Young Enough

Most days, I manage to forget just exactly how old I really am.  Never mind the fact that I’m always a little bit shocked when I look in the mirror, especially first thing in the morning when I’m not wearing any make up and my face is still puffy and my hair looks like what we used to call a “rat’s nest.”  Or that my trips to the mall tend to focus only on stores that cater to women of a certain age, which means that the clothes they sell are designed for maximum coverage and almost always feature a “control panel” somewhere in the mid section.  Or that I can no longer read anything without a pair of really strong reading glasses.  Or that I am now routinely offered senior citizen’s discounts by clerks who don’t look old enough to hold a job.  Denial is a wonderful thing, and over the years, I’ve gotten really, really, good at it.

But every once in a while something comes a long to remind me that my youthful days are now ancient history, and today was one of those days.

Ann's photoMy daughter had a birthday today.  I knew it was coming, since it lands on the same day every year.  I also knew how old she was, since it’s not that hard to count to thirty-two.  (Although I admit that up until a few days ago, I was under the impression that she was going to turn thirty-one, so I probably shouldn’t be bragging on my counting skills.)  Yet there’s something about knowing that my daughter, whose birth I can remember as if it happened just yesterday,  is turning thirty-two that just makes me feel old.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that what I’m really concerned about isn’t the actual number of years I’ve been on this earth.  I’m just trying to avoid behaving the way I have always thought old people did:  longing for the “good old days,” afraid to try new things, becoming obsessed with my health, and in general, letting the “young” people do all the important stuff and have all the fun.  Which, if you think about it, is just plain silly.

People of all ages are still actively engaged in the world around them, working hard to help others and contributing to their communities.  People of all ages are still having fun, still pursuing their interests, and still making new friends.  I think that the time has come for me to stop being afraid that turning a certain age means I have to somehow let go of the essence of who I really am and how I want to live my life.

Yes, my body isn’t as strong as it was and I have far more sags, bags and wrinkles than I would like.  But I can live with that.  It’s just the price I pay for the privilege of having lived for over sixty years, and all that I have experienced and learned in that time.  Underneath it all, I’m still me and always will be, no matter what my age.  Which means that getting older might not be so bad after all….

The Parents’ Table

anns-bdayAt 58, I have reached the age where I can no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself to be young, or even “young-ish.”  I am stubbornly clinging to the middle-age category, although there are plenty of people who would argue that I am too old even for that.  I treat that argument with the contempt it deserves, because who knows?  I may actually make it to my 116th birthday.  We are making great strides in the fields of technology and medical science, and I intend to milk both for all they are worth. Still, every now and then, despite my best efforts, I come face-to-face with the reality of my age.

These unwelcome intrusions of painful reality into my fantasy life are nothing new.  I remember shopping with a friend one day when I was in my  late twenties, and I automatically headed for the store’s “Junior Department.” My friend refused to follow me, saying bluntly, if honestly, “Ann, we aren’t Juniors anymore.”  Huh?  Then I looked around for the “Fashionable Young Women Who Aren’t Juniors But Are Still Young and Hot” department, but it simply wasn’t there.

My hair’s natural color used to be a soft brown that I was actually rather happy with, and unlike many of my friends, I never even considered changing its color.  Even after I started spotting the occasional grey hair I firmly believed that I was far too young to be actually turning grey.   Until the day I sat down in my hairdresser’s chair and she asked me, “Have you considered doing highlights?  You know, to cover up all this grey hair?”  And a few years later, that was followed by the day that the highlights were replaced with a total dye-job.

Then there was the time I was accompanying my teenage son to his high school sports banquet.  My children may have been in their teen years, but deep down, I still thought of myself as a young mother.  But then I realized that a young mother doesn’t sit in the passenger seat of a car with a hot casserole dish on her lap while her son drives them to a banquet.  It was, no matter how I looked at it, a distinctly matronly moment.

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the wedding of one of my daughter’s best friends, and we found ourselves seated at a table with three other couples we didn’t know.  They looked about our age, and as we introduced ourselves, we realized that we were all parents of the bride’s good friends.  Laughingly, we referred to ourselves as “the parents’ table,” and sat happily on the sidelines, watching the young people dance.  I remembered when it was my parents’ generation at our weddings who were watching us dance, and marveled at the realization that I was now officially one of the “older generation” myself.   Surprisingly, I found that in this case, I didn’t mind it one bit.

Which is not to say that I have completely internalized the lesson that I am no longer young.  I think it is impossible, really, to always be aware of our true age, because on the inside, I’m still the same person I’ve always been.  And that’s why it will be quite some time before I change the name of this blog to “Muddling Through My Old Age.”  Some illusions are just too hard to give up.

