Five Things I Learned After I Turned 50

1) I’m not doing myself or anyone else a favor by taking on more than I can do.  I do like to help people, and it does make me feel good to agree to contribute my time to a good cause.  But when I over commit to too many activities, I end up being so stressed and crabby that I don’t do any of it well.  And no matter how good my original intentions were, that doesn’t help anyone.

2) I don’t need a lot of friends, but I do need a few good friends.  They don’t even have to live nearby (one of the benefits of technology is how easily you can stay in touch with long-distance friends these days).  They just have to be the sort of people who know exactly what my faults are and yet manage to like me anyway.  Which is, of course, exactly the way I feel about them!

3) True beauty comes from within.   The only advantage to all the wrinkles, sags, and bags I’ve grown with middle age is the realization that my youthful looks really weren’t that big a part of who I am.  I have figured out that if I want others to see me as attractive, it will have to be as a result of my behavior.  Because it’s our words and actions that make us beautiful.  Really.

4) My children will always be my children, no matter how grown up they are.  They may be stronger, bigger, and probably smarter than me, and I often have to ask their help to move heavy furniture and set up my new electronic gadgets.  But at a very basic level, they will always be my babies.   All it takes is for one of them to be sick or upset for me to switch right back into my “momma mode.”  If you have kids, you know exactly what I mean.

5) I will never, ever be too old to try new things.  And that’s good, because trying new things is what keeps me feeling young, even in my middle years.

A Merry Middle-Aged Christmas

I wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas this year.  I’m not sure why, but it may have been that I didn’t feel prepared.  Thanksgiving was late and I was sick a lot in early December.  Or it may have been the civil unrest St. Louis has been experiencing lately.  But for whatever reason, I just wasn’t looking forward to Christmas as much as I usually do.

As an adult, I know I can never get as excited for Christmas as I did when I was a child.  Back then, Christmas was the most exciting day of the year, and I could hardly wait for it to arrive.  Then I had my own kids, and through them, I was able to relive some of the old joy:  baking cookies, decorating the tree, singing “Away in the Manger” at church, and waiting for Santa’s big visit is so much fun with small children.

But now my son and daughter are grown up and in serious relationships, and Christmas has become a bit more complicated.  We juggle schedules  to accommodate everyone’s family, buy grown-up presents instead of toys (and those presents are often some piece of technology that I can’t operate or even identify,) and I realize there’s no longer any need for me to make my usual eight different kinds of Christmas cookies.  Maybe I thought things had changed a little too much for Christmas to be really fun anymore.

But it was fun.  In fact, Christmas this year was great!  We invited my mom over to help decorate our tree, and enjoyed that so much it will probably be a new tradition.  And since I no longer have to bake all those cookies for our kids’ various activities, I was free to make just a few batches of the cookies I like best.  Best of all, I didn’t have to set foot in a crowded toy store or worry about anyone being sold out of the one toy my child desperately wanted this year, which made Christmas shopping pretty darned easy.

Even the schedule juggling worked out.  We were lucky enough to be together with our kids and their significant others for part of both Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  And those times when they were with other families turned out to be the perfect time for my husband and I to have some much-appreciated down time:  we walked the dogs, took naps and watched “The Christmas Story” on TV for the umpteenth time.  It’s amazing how relaxing Christmas can be when you’re able to take a little break from it now and then.

Christmas is definitely different now that I’m an adult, and my son and daughter are also adults.  But different doesn’t mean worse.  On the contrary,  I’ve discovered that a “middle-aged Christmas” can be very merry indeed!

I Can Do This

I remember the day I took my newborn daughter home from the hospital.  I was still exhausted from the labor (36 hours) and delivery, and missing an entire night’s sleep.  My husband and I couldn’t figure out how to get our new infant car seat properly installed, and had to get a kindly nurse to strap it in safely for us.  Then we drove the whole way home in very heavy traffic, and for some reason I was convinced we’d be in a car accident before we managed to get our new baby home.  In short, I was a nervous wreck.

I felt completely unprepared for the demands of taking care of a newborn:  the lack of sleep; my new, lactating body; the crying jags (usually hers, sometimes mine); and most of all the overwhelming sense of responsibility that came from knowing another human being was so completely dependent on me.  The joy of having a baby came with many moments when I was quite sure I was in way, way over my head.

But I wasn’t.  That newborn is now a 27-year old woman who is both happy and healthy.  I managed to raise both her and her younger brother (also happy and healthy)  with no major problems, no visits from the child welfare services and only a couple of trips to the emergency room.  Although I didn’t always believe it at the time, I really was up for the challenge of raising children, and it turned out to be a pretty great experience.  I found out that I was much stronger than I thought.

