Do I enjoy growing old or do I fight against it?
There are things to dislike about growing old.
Duh. Of course there are things to dislike about growing old. The list is long! There are the dreaded wrinkles and sags. Our bodies begin to creak and groan. Things begin to grow in weird places. Hormones can get whacky. We don’t recover as quickly as we used to or have the same amount of energy we once did. We have far more responsibilities than we did in our younger years. Some days we feel old and tired.
I’d like to say I proudly declare my age and embrace it, but I really don’t share it. People seem to think I look younger than I am, and I rarely feel the need to disabuse them of that notion, I think in large part because my mother ingrained in me when I was younger regarding a woman’s age that “a lady never tells and a gentleman never asks.” She had a thing about no one knowing her age, and for a very long time I really didn’t know how old she was. It might have had something to do with the fact that whenever one of us kids would ask her how old she was, her answer was always, “32 plus a few” and a few years later, “34 plus some more.”
There are times I don’t think about it at all.
There are times I literally forget my age, until I walk past a mirror and do a double take and think, “Whoa, is that me?? When did that happen?” because the face in the mirror doesn’t match the image of myself I carry in my head. Until the mirror reminds me, I think I tend to picture myself as somewhere in my thirties, not a young girl anymore, but not an old one either, just, well, me.
Sometimes I forget about the wrinkles that have been etched by grief and stress, especially the ones that came over a very short period of months, not years. When I see those, sometimes they make me feel old. I understand the temptation to try to turn back the clock a bit. I am not immune to trying creams and lotions that promise to soften the fine lines and give a youthful glow.
Many times I don’t think about it at all. I borrow clothes from my 19-year-old daughter. We share jeans and cute tops. I shop in the junior section more often than not, because I like some of the styles, but I don’t dress like a teenager. I just like what I like and don’t think about it being for a “certain age.”
On occasion, I will see someone I know casually and think they must be so much older than I am, especially if I think they have it “so together” and are really polished. I’ll think, man, I hope I can achieve that when I’m their age. And then later it’ll bring me up short to realize I am nearly their age! That really does a number on my brain, especially if I have caught myself thinking of them as looking or acting “old.” Then I wonder, do people see me that way? (The looking/acting old part, not the together or polished part – HA!)
There are times it’s all I can think about.
As each birthday looms, both those of my children and my own, and I can’t ignore that the years are marching inexorably on, I am sometimes almost painfully aware of my age. I am acutely aware each and every year that I draw one year closer to the age my mother died. Each birthday of my own that passes makes me more cognizant of the fact that I probably now have more days behind me than ahead of me, and that’s a sobering thought.
I question what I am doing with my life, what I am doing for my kids, what will be my legacy, what will be their memories. I wonder if I will ever realize my dreams of writing, of moving to a warmer climate, of seeing more of the world. I long to travel. I know that it’s a real possibility I may never have that opportunity. There are moments that I wonder if life will pass me by, that I will have made no difference in this world, that maybe I could have, should have, done so much more.
There are things to love about growing older.
There are things I certainly wish I could tell my younger self and have written about it (maybe I’ll post that one day), and if I had my 20-something body back again, I would appreciate it so much more than I did then, but I wouldn’t go back to being in my twenties for anything.
I’m not quite sure when it happened, but there has come a point in midlife when I have finally begun to feel comfortable in my own skin. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. But somewhere along the way, the caring about what other people think, or trying to please everyone, just started to fall away.
I don’t mean I don’t care what people I care about think, and I try not to offend or ever hurt someone’s feelings. What I mean is caring whether people judge me because I wear jeans and tee shirts and hoodies, because I have crazy hair, or because I dance down the road bustin’ a move with my headphones blasting a good tune when I’m out for a walk. Somewhere along the way I gained some confidence in myself. I stopped breaking out in a cold sweat when someone puts me on the spot to speak. I will never love speaking in front of a group, but I have more faith in myself now that if I do, I won’t pass out or make a complete fool out of myself.
It’s a difficult thing to encapsulate and express, but at some point I just developed an acceptance of myself, flaws and all, and realized that I have a right to occupy space and speak my truths just the same as everyone else does. I stopped apologizing for myself, for being too sensitive, too emotional, caring too much, or not being enough of something that someone else thought I should be. I just stopped worrying about it. Do I still have twinges? Sure. But for the most part, I have accepted myself and decided that I’m okay with who I am.
That’s incredibly freeing.
I think it is a well-established fact that I am, and shall ever be, a work in progress until my dying breath. I am a very flawed human who has much, much to learn, and am always trying to do better and be better. That’s always been me. What’s different as I grow older is that I am much more comfortable with myself along the way.
I have no patience and all the patience in the world.
I have always been a very patient person, with people, animals, and situations. It’s one of the earliest things I remember my mother saying to me as a child, that she “marveled at how patient” I was with so many things.
As I’ve gotten older, I think I have less and less patience for rudeness, thoughtlessness, gossip, trivial matters that make not one bit of difference in the long run, not that I have ever had patience for those things, but I find these days I let it show more than I did. I won’t ever be rude in return, but neither will I allow someone to waste my time with it the way I might once have.
Yet I have all the patience in the world when it comes to listening, encouraging, trying to ease someone’s mind or cheer their heart a bit if they are struggling. I have, and do, spend many hours with people doing those things. I think those things matter.
Do I enjoy growing old or do I fight it?
The answer is yes. Yes I do enjoy some aspects of it. Yes I do fight some aspects of it, mostly the physical. I can try to keep the physical in as decent a shape as I can and hope for the best. The spiritual, emotional, mental, those are more within my control and in those areas I do enjoy it and embrace it. I enjoy the insight that having an older, and hopefully wiser, perspective can give.
I have a better appreciation for the things that are important in life and it is easier to slough off the things that aren’t. There are days I get a bit teary, wondering how my children have grown so fast – that whole in the blink of an eye thing – it really does feel like that, but at the same time, I feel so privileged to watch them grow into young adults, so proud of the people they are becoming, so excited to see what the future holds for them. I freely admit I look forward to grandchildren (but not for several years!).
There are many things I look forward to about growing old. The only things that really give me pause are potential physical ailments and, of course, my days being numbered. No one really knows the number of their days, however, and mine could be much longer – or much shorter – than I think.
Embracing life, realizing what is truly important – the people we love, the time we spend with them making memories and laughter, doing what we can to brighten another’s day or help bear their burdens – those are the things that matter.
Wrinkles and gray hairs, not so much.