I woke up this morning with a laundry list of things that I would like to accomplish:
- walk Elsa
- go to Winona and start to pack up Darien
- clean the house at some point
I made breakfast, and as I was waiting for the load to fluff in the dryer, I glance at my phone. There was a message from Bruce the night previous that I had not seen til just now, “What do you want to do for you birthday?”. (Yes, we are married and live in the same house, I just fell asleep early, tired from a week at the Dells.)
What? Oh yes, I check the date. It’s my birthday.
As I sip on my coffee, I settle on a few thoughts. The main thought being, I am FORTY-EIGHT today. 48.
The Wikipedia definition is: 48 (forty-eight) is the natural number following 47 and preceding 49. It is one third of a gross or four dozens.
That all just sounds bad, doesn’t it?
Where did 48 years go?
Suddenly, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my own mother so many years ago. I remember standing in the bathroom with her, as she was getting ready.
Me: <observing her as she’s getting ready>
Mom: <noticing me observing her> You know, people tell me all the time how youthful they think I am, and pretty. I don’t feel as old as I am, I still feel young inside. (she must’ve been in her early 40’s at this time)
Me: <rolling my eyes on the inside and thinking that she’s old> Yeah, you are pretty and you probably do feel young. <but you’re still old>
Mom: <not fooled by lame answer> You will see one day what I mean.
Me: <thinking, NOPE, I will never be that old>
Today, I not only remember that conversation, but I FEEL it.
I have lived in Rochester for nearly a quarter of a century. That is almost half my life. When we moved here we were so young, I was just 24 and life seemed an endless opportunity. My boys were just toddlers then. Back when I was IN weddings, and not just a sideline observer of them. That all seems a lifetime ago.
I look back on pictures and I realize what time does to a person. I barely recognize myself as the same person archived in those pictures. When I see myself in pictures from our past, I recognize what the years do to a person. They are subtle changes and at the same time, tangible. My skin no longer tight around my neck and face, my finger joints slowly reminiscent of my grandma Anderson’s hands. Just yesterday, on our way home from the Dells, I pulled the skin back on my leg and noticed that it was like crepe paper, the elasticity all but gone. I am past ripe.
Looking back on those pictures, I take a mental journey of sorts, where I superimpose the current me onto the old me. I notice that my skin that was once young and aglow, is now grey-ish in appearance. My hair, once healthy and vibrant, is now dull after years of highlights. My arms, once bronzed and toned, are now pale and have that unmistakable jiggle that are known only as ‘mom arms’. Everything that once pointed north, is now heading south at a more alarming rate.
My stomach, once my pride and joy, both because they carried my mom stripes, and because it was taut and toned, is now a slow descent into a taunting smile with my faded tiger stripes, only solidifying my progression into middle-age. My body is where I feel the need to begin if I am to stand up against the unavoidable descent into middle age, which encourages us to disguise it, deny it and disown it, and if none of that works, to run from it, until it finally catches up to us and forces us an unavoidable reality.
Menopause, although I would like to deny it, has begun. I blame my ‘hot flashes’ on this or that, not really accepting that I am at the magical age where youth is fleeting, and my path to old age is beginning. This process, of losing the very definition that makes us women, is disconcerting at best. Not long ago, I battled the crazy ride that is all hormones and cycles, now the gears have all but seized up and I stagger into unknown territory.
Bruce recently asked me a question. “If the technology existed, would you choose to be immortal?” He had read an article describing how there may be a possibility of living endlessly one day.
“No!”, I answer immediately.
But, when I dissect that question further, I think that I may possibly like to halt time, just for a bit. Maybe right here but in truth, I would like to go back to years ago. To go back, knowing what I know now, would be priceless. I would do so many things differently, and yet the same all at once. Tasked with being more precise, I’m not sure what specific year I would choose. I’m pretty sure that if I settled on 25 today, it would be 33 tomorrow and 37 the day after. There are days, when I’ll lull myself back to a moment I miss, a time in my life that I was too stupid to recognize as being a forever kind of memory. The thing is that one cannot understand the benchmark of one’s life, until it has passed.
So where does all of this leave me? In truth, struggling to grasp reality, with what is still in my mind’s eye. In my mind, I am still young, I don’t feel 48, but my body tells me otherwise. My new battle has become the clock, more intimately with time itself. The mirror has become my new challenge. In our youth, mirrors are our friend, offering us new views to our potential daily. Today, I approach the mirror with hesitation; what age spot will make itself known; what new wrinkle will be there today, reminding me of my gradual march to my Golden Years.
Earlier this week we were in the Dells for a mini-vacation of sorts. My niece Madi and her friend Fiona were along, and I couldn’t help but be envious of their age, and all the potential they have yet to look forward to. As they would get ready in the mirror, I saw youthful smiles, healthy hair and glowing, taut skin. Poolside they did not even realize their beauty at their tender ages.