Which is something I need to remember now, on those days when I once again find myself thinking that my life is changing too fast, and sometimes doubting that I can handle it.  The kids have moved out (taking a big chunk of my identity with them), my eyesight is going,  my mother needs my help more each day, my job skills are useless in today’s market, and I am way behind the learning curve when it comes to keeping up with new technology.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

But…. I can do this.  My family is changing, my body is changing and the world around me is changing, and keeping up with it all is no picnic. Which, if you think about it, is very similar to the changes I faced when I first brought my daughter home all those years ago. It wasn’t easy, but I managed then, and I’ll manage now.  Once again, I’ll find strength I didn’t know I had, and I’ll have many more good days than bad as I live through this particular phase of my life.  And in the end, I’m pretty sure I’ll look back on these years and realize that, in its own way, being middle-aged isn’t so bad at all.

Some things don’t change

My husband and I went out to dinner the other night with a friend we hadn’t seen since he was in a groomsman in our wedding over thirty years ago.  We were a little nervous about it, since the friend now has a new wife we have never met, and we weren’t sure we would have anything in common with him after so many years.  But he and his wife were passing through St. Louis on their way home from Florida and wanted to meet for dinner, so of course we said yes.  After all, at one time this man was a close enough friend to be included in our wedding party, so we were willing to meet and hope that we could reconnect.

Happily, we had a great time, telling the “remember when?” stories, catching up on each other’s lives and getting to know his new wife.  (They were even nice about it when I accidentally knocked my water glass into my wine glass and the wine spilled all over my husband’s shirt…luckily, I was drinking white.) It may have been over thirty years since we’d seen each other, but it didn’t feel that way.  It was nice to realize that we still enjoyed each other’s company and that he was, essentially, the same person we’d been friends with back in our college days.

At a time in my life when so many things feel new (and often a bit scary), it’s reassuring to be reminded of all the things that haven’t changed.  During last year’s vacation, my daughter and I went on a horseback ride.  I was lucky enough to have a horse when I was a teenager and young adult, but I was nervous because I hadn’t ridden in years.  Yet as soon as I settled in the saddle, the old skills kicked back in.  I found I still knew how to guide the horse, balance my weight as we went up and down steep hills and calm the horse when she startled.  I still knew how to ride.

When my kids were home, there just wasn’t time for many of my old interests and hobbies, or keeping in touch with old friends. But the upside of being an empty-nester is having the time to do some things just because I want to.  I took piano lessons as a child, so I got a new piano and now I’m beginning to play again.  I’m writing fiction again.  I’m reconnecting with old school friends on Facebook, and sometimes in person, and I enjoy their company just as much as I ever did. I feel as if I’m discovering parts of myself that I thought were gone for good, and I love that.  By reconnecting with activities and people I used to enjoy, I’m also reconnecting with….me.   And that’s turning out to be a good thing.

The new me

I hate those magazine articles where an “aging” celebrity gushes about how happy she is to be in her fifties.  I don’t want to hear how comfortable she is with her appearance,  and I especially don’t want to hear how she thinks she has never looked better.  Call me a skeptic, but I’m pretty sure she’s lying.  And even if she’s not, I think, “Of course you’re happy with your looks!  You have a full-time personal trainer, you can afford a top plastic surgeon, a professional make up artist and a hair dresser who can work miracles!”

But what about the rest of us?  Those who see new wrinkles in the mirror, but can’t always afford to have them smoothed out surgically?  Those who don’t have a personal trainer and a gym membership, but are trying to make due with control-top panty hose instead?  It’s harder to love the aging body when you don’t have expensive, expert assistance to help you cope.

I make an honest effort to eat right and exercise regularly.  I dye my hair, use moisturizers and anti-aging creams, even give myself the occasional facial.  But I most definitely don’t think I have “never looked better.”  My eyesight may be fading, but it hasn’t gotten that bad.  I see the wrinkles; I notice the sags.  And I wonder why I was so critical of my face and body back when I was young and wrinkle-free!

So, like middle-aged women everywhere, I just do the best with what I have.   I search for a better concealer, try yoga classes and experiment with new hairstyles.  I’ve discovered that bangs and longer hair, slightly curved around my face, can hide a lot.  So can turtleneck sweaters and big, dark sunglasses.

But mostly, I try very hard to accept the way I look now and to let go of the fruitless need to try to stop time and keep the face and body I used to have.  This is the new me, flaws and all.  It’s not that I’m giving up on trying to look nice.   It’s just that I want to begin treating myself now the way I wish I had treated myself when I was in my twenties.  Which means to stop being so self-critical, focus on the positive, and give myself a break from unrealistic expectations.  And remember that the day will come when I see a photo of me at this age and think, “What was I complaining about?  I looked just fine!”

The clock is ticking

One of the worst parts about getting older is realizing that time is, literally, running out.  When I was in my twenties, I measured time in terms of accomplishments, as in:  “I can’t believe I’m twenty-five and still working at a dead-end job,” or “I’d better have my first book published by the time I’m thirty!”  Time was something I had plenty of, and my only worry was marking each milestone with the appropriate accomplishment.

