result of all these things, however, I am more at peace than I ever have been. I live in the moment. I have greater perspective about what is important to me. And I couldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t trudged through the quagmire of muck that now lies behind me.
This morning I saw a meme that riled me up. It said, “Addicted to Bettering Myself.” I’ve seen that saying before, but it has never elicited as strong of a reaction from me as it did today. Today it just didn’t sit well. So, I have been reflecting on it, and I think I finally have it figured out. When I turned 40, I was concerned about being 40. How in the heck did I get so old? Is this the beginning of the downhill slide that comes with being over the hill? How can I make 40 better? What do I need to do before it’s too late? I was consumed with answering these questions. I became addicted to bettering myself. I became more concerned about my physical appearance as I noticed more readily the effects of having lived 40 years. I became intensely interested in physical exercise. I monitored my workouts and chided myself when I fell short. If I put on weight at the holidays, I hated myself. I took classes in things I thought I teetered on the edge of being too old for, and I did things that were out of character because I thought my time was running out. I expected more of myself at a time when the events in my life were requiring more of me as well. I stressed myself out racing against a clock I could never stop.
Then an amazing thing happened. I let go. I can’t say when it happened or why, and it doesn’t matter. Suddenly I was grateful more often than anxious. I was tuned in more often than tuned out. I stopped letting others tell me what was best for me. I stopped taking myself and everything around me so goddamned seriously. I chose to let go of control more often. And I stopped looking outside myself for acceptance. I decided that trying to be “better” was more harmful than helpful to me. I accepted that my existence has power, worth, and value even if I never do anything other than breathe. It sounds Stuart Smalley of me, I know. But I decided I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.
I am positive my friends who have escaped the clutches of the midlife monster are nodding their heads knowingly at me now. You were right, Leanna. Things did get better. I’ve let go of the situations, misconceptions, and lies that tortured me for years when I felt time was running out and I needed to be more (whatever that means). I’ve learned to not give a flying fig about most things because most things are background noise we choose hear over the symphony we could be enjoying if we let ourselves.
I don’t mean to belittle people who are addicted to bettering themselves. We’re all on our own journeys, and there is no right or wrong way to travel our individual path. And there’s something to be said for making the most of the time you are given, for being restless and ambitious, for wanting to age with grace and in good health. I have zero intention of going gentle into that goodnight myself. The Grim Reaper had best be prepared for a wrestling match when he comes for me. The difference for me at 47 than me at 40, though, is that he’ll be coming for a woman who doesn’t want to leave because she’s too happy to step out and not a woman who feels she can’t leave because she’s not finished becoming something she never realized she always was…good enough.
There are a lot of dated features in our new, 1964 home. Terracotta-colored ceramic tile covers the walls in the full bath. The living and dining rooms both showcase half walls connected to the ceiling with carved, wooden spindles meant to open things up while still keeping them appropriately and decorously separated. And the dining room light fixture, which is a perfect cousin to the hallway wall sconce, is an antique bronze monstrosity with frilly, white, opaque glass covers over the bulbs. As I walk by these outmoded design relics now, I cringe with the realization that everything has a time. Someday, the updates we give this home in 2016 will look as garish to a family circa 2056 as these 1964 features appear to me now. To everything, turn, turn, turn. Nothing is immune. Well, almost nothing.
There is one piece left behind by the original owners that I have no intention of removing. At the end of the bedroom hallway upstairs, there is a full-length mirror held in place by wall brackets mounted flush with the top and bottom of the mirror. It is a simple piece, glass encased in a quiet, wooden frame with curved sides and a hint of metal for adornment. When we were originally looking at the house as it was staged for sale, it was one of the few accoutrements that I genuinely appreciated in the interior. I hoped the sellers wouldn’t take it with them and was glad to find after closing that they had left it for us. I realize now it would have been a bear to remove, which is probably why it was left behind. Besides, who wants to risk breaking a large mirror right before signing the final sale documents, right? A mirror that size has to be worth at least 14 years of bad luck.
It wasn’t until we had taken possession of the home and I began spending time there working on plans and painting that I came to fully appreciate this mirror that I walk by daily. You see, it’s a magic mirror. Just like the one the Wicked Queen kept in her castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it tells me what I want to hear. In it, I feel nearly the fairest of them all. While waiting for the wifi installer one morning, I took a photo of myself in that mirror and shared it with my husband hoping for validation of my discovery.
“Look. It’s a skinny mirror,” I told him handing him the photo.
“That’s what you always look like,” he said, unfazed, while handing back my phone.