Watching them would take me back to when I was their age, to a time long gone, but still seeming as though it was just yesterday. No wrinkles. Glowing skin. Youth in my corner.
And that is where the real battle begins. It is figuring out how to mix what was, with the constant march of the present, to what seems a sprint now to the future. Time which once seemed ever so slow in my youth, is now running at a wild pace.
My conversation with my mother has now came full circle.
My mother had always been a curious mix of confidence, and vulnerability. One minute not caring what someone thought, and the next needing to be reassured that she was still beautiful. I realize now that she was just simply battling what every middle-aged woman is experiencing, which is the realization that our youth is truly gone, and that we are now at a new, and unknown place in our lives.
I also understand my own mother more now. I realize that grievances that I held against her for her own inevitable failures, should be forgiven. I also realize that there are just some ideas that I have to accept. I am at the age where I am one of the older people in my workplace. Doctors who give me orders for my patients, are now the same age as my boys. That is a harsh reality, and a not so gentle reminder, of how time just marches past us. I accept these younger colleagues and bid them promise and good fortune, as they now forge their own careers, as I step back to enjoy what is left of mine. I realize that I will never again be at that ‘peak fitness’, and that I need to embrace my body for what it is, and for the life it has brought forth. I realize that I will never again be 28, but that does not mean that I have to succumb to the defeat of aging.
Instead, it is finding that perks that come with experience (sounds better than age, doesn’t it?). I am finding that I am learning to let go of past grievances and failures, and I feel the lighter for it, more grounded. I am finding that I have less materialistic needs, and that I am more mindful for what is important and meaningful, more abundant. I trust my experience and expertise so much more, and I now know better my own limitations,and accept my own failings as a result. This has all happened through life experiences, and by working through grief far too often (dad, mom, Daren, and to a degree Darek, and my own failings in my own marriage). And so, as much as I have resented aging and the loss of all the things that we grieve when leaving behind our youth, the necessity of letting go of my younger self is inevitable, as I feel the need to accept this inescapable transition to middle age. I have always hated getting my picture taken, I am not photogenic (like my sisters are). Darek always feels the need to get me in a couple photos every trip though. I look at these photos in comparison to those that seem not long ago, and I notice the subtle realities of passing time.
I am now my mother, that so many years ago was standing in front of that mirror trying desperately to figure out just what it meant to desire her youth, while willing herself to accept her own advancing age.
Also at the Dells, I was waiting in line with Fiona (Madi’s friend ), we were waiting for our turn to go down a water slide. As I was standing there, I glanced to my right and noticed what I believed to be a mother and daughter. No, it was not a mother of 28 and her daughter that was 7, instead it was a daughter that was in her 30’s, and a mother that had to be in her 60’s. I know this because the older lady had grey hair, no elasticity to her skin and a slight turn in her upper back, evident of advancing osteoporosis. Her hands had the knotted look of arthritis, and she walked with slight limp, evident of a catch-in-her-giddy-up that only comes with age. None of that is what caught my attention. Instead what caught my attention was that this older woman followed her daughter straight into a body tube water slide ride. I mean this lady didn’t even falter, she just sat right down, gave herself a push off and away she went, arms in the air, screaming with enthusiasm!
I looked over at Fiona, who was watching them along with me, and I said, “Fiona, when I am that lady’s age, I hope I am doing exactly that, just like she did!”. Fiona laughed. And I laugh, because though she didn’t say it, I KNOW Fiona was thinking <that lady was super old, and you are pretty old> 😉 I remember thinking that once myself, not so long ago.
The funny thing is I don’t mind this (not so gentle) shove towards age. And now that I’ve (somewhat) accepted this inevitable forward motion, I won’t be wasting my energy trying to push back against the changing tide. I can accept that the struggle to stay in the same place is futile, and that forever battling time and attempting to outwit mirrors doesn’t work.
The dreams of my youth now seem a distant memory, replaced with new dreams. Weddings. Grandchildren. Family time together. Vacations that I never had the time, nor money for when we were young. Moving Darien to the cities, and helping him get established and start down his own path of opportunity. Spending time with my siblings, my nieces and nephews. I look forward to life slowing down some, spending time with Bruce and our family, while we enjoy the things that we forgot to notice while life raced by us in our youth. Retirement.
Yes, I am 48. I am certain that 49, 50 and so forth, will all feel about the same. I suspect, looking ahead, that aging will not always represent the hesitations that being in my 40’s has paused me with. Truthfully, I am slowly gaining some buoyancy with this whole aging thing by searching through my anxieties, analyzing my grief, honoring my sense of loss and by accepting my sense of nostalgia. Another way of travelling forward lighter.
It is now afternoon, and I have not accomplished anything I set out to do, except write this post, which I had no intention of writing when I woke up. But it is my birthday, and I decided that I will just let the day unfold as it will.
The men decided we are going out to eat (that’s what happens when they are faced with cooking because it’s my birthday), so Ichi Tokyo it is.
I guess 48 isn’t so bad.