Middle Aged Birthdays

Ann's 6th bday 2Ever since I hit the wrong side of fifty, I’ve been a little confused about how I should celebrate my birthday.  When I was a child, birthdays were simple:  I got a cake (in the flavor of my choice), a nice party with my friends and family, and best of all, a pile of presents to open.  I couldn’t even imagine anything nicer, except perhaps getting my very own pony.  Later came the teen-age parties, the obligatory booze-soaked twenty-first birthday, and of course, my “over-the-hill” thirtieth birthday party.

But as a middle-aged woman, birthday cakes, parties, and presents no longer hold much attraction for me.  I know that no matter how good a cake tastes, it’s just going to end up on my hips.  These days, I can throw a party anytime I want to, and don’t need to wait for my birthday to come around as an excuse.  And when someone asks me what I’d like for my birthday this year, the answer that springs to mind is that I’d like my eyesight, my memory, and my youthful energy back.  I’d also like some things I’ve never had, such as coordination, common sense and strikingly good looks, but no one can give me those, either.  I have friends who don’t really want to have their birthdays acknowledged or celebrated any more, and I understand where they’re coming from.

Still, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ignore my birthday altogether, even if I’m at the stage where being another year older doesn’t sound like such a good thing.   But like all middle-aged people, I’ve seen too much death and serious illness to not want to celebrate the fact that I have, indeed, lived through another year that was blessed with good health, family and friends.  My life is far from perfect, but I know that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am.

So while I won’t be having a big birthday party this year, and probably won’t be eating any birthday cake, I will still celebrate my birthday this weekend.  I’ll have the usual birthday dinner with my family and get a few presents and cards.  But mostly, I’ll try to remember to be grateful for the year I just had, (the good and the bad), and to promise myself that my next year will be as meaningful and positive as I can make it.  Middle-aged birthdays are more about celebrating the milestones of our life than parties and presents, and that’s as it should be.  But I still wouldn’t mind if someone gave me that pony…

Don’t Take My Middle Age Away!

IMG_0097I was reading an interesting blog post the other day about a woman who is struggling with the realization that she is now middle aged.  I was completely identifying with it until I got to the part where she mentioned that “forty is barreling down fast.”

Huh?  She’s in her late thirties, with small children, and she considers herself middle aged?  I scrolled down to the comment section and discovered that lots of her readers are also in their thirties and consider themselves to be middle aged as well.  One of them mentioned finding her first grey hair and deciding whether or not to pluck it out.

I was dumbfounded.  How can people in their mid or late thirties think they are middle aged?  What in the world are they going to call themselves in TWENTY YEARS, when they are in their mid or late fifties? When they figure out that middle aged people don’t pluck out their grey hairs, because if they did, they’d be completely bald?  More importantly, what would they call me, at the ripe old age of fifty-six?

Remember when there was a popular television show called “Thirtysomething?”  I do, but I don’t remember the characters being classified as middle aged.  As I recall, they were supposed to be yuppies (which meant young, urban professionals) who were dealing with raising children, developing their careers, and struggling to maintain meaningful relationships.  In short, they were coping with being adults, but there was no suggestion of them being middle aged.

I know the term middle age is rather subjective, and vaguely refers to people in their mid-life years.  Exactly what age it starts and ends is open to interpretation.  But I don’t want people who are two decades younger than me saying they are middle aged, because that means that if I haven’t aged out of the middle age category yet, I soon will.  And I’m not yet ready to consider myself a senior citizen (even if parts of me already look like one.)

Since the blog I read was very well written and the author seems to be a nice person, I didn’t share my thoughts in her comment section.  I was afraid it would sound critical, and I have no desire to criticize anyone’s blog. (For the link to her blog, see my comment section.)

But if I had commented, I would have said something like this:  “Don’t worry about being middle aged, because you’re not.  People in their twenties are young adults.  People in their thirties and early forties are simply adults.  Middle age starts somewhere in the late forties and continues right up until the exact moment that I am ready to call myself a senior citizen.  And that’s not happening any time soon.