I looked at the image again.
“Nuh uh. This is NOT what the mirror at home makes me look like. The mirror at home is mean. I look bigger in that mirror. This mirror makes me about 5’7″, I figure.” (I am actually a statistically shorter-than-average 5’4″.)
“The mirror at home is the liar. This mirror is how you really look,” he said, adding, “I’ve been telling you for years that you look much better than you think you do.”
My mouth twitched sideways while I considered his words, which of course were well intentioned but totally wrong.
“I don’t think so. I think this is a fun house mirror. It stretches you. I am sure the mirror at home, mean as it is, tells the truth. I like this mirror a lot better, though. It makes me feel good. It shall be mine forever,” I resolved.
Now, it wouldn’t matter if the mirror was held in a god awful, neon pink, plastic frame that clashed with the muted and modern decor I have planned for our new home. I would still keep it. Every time I walk down the hall, I marvel at how good I look for 47. That mirror is a gift at a time when gravity is not my friend and wrinkles and gray hairs appear with increasing speed and unkind ferocity. That mirror does something no one else has ever been able to do for me; it makes me feel good about myself one hundred percent of the time. Without make up, with unwashed hair, in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt splattered with wall paint, I still look fabulous. I have pointed the mirror out to every woman who has entered our house. They have all agreed that it is a surprisingly flattering mirror, and this proves that my magic mirror is a bit of a fibber. I mean, when do women ever look in a mirror and feel happily satisfied with their appearance? Almost never, that’s when. It is, without a doubt, a magic freaking mirror.
I have spent most of my life battling poor self-esteem. I have never felt like I was good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or pretty enough. After years of self-flagellation and denial, I’ve started therapy and I’m working daily to appreciate my positives instead of focusing on the negatives. I’ve put some distance between myself and situations that only fostered greater self-doubt. I am operating from more of a “why not?” posture instead of a “who are you kidding?” stance. And, little by little, I am feeling better.
I’m not sure why the previous owners left the magic mirror behind, but I am grateful. Everyone should have a mirror that reflects their best. We all deserve that daily affirmation. As for the mean mirror in my current house? I’m walking by it with my arm outstretched these days, telling it in my sauciest tone to talk to the hand. I’m not interested in its nasty temperament. It will stay with this house when we move because I’m not packing that shit with me. I’m moving on, lighter, happier, and suddenly three inches taller.
I recently had the good fortune of marking 47 years off the calendar. After so many journeys around the sun, I’ve become much more adept at celebrating in a way that suits me. This year that included a hot, uninterrupted shower, a venti latte accompanied by a cinnamon roll, some light shopping followed by a leisurely drive into the hills, a pedicure, and a picnic and concert at Red Rocks. And while I could not keep Mother Nature in line (the cranky bitch caused a thirty-minute storm with extreme lightning and heavy rain that delayed our outdoor concert and forced us to seek shelter in our car), overall my day was damn near perfect, securing my position as my number one, all-time-favorite, personal birthday-party planner.
The 1980s sex symbol, Bo Derek, recently said in an interview that aging is not for sissies. Although Bo has about ten years on me, I concur with her assessment. While 40 freaked me out seven years ago, what has happened to me physically since that reaching that milestone makes me shudder. I’ve acquired floppy arm syndrome, crepe-y neck, and sagging knees. Stray chin hairs pop up like wretched dandelions that require immediate plucking under the magnification of a lighted mirror to aid my tired eyes. The gal who used to roll out of bed and attend her college classes somehow managing a bright complexion without makeup is gone. It takes twice the effort and the bankroll to maintain half the fresh-faced appearance I exuded a decade or two ago. I try not to think about it too much, but the reflection in ubiquitous glass reminds me anyway. My inescapable doppelgänger follows me everywhere. Damn her.
As I drove up into the foothills the other day, though, I had something of an epiphany about my age. Even with all the physical changes in me that are less than grand, I like myself. So much. I am more genuinely me now than I have ever before been because I have stopped putting other’s agendas for me ahead of my own. I have accepted my negatives and begun acknowledging and owning my positives. I no longer heed the caterwauling of naysayers. I spent my first forty years becoming what I thought I was supposed to be. I will spend the next forty years excavating the me that lies buried under the sediment of other’s wishes. I grew up a closed-off, fearful Chicken Little, but that’s not who I was meant to be, and it’s not who I will stay. While I am good as is, warts and all, I am open to growth and positive change. If others don’t approve of my new direction, I will leave them in the dust as I speed away and watch their figures fade in my rear view window. Moving on.
