I’m beginning to believe aging surprises everyone. Each generation startles at the onset of lines and wrinkles, injuries, and decreased abilities. I’m hearing a chorus of complaints from my friends right now– How could this be happening to us? We weren’t going to get old!
I remember listening to the same protests as a child and a teenager and a young adult. When I heard someone grumble about their lack of balance or the unrecognizable face in the mirror, I thought, “How can this surprise you? Of course you’re getting older? Weren’t you there for all those years?”
These days, I understand that confusion. I feel young. Yet, I’m often surprised by photos of my aging face and by the amount of candles on my birthday cake. It’s so easy to fool ourselves, isn’t it? Avoid looking in the mirror too closely or the veins outlined on your hands.
I just turned 52. A nice round number on a nice round date 02-02-2022. I’m not old. For my birthday I went to the toy store with Fritzie, snuggled baby Wells, bought a Little Tykes slide and the Blue Bird Service Station (10 out of 10 on both toys!). I ordered myself a decadent rose-covered cake, ate two slices and went sledding in the canyon. All day long my friends and family sent sweet notes, gifts, texts, and calls. The good people who fill my life are the great, gorgeous compensation for my years on the planet.
it’s a choice
My cardiologist friend Ed says, “Around age 50, you have choice: you can get old or you can take care of yourself.” He’s right. So much of aging is a choice. Not just with the food we eat and getting regular exercise, but in the decisions we make every day.
About ten years ago, I realized I’d stopped reaching for things on the high shelves, carrying in heavy things from the car and running down to the basement to get a can of chopped tomatoes. At the time, I had little kids to run down to the basement and big boys to lift and reach and carry. I decided to run upstairs and downstairs at every opportunity, to carry the bag of flour into the house, to reach the top shelf. It’s made a difference.
When I hear someone say, “I’m too old for that hike.” I make a mental note to take that trail next week. I’m still running, but I don’t plan on any races, because for me, races lead to injuries. Still, I’m recklessly skiing and sledding in the canyon every week because it makes me feel young. You will never hear me say I’m too old for something (ouch, that hurt even to type it). Our words matter and I’m careful about how I talk to myself.
There’s no rule that we have to switch to old lady hairstyles and clothes. And there’s no rule that we have to give up on learning new things. SOAPBOX: I get a little frustrated with people who say they are too old to understand technology. It’s a choice. You owe it to yourself to keep up so you can stay connected to family and friends.
but it’s also inevitable
Just this year, all my books became blurry. It reminded me of the year in junior high where I kept thinking, “If only the teacher would write on the board a little more clearly. If only those signs weren’t smudged.” I’ve worn glasses and contacts ever since.
This year it was, “Why are these instructions so tiny? Why did they make the font so small?” Honestly, before this year, I didn’t understand my friends’ complaints about reading glasses. I’d worn glasses and contacts for decades- no big deal.
But reading glasses are different. You can’t wear them all the time like glasses. Only when you are, duh, reading. So I’ve become one of those people who buys reading glasses in bulk at Costco and I keep them in every bag, every room. I do have some nice bifocals I wear at night, but I haven’t had much luck with bifocal contacts (any advice is appreciated). My ophthalmologist assures me this will all improve when I have cataract surgery and they insert permanent contact lenses.
And yeah, reading glasses make you feel old.
We can push back at aging, but it’s still happening. I’m saying yes to vitamins and ALL the wrinkle creams and no to needles and fillers. Ten years ago or so, a friend recommended I get Botox for my forehead wrinkles and I went straight home and cut a thick fringe of bangs. I’m vain– I’m just not in for the expense and upkeep. Still, I don’t judge anyone for their pursuit of youth. The struggle is real.
I’m not old, and I know I look good for my age, but I’ve been surprised at the subtle ways I’ve been written off by some people. I’ve been told I’m too old for some jobs, for church callings. We’re constantly asked if we’re empty nesters (we’re not, and I don’t think you’re an empty nester until your kids move their things out so we have a decade or so to go) and if we’re going to sell our house to a nice young family.
So I get it. I understand why so many women are going in for lip fillers and laser treatments. It’s not that we want to appear young- we simply want respect. Sadly, our society respects a very narrow definition of beauty.
the trouble with Karen
For women especially, there’s the unsettling feeling of simply becoming an annoyance. If you look at media, women over fifty are portrayed as demanding, whiny, mentally unstable, the crazy mother-in-law, controlling and stupid. Women of exceptional beauty are sometimes exempt from this stereotype but that leads to other problems. Look, I laughed at Karen jokes of 2020 too, but those jokes hurt all of us.
I am very conscientious about nagging, making demands, asking for too much, getting overly emotional, etc. I imagine most women my age work very hard at being pleasant. But any little slip up plays into the stereotype of the difficult older woman.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with three perfect daughters-in-law who treat me with absolute kindness and never play into the stereotypes. And when I say they are perfect, I am absolutely serious. They are so good to me. Any Mary is incredibly good to me. And Erik. And my five beautiful sons. They are so lovely.
So what am I complaining about? I’m not. I have my family and good friends. It’s OK if the rest of the world dismisses me. But I want to speak up more for aging women, for all women. We have so much to contribute.
And of course, there’s the alternative to aging. Three of my high school friends died in December. Cancer. Stroke. Seizure. Our time on this planet is short.
So I’m dismissing what the world may think of me, spending more time with the people I love, eating chocolate cake and hurtling down the canyon on a tiny sled.
I love this! This is how I hope to age, as well. Thank you for your wise words!
Oh my dear friend, a very happy happy birthday to you!! I LOVE all your wisdom and insights. You are blazing the trail for me! Thank you for all that you do to carve out such a beautiful life and inspire others to do so. Love you!!
Laura A Graham
Oh, this was so good Michelle! I am in my thirties and feel this already. You are as glorious as ever friend and I hope I have half your wisdom and beautiful insight at 52!