Middle Age Selectivity

Every once in a while, usually after schlepping up and down the two flights of stairs between our master bedroom and our basement while doing laundry, I think seriously about moving to single-level house.  Moving to a house with a small yard also sounds like a good idea after I’ve spent an afternoon raking leaves or pulling weeds in our large yard.  Sometimes I browse the realtor websites, and I’ve even checked out a few Sunday afternoon open houses.  So far, though, I haven’t seen a single house that has tempted me to actually buy it.

back of houseAnd that’s a huge change for me, since my husband and I have a history of buying, and moving into, houses that could best be described as “fixer-uppers.” (We usually referred to them as dumps.)  Basically, if we found a house that we could afford in an area we wanted to live in, we just figured we could turn the house into what we wanted with a “little bit of work.”  When we bought our first fixer-upper, we didn’t have any particular rehabbing skills, but we did have a strong desire to become home owners, lots of youthful energy and that special kind of optimism that comes only with complete and total cluelessness. We weren’t put off by kitchens with no cabinets, living rooms with orange carpeting, bathrooms with blue toilets or peach-colored tile, basements that leaked each time it rained, or even a dining room with “I love you Mary” painted in huge letters across the wall.

Luckily, we had friends who did have rehabbing skills and were more than generous with their time and expertise.  We spent a lot of time in hardware stores; my husband learned to hang drywall and lay flooring, and I learned that I was a good painter but a bit dangerous with a sledge hammer.  We found a few good handymen to do the work that was truly beyond us.  And we learned to shrug it off when we would tell people which house we had just bought and they responded with, “That house? Seriously?  Is it too late to get out of the contract?”

So I was surprised to realize that I’ve become so picky when it comes to even thinking about buying our next house.  For the first time, I seem to be looking for the perfect house.  These days I’m put off by ugly fireplaces, a master bathroom that’s too small, basement stairs that are too steep…things I probably wouldn’t even have noticed before.  And if I had noticed, I would have simply assumed that it was something we could fix. Where I used to look at fixer-uppers and see only potential, now I just see work, and lots of it.

I guess I no longer have the desire to deal with a rehabbing another house, even if we hired someone else to do it.  I like to think that I’m just burned out after all those years of constantly working on our houses, or that I’ve become more selective in my middle age.  But between you and me, I think the truth is that this particular middle-aged woman is just plain too old to want to fix up another house.

Learning to Love the Ride

My favorite scene from the movie “Parenthood” is when the middle-aged father is complaining about all the unexpected changes in his life, and the grandmother comes in and starts talking about how much she liked riding the roller coaster when she was young.  Obviously comparing the roller coaster with her life, she says, “Up, down!  Up, down!  Oh, what a ride!”  She goes on to marvel at how one ride could make her feel so terrified and yet so excited at the same time, and says that although some of her friends liked the merry-go-round, she preferred the roller coaster because “you get more out of it.”

Coleman 2014 W-2 4Personally, I’ve never liked roller coasters.  Even when I was a child and thought a trip to the local theme park was the best possible way to spend a day, I never wanted to ride the roller coaster.  When I became too old for the “kiddie” rides,  I still stuck to the tamer rides like the Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl.  (Although I did learn the hard way to never ride the tilt-a-whirl after eating raw cookie dough.  I’ll spare you the details.)  Maybe it’s my fear of heights, but I just didn’t see the attraction of buckling myself in a little car and being taken way up in the air, only to be dropped like a rock back down to earth seconds later and then zooming back up again.  Throw in the twists, turns and loops of the average roller coaster, and as far as I was concerned, you had a ride that held zero attraction.

Still, that scene from the movie has stuck with me.  And the older I get, the more I think that the grandmother was right: life really is a continuing series of ups and downs.  That’s something I try to remember when I’m going through a tough time, and feeling a bit hopeless or overwhelmed.  I remind myself that this is just a “down” cycle in my life, and that it will be followed, sooner or later, by the inevitable “up” cycle.  I suppose it’s just another way of saying that “this, too, shall pass,” but the roller coast analogy does help me cope.

Now when I’m enjoying an “up” cycle, I know better than to get too complacent, because there’s certain to be another down cycle coming along.  I know that sounds awfully cynical, but it’s really not.  If I start expecting things to always go my way, I’m going to be completely blindsided when they don’t.  I’ve learned to simply enjoy the good times when they come, without making the mistake of thinking, “Wow, my life is going to be this great from now on!”  Because, of course, it’s not.

The way I see it, the “downs” in my life help me appreciate the “ups,” and knowing that another “up” cycle is coming helps me tolerate the “downs.”   It’s all part of the roller coaster ride that is life.  And just like the grandmother in the movie, I hope that someday I’ll look back on the ups and downs of my own life and be able to say,  “Oh, what a ride it was!”