To my friends who are a few years ahead of me on this journey, thanks for talking me through my midlife insanity and reassuring me that I would emerge better for it. You were right. It does get better. Little things are easier to let go. There’s freedom in relinquishing baggage and traveling light. And the more baggage I drop, the happier I become. To my friends who are a few years behind me, hang in there. I go before you as proof that the stress, change, and angst you’re experiencing are survivable. The slow, steady climb at midlife is the precursor to the feet-off-the-pedals coast that follows. And, yes. I know you don’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear it either, but that didn’t make it any less true.
I’m in life for the long haul, for as long as I’ve got, through the messy and the beautiful and the complicated and the serene. I am not afraid of getting older, anymore. I am afraid of not getting older. There is so much of life I was uncomfortable about experiencing when I was young and chicken-hearted. I am braver now. Oh, sure. Doubt still finds me, but now it comes in the muffled whisper of a pesky librarian rather than the soul-shaking shouts of a doomsday soothsayer. I know the potential for growth still exists, and I know it ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings. I’m not going out quietly. Look for me. I’ll be the old lady laughing too loud, hugging too long, and crossing things off my bucket list. I’m many things, but I’m no sissy.
The craziest thing happened to me last weekend. I got mistaken for an old person. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, honestly, because I only feel 25. But there I was having drinks at a bar with some friends when our server made a seemingly innocuous remark that sucked the air out of my midlife bubble. As she was taking our order for a second round of drinks, she chose to strike up a conversation.
“It’s getting pretty busy in here tonight,” she noticed. “There must be a show. Who’s playing?”
We told her we were going to see The Replacements. I could see her wracking her young, fresh brain for any recognition of the name The Replacements and coming up blank. My friends filled her in on who The Replacements were while she explained her ignorance of them by commenting that she grew up listening to KISS because that’s what her parents listened to.
Whoa! Her parents? Was she comparing us to her parents? Just how old did this child think we were? Certainly I do not look old enough to be her mother because I’m not old enough to be her mother.
“How old are you?” one of my friends inquired.
“I’m 24,” she replied.
Well, crap. I am definitely old enough to be her mother. I reeled at that thought for a few moments before seizing the opportunity to feel smug that I might be the same age as her parents but at least I’ve got better music taste. KISS? I openly admit that showing my face at a Replacements show dated me (since they officially broke up in 1991 before getting back together in 2006), but I have moved beyond 80s music. I listen to Sirius XMU, dammit. I have at least a modicum of knowledge about the current indie rock of college youth. So there. I’m not dead yet. Truth was, though, that I was a little shocked that she was so young and we were apparently so not young any longer. Then, apropos of nothing, she added this lovely comment.
“Well..I think it’s great that you’re all still getting out.”
There goes her tip.
Oh. My. God. I’m 46, not 86. Holy crap. Are people my age not getting out? Are my friends and I freaks because we can drag our aged carcasses from our homes, have some drinks, see a concert, and stay out until midnight? Am I an anomaly? Out on a Sunday night? I’ve never thought of my concert-going behavior as odd for my age (ugh…that phrase), but now I had to wonder.
We deflected her comment with a torrent of sarcasm. I gestured to extract the arrow from my heart. All the while, my head was spinning and my heart was gushing the last of my life’s blood. Had I really reached that point? Is that how 20 year olds see me? I’m the old lady they spy from across the room and condescendingly think, “Well…good for her”? When the hell did this happen? When did I cross that imaginary line from youth into old age? I’m not quite 50. I’m not yet eligible for AARP. Oh god. Does this mean I look over 50? The horror.
As if to punctuate the fact that I was absolutely not an old lady, I troubled her for a third glass of wine. The beauty of being older is that you can afford more wine, right? And if I’m too old to be out on Sunday night, I must certainly be too old to get drunk anyway. I’d show her. Old. Who was she calling old? I sucked down my wine like I was Ponce de Leon drinking from the Fountain of Youth.
When it was nearly time to go, I tossed a couple twenties to my friend and headed for the bathroom where I stood for a long time having a little come-to-Jesus meeting with my reflection in the mirror. I told myself that I’d rather be the old lady at the show than the old lady asleep at home. I am still at least sort of cool, even if my 24-year-old server doesn’t see it. I recall being a naive twit at 24. Someday, if she’s lucky, this girl will be 46 and some 24-year-old twit will inform her much to her chagrin that she’s now officially old.
In the meantime, I’m disappointedly starting to grasp the saying that inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.