But now I”m in my mid-fifties, and I feel a definite sense of urgency whenever I think of all the things I’d still like to do.  It scares me to realize that I’ll be in my mid-seventies in another twenty years!  I may not be old yet, but the “golden years” are definitely on the horizon.  And that means making life choices is getting much more complicated.

Dave and I love our old house, and have lots of great memories of our kids growing up here.  But the master bedroom is on the second floor, up a steep set of stairs, and that could be a problem when we get old.  So, do we stay here until we can’t get up the stairs anymore and are forced to move?  Or do we move now, to a house with a first-floor master bedroom and wider doorways so we don’t have to worry about moving when we’re, you know….old?  What exactly is the ideal age to buy a “geezer house?”  We have bought and sold several houses, but this is the first time the question, “will we be able to handle the stairs in ten or twenty years?” has come up.

Any way you look at it, I have already lived more than half of my life.  And that can be a depressing thought.  But in a strange way, it can also be a blessing.  I don’t have time to put off the important things any more, or carelessly count on a tomorrow that may or may not come.  I’m learning to say “no” to commitments that keep me from concentrating on what is really important to me:  my family, my friends, my writing, my work with shelter dogs, etc.

Time may be running out, but at least I finally understand that time is a precious commodity that I can no longer afford to waste.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Problem with Introductions

Once I get past the name, how do I identify myself?  I’m an at-home Mom, only the kids are grown up and gone?  I’m a writer, and I published a book and a bunch of articles years ago?  I used to substitute at our local school district?  People don’t want to know what I used to do, they want to know what I’m doing now.  And I just don’t know how to explain myself anymore.

As an at-home mom, I was used to awkward introductions when I told people I didn’t work full-time outside the home.  Working mothers and at-home mothers usually formed to two distinct groups and were often quick to put each other down.  Even the term “working mother” could cause a problem:  at-home moms knew they were working, just not getting paid for it.  Since I did part-time work when my kids were little, I felt as if I had a foot in each camp, which mostly meant not fitting in with either side.

Now I’m a middle-aged woman who is struggling to find her identity, and I just plain dread introductions.  Especially the part where I’m asked, “And what do you do?”  The simple answer is, “I don’t have a job, but I volunteer at the Humane Society.”  But that makes it sound as if I have no life beyond the dogs, especially to people who aren’t animal lovers.  Yet no one wants to hear a long, boring list of what I do:  routine house and yard work, home-improvement projects (I am good with a paint brush, hammer and nails) caring for my elderly mother, writing, editing, researching publishing options, helping my kids with their pets and houses……blah, blah, blah.  So I tend to just keep quiet.

I think the problem is that I don’t really know how I identify myself, so it’s impossible to sum up my current life for anyone else.  If I were honest, I would say I’m in transition right now, and I don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  Maybe I’ll publish another book, and then I can say, “I’m an author.”  Or maybe I’ll quit walking dogs (and picking up their poop) for free and just get a job at the Humane Society already.  I could even launch a new business.  The truth is, I don’t know where this road is leading me.  But until I figure it out, it might be easiest to just stop meeting new people.

And now I really feel old

I’ve been planning to start a blog for at least six months.  I’ve written several short essays to post on it, I’ve researched the various ways to create and publish a blog and I’ve asked a friend who blogs for a bit of advice.  Being a natural introvert, the hardest part was working up the nerve to write something and post it directly to the internet, where it could be read by anyone and everyone.  I know, of course, that it will probably only be read by my close friends and family, but still….

So today I finally decided that I was going to start my blog, no more waiting, no more excuses.   I re-read the “Get Started in WordPress” site I had carefully bookmarked, took a deep breath and went to the site and plunged in.  I managed to get the title put in, and added a tag line.  I tried to change the background of the page, but couldn’t figure out how.  I tried to go directly to my new blog by typing the name in my browser, only to be told that “Positively Middle-Aged” (the name I selected) didn’t exist, but that “Positively Middle Aged” did.  Only it was written by someone else.

So I figured I had to pick a new name, but decided that I could wait a little bit, and maybe go ahead and publish my first post.  The problem was, I couldn’t see any place on my new blog where I could actually post anything!   I could comment on my blank page, but not post anything.  Frustrated, I exited the site, planning to try again later after I had a chance to ask one of my kids (who could probably start a blog in their sleep) for help.   There is nothing that makes me feel more old and obsolete than having to turn to my son or daughter for help on my computer (or I-Pad, or I-Phone….), but the simple fact is that I am old enough that I wasn’t raised on this stuff they way they were.

And yet…..I really should be able to do this on my own.  Word Press does give good directions, even if I am a bit slow in following them.  And if I can’t even figure out how to start the blog, how in the world am I going to be able run it?    So I logged back in, found the little pencil icon that I thought would indicate where I should write a post….and here it is!  If you are reading this, it means I figured it out and have actually started a blog.  I’m going to have to change the name, and the ugly colors in the header are going to have to go, but at least I did it!   Maybe I’m not too old to learn something new after all.