Middle Age Does Not Mean Antique

IMG_0054My idea of the perfect Saturday morning is brunch at a good restaurant (something I rarely do) followed by an hour or so of browsing at a good antique mall (something I often do).  I collect antique post cards and Christmas ornaments, but I also enjoy looking at the old furniture, household items, jewelry, etc. that are displayed in most of the stalls.   Magazines printed before 1960 are an especially good find, because it’s so much fun to read them and get a glimpse into what was popular at that time.  For years, antique malls have provided me with an almost perfect shopping experience:  lots of undisturbed browsing, no depressing sessions in dressing rooms, and when I finally do approach the register with my selections, my bill is rarely over $25.00.

Antique Malls were nothing but fun, right up until the moment I first saw an item from my own childhood on display.  It was a little wooden dog with flat, plastic paws attached to wheels that went round and round when you pulled it behind you.  I had one of those when I was a child, and so did most of my friends.  And there it was, on sale at an “antique” store, for a mere $20.00.

The first few times I spotted items from my childhood…toys, dinner plates my mother used, dolls, the Flintstones jelly jar glasses, etc….I tried to shrug it off, figuring that antique malls weren’t really the same as a genuine antique store.  The malls rent stalls or display cases out to individual vendors, and I didn’t think anyone monitored what was for sale, so perhaps some vendors were sneaking in a few items that weren’t really that old.  You know, like that Fischer Price toy telephone I loved so much when I was little, and that someone was obviously trying to pass off as “antique.”

Sadly, things only got worse.  Recently, I have begun to see things in those stores that I owned well past my childhood years.  The Autograph Puppy I had all my friends sign in eighth grade, vinyl record albums that I listened to in college, even the electric typewriter I used for many years after college:  I’ve spotted all of them at antique malls.  It was bad enough knowing that the antique malls are selling the barbies, Nancy Drew books, and those ugly little troll dolls from my childhood; now they’ve begun hawking items from my teens and early adulthood as well.  No wonder I’m starting to feel the distinct need for a fortifying glass of wine after an hour spent browsing among the “antiques.”

IMG_0060I had always understood that to be considered an antique, an item had to be at least 100 years old.  And no matter how wrinkled I am or how achey I feel, I am most definitely not any where near 100 years old.  By my calculations, I shouldn’t be seeing anything from my past in an antique mall for at least another 43 years.  I just wish someone would tell the antique dealers that.

Shopping for the Middle-Aged Woman

My daughter is getting married this fall, which means I’ve got a lot of planning to do in the next few months.  These days, weddings are pretty complicated and the planning can get overwhelming, but until recently, we haven’t hit any major snags.  Things were actually going very smoothly (my daughter is making some very smart choices, thank goodness), right up until the minute I decided that it was time to start shopping for my mother-of-the-bride dress.  And then, at least for me, things came to a grinding halt.

IMG_0047Honestly, I expected this.  My body has always managed to be different sizes in different places, so dresses that fit well are never an easy thing for me to find, and I’m used to a long search whenever I need to buy one.  For me, buying a dress is almost as difficult as buying a swimming suit, and my system is the same:  head into the dressing room with as many as I can carry, and keep trying on until I find one that doesn’t look completely awful.  That goes into the “maybe” pile, and when I get enough dresses (or swimming suits) in the “maybe” pile, I go through them and pick the best of the bunch.  I’ve been doing this for years, and it works for me.

But now that I’m middle aged, it’s become hard even to find a store that caters to someone my age and with my tastes.  The malls are full of small stores that target teens and twenty-somethings, with maybe a Chico’s or a Talbots thrown in almost as an afterthought. There’s usually a department store or two with a small section of clothes for “women”, as opposed to “juniors,” but I’ve never had much luck finding something I actually want to buy.  And when I do find a store for “mature” women, I can’t help but notice that most of the other customers are past retirement age by at least a decade.  Call me vain, but I still don’t always want to wear the same clothes as my mother. (No offense intended, Mom!)

Just once, I wish the people running the stores would realize that there are lots of middle-aged women out there who are still shopping for clothes, regularly heading into the mall with our credit cards and our high hopes.  And that some of us (like me, for instance) have short, somewhat rounded figures that do not look good in the long, flowing fashions that are usually offered to women of a “certain age,” and that still others of us do not like lots of fringe, leopard stripes or sequins.  We want comfortable, nice-looking clothes that flatter our middle-aged bodies and are appropriate for wearing in our normal, everyday lives, as well as the occasional dressy event we may attend.  It doesn’t seem so much to ask.

Meanwhile, the search for my mother-of-the-bride dress continues.  And if anyone has any leads on where I can find a fancy dress that looks good on a middle-aged woman with a small bust line, short legs and ample hips, let me know!  And please, no sequins.  I look better without sparkles.

Middle Age Karma

DSC00175When I was a young adult, I never suffered from seasonal allergies, and privately thought that all those people who complained about high pollen counts and their allergy symptoms were just being a bit whiney.  Now that I am the one with a runny nose, itchy eyes, endless sneezing and a sore throat each Spring and Fall, I really regret that attitude.

Before I had kids, I found mothers who used loud, sing-song voices (“Look at those red, shiny apples!!  Shall we buy the red, shiny apples for our lunch?”) when they spoke to their young children in public places annoying, and I had nothing but disdain for parents who couldn’t get their kids to behave properly at stores and restaurants.  I also refused to be in the same room with any child who had a snotty nose, at least until someone wiped it properly.  Then I had my own kids.  I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I got over my tendency to judge other parents very, very quickly.  And I became way too familiar with tempter tantrums, snotty noses and other gross body fluids.

Years ago, I had my own dogs trained to go into the back yard to do their business before I took them for a walk, because I was never going to be one of those people I saw walking down the sidewalk with their dog’s leash in one hand a full bag of dog poop in the other.  I would never, ever do something that gross.  Now, of course, I walk a couple of dozen shelter dogs every week, and I almost always have to pick up their poop in a plastic bag and carry it until I find the nearest trash can.

It’s amazing how a few decades of living can change our perspective.  It’s so easy to judge people who are going through things we have never experienced and to smugly assume that, even if we ever do have to deal with their issues, we will handle them so much better.  And to blithely declare what we will never do, or what we will always do, while we’re still young enough to believe it.

If there is one thing that middle age has taught me, it is that karma can indeed be a bitch.  I’ve been proven wrong about how well I will handle a particular situation or where I will draw a personal line in the sand so many times that I can’t even keep count anymore.

Thankfully, I am much less willing to make those kinds of judgements these days.  I’m much humbler now, and I understand how little I can predict both what is in my future and how I will react to it.  Also, I am fully aware that karma is still out there, and I have finally learned not to tempt it.

Moving Forward

IMG_0040Sometimes I have a tendency to wallow in nostalgia, especially during the holidays.  I decorate my Christmas tree with antique ornaments, and my house with Santa Clauses, nativity scenes and other knick-knacks mostly from the 1950s.  I have lots of old family photographs and have used them to create memory albums, carefully noting the name of each person in the pictures.  So I definitely get the attraction of living, at least now and then, in the past.

I also know that the past has shaped me, for better or for worse, and that who I am today is mostly the result of everything that I have experienced so far in my life.  When something provokes a particularly strong memory, it can seem as if the past has reached out and touched me, like when I hear Eric Clapton’s song “Layla” and am instantly transported back to a fun night out with my college friends.  The same thing happens when a perceived slight can make me feel like a solitary child on the playground, watching her best friend linking arms and walking away with someone else.  Whether good or bad, it can feel very real, even though it’s just an illusion.

By the time we’ve reached our middle age, I think most of us have learned that life really is a journey that moves relentlessly forward.  Returning to the past isn’t a choice, whether we want to or not.  We can’t return to the days when our bodies were young and the world seemed full of endless opportunities.  We can’t change what we’ve done or not done; we can’t take back our mistakes; and we can’t erase any damage that was done to us.  The past is over and done with, and the only we we can ever revisit it is through our memories.

All we have, and all we ever will have, is the reality of our present and the hope of our future.  The past may have shaped who we are now, but the present is what we can control.  And I think that’s a good thing, because the present…our actions, our words, our choices…is what will determine our future.  Which means that, even at this point of our lives, we still have quite a bit of control over what our life will become.

We may be middle aged, but if we are lucky, we still have many miles to go on our life’s journey.  I have come to believe that the best plan is to look ahead and search for that spot on the horizon where we want to be, and point ourselves firmly toward it.  Because we are always moving forward on this one-way journey, and the direction we take is ultimately up to us.

Middle Age Maintenance

My daughter’s car has almost reached the 100,000 mile mark, and predictably, it is beginning to require some rather tiresome and expensive maintenance.  Tires are wearing out, batteries are dying, the ignition is acting up, and my daughter is none too happy about any of this.  Sadly, I can relate–but not to my daughter’s feelings, as my car has only 35,000 miles on it and is still working just fine.   No, what I mean is that I can relate to her car.

I may not have 100,000 miles on me, but as a middle-aged woman, I have definitely reached the point where I’m requiring a lot of tedious, complicated, and sometimes expensive maintenance.  Lots of medical screenings, anti-aging lotions, vitamin supplements, regular dye jobs for my hair, special toothpaste to preserve my enamel….the list is both long and depressing.  It’s not that I mind taking care of myself, as I’ve always paid a bit of attention to my health and appearance, its just that it has gotten so complicated that I can’t really keep up any more!


I know that my aging skin requires more care, but that doesn’t mean I understand exactly how to do that.  I find myself standing in the skin care aisle at the drug store staring in bewilderment at the rows upon rows of alpha-hydroxy creams, retinol serums, eye creams, pore reducers, age-spot removers, black tea facial masks, and skin care products made out of ingredients I can’t even pronounce, much less understand what they are supposed to do for me.   Plus, I have sensitive skin, so I can’t always tolerate the products that are supposed to diminish wrinkles.  Or so my dermatologist told me as she casually tossed my recently purchased and rather expensive face cream into the trash.

Sadly, my face isn’t the only area that needs extra maintenance these days.  I must also diligently fight against loss of bone density by regular weight lifting and calcium supplements, keep using those nasty little whitening strips so my teeth don’t turn yellow, and God forbid I should go more than three weeks without dying my hair.  (When I do, I get a stripe of grey roots that is so obvious it looks as my head has brushed up against wet paint.)  I have to worry about periodontal disease, get annual mammograms and the occasional colonoscopy, and keep buying more powerful reading glasses.  Meanwhile, every single bruise on my legs turns into a cluster of spider veins which do not go away, even with painful and expensive treatment.  And if I had to limit myself to only one beauty/maintenance product, it would be my tweezers.  Trust me, I need them that much.

So I tell my daughter just to suck it up and do all the maintenance that her car requires.  What I don’t tell her is that it’s good practice for all the maintenance she’s going to be doing on her own face and body when she reaches my age.  She’ll find that out for herself, just like I did.  Sometimes it’s best not to share the bad news too soon.

My Easter Tradition

DSC03117For me, nothing marks the passage of time quite like the holidays.  I tend to organize my year around them:  if it is fall, then I know Halloween is near, and Thanksgiving isn’t far behind.  The long dark days of early December mean Christmas is coming, the cold winter days of February mean Valentaine’s Day, and of course, spring means Easter.  When I look back over the different phases of my life, I tend to measure them not so much by my accomplishments (no surprise there, considering what passes for accomplishments in my life), but by how I celebrated the holidays.  And Easter is no exception.

When I was very young, Easter meant getting a pretty new dress, shoes and often a shiny white vinyl purse, but what I looked forward to the most was the Easter basket full of candy.  My new purse often came in very handy for smuggling a few jelly beans from my Easter basket into church, where I could enjoy them during the service as long as I wasn’t siimage20-0_0047tting next to my mother.  She had an eye for those things.  Later, as a teenager, I was part of a youth group that hosted an Easter sunrise service at a nearby lake.  I hated getting out of bed so early, but sitting with my friends, watching the sun rise over the lake on a chilly Easter morning was an experience I still treasure.  Then I had children, and the fun with Easter baskets and special Easter outfits started all over again.

Now my children are grown, and their Easter baskets are more likely to be filled with small gift cards and scratch-off lottery tickets than with candy.  I still go to church on Easter sunday, but only to the inside service that starts at a more civilized hour.  Usually, my family is all together for the holiday, but not always, and I know that is a natural part of my kids growing up and moving on with their lives.  Time marches on, and the way we celebrate holidays reflects that.

But I do have one Easter tradition that has remained constant during the years:  the annual dyeing of the Easter eggs.  I did it when I was small, sitting around the kitchen table with my cousins and my sisters; I dyed eggs when I was a teenager and single young adult; I talked my husband into dyeing eggs with me even before our children were born, and I am going to do it this year, too.  I’ve experimented with different types of dye over the years, but the basic routine has remained the same.  Everyone, including the dogs, gets an egg with their name on it, and then the remaining eggs are dyed various shades of pastel with no swirling, speckling or other such silliness allowed.IMG_5586

My daughter won’t be home for Easter this year, but we’ll still make an egg with her name on it.  This year we’ll also have one less dog to make an egg for (rest in peace, sweet Sandy), but Lucy’s egg will be in her basket on Easter morning.  I know that I can’t control the changes that time brings, and I know that the way I celebrate holidays will continue to change to reflect the current phase of my life, but as long as I can lift an egg and dip it into the cup of dye, I will do it.  Because to me, it’s important to keep a few traditions going, and dyeing eggs is what I do at Easter.