Reunion Time

Ann's HS Grad Pic 2Most of the time, I’m able to forget just exactly how old I am.  I’ve mastered the art of not looking at my entire face in my make-up mirror, and simply focusing on whatever part of my face I’m actually putting the make up on.  I keep my car radio tuned to an “oldies” station so I can keep right on listening to the music of my youth,  and I choose clothes that are loose-fitting enough to cover all the unsightly bulges and “soft spots” I’ve acquired in recent years.  One way or another, I’ve been able to maintain the self delusion that I’m not really that old, just somewhere in my mid life years and still a comfortable distance from senior citizen.  And then along comes the invitation to my 40th (seriously, 40th?) high school reunion, and just like that, all my illusions about my age are cruelly shattered.

My first instinct was to simply ignore it. I know that technically, ignoring something doesn’t make it go away, but it does keep me from having to face it. (I used to fret endlessly about the spider veins on my legs until the day I decided to simply pretend they weren’t there.  Although with my luck, they’ll probably decide to grow into varicose veins just to get my attention.)  I also realized that if I skipped this one, my next reunion will probably be my fiftieth high school reunion, and that will be beyond scary.

And honestly, I really would like the chance to see some of my old classmates again, and to visit the small town in Kansas where I lived when I was a teenager.  I feel a strong emotional connection to that town and the people I knew then, even though I only spent a small portion of my life there and wasn’t particularly good at the whole high school thing. I was a bit shy and awkward in those days, dated very little, struggled in my math classes and as for athletics, all I can say is:  I tried.  My main memory of participating in any kind of sport was constantly praying to God that I didn’t screw up too badly.  I may not have been a particularly talented athlete, but I sure was a religious one.

I suppose the connection is simply that my classmates were people who knew me during the years when I was changing from a child to an adult, struggling to figure out who I was and what my place would be in the world, just like everyone else in my class.  I think that despite all the pretensions and rigid social codes of high school, there is also something very real about the relationships we formed during what was, whether we knew it or not, a fast-changing and rather difficult time in our lives.  We saw each other at our best, and also at our worst, and that’s the kind of thing which tends to form enduring bonds.

So, in a few days I’ll be heading off to my class reunion, and I’m not going to dwell too much on exactly which class reunion it is.  I won’t bother to dress up or hit a medical spa for a quick Botox treatment, because  what’s the point of trying to impress people who knew me when I was an awkward teenager?  (Also, I hate shots.)  I’m guessing that we will just talk and laugh, and have fun “remembering when.”  And count ourselves lucky that we are still here, so many years after high school graduation, able and willing to gather as the Class of ’76 one more time.

Spring Cleaning

I’m what you might call a “neat freak.”  I admit, I prefer my house when it’s sparkling clean and everything is exactly where it should be.  I like my wooden floors to shine; I like my kitchen counters free of clutter; I keep the spices on my spice rack alphabetized, and when I walk into my bathroom, all I want to smell is the air freshener.  Clutter annoys me, and I have basically declared unending war on household dirt and grime.  I have a dog in my house, which means that I use my vacuum cleaner about as often as I use my hair dryer.  So it is only natural that I spend a good deal of time each March doing my annual spring cleaning.

IMG_1203Spring cleaning means that windows must be washed, wooden furniture must be polished, and dust bunnies must be hunted down and destroyed.  My winter clothes are packed up in plastic bins, and my spring clothes are unpacked and stored neatly (sorted according to style, color and sleeve length) in my dresser or closet.  Daffodils are cut from my garden and arranged carefully in a vase on the mantel.  I fill several bags with donations for Good Will, and hit the local malls in hope of finding a couple of new spring outfits that both fit and flatter.  I’m rarely successful, but I still try.

For me, spring cleaning isn’t just about cleaning my house (I pretty much do that all year round), it’s also about getting rid of the stuff I don’t need anymore, and trying to replace it with things that I actually do need but don’t have.  It’s about streamlining my life, and trying to surround myself only with things that matter, meaning only things that are either necessary or that I love.  And it’s not just limited to my house.

There’s something about spring that makes me want to examine my life, and identify the areas that are going well and the areas that could stand a little (or a lot) of improvement.  Am I treating the people I love as well as they deserve to be treated?  Or am I nursing grudges, or using the busyness  of my life as an excuse not to spend time with them?  Am I seeing them clearly, for who they now are, or am I clinging to the image of the person I once knew, because that’s so much easier for me?

Am I taking risks and trying new things, or just staying in my familiar ruts and doing things “the way I’ve always done them?”  Do I have the will power to get rid of life-long habits that no longer serve any useful purpose, and too often get in the way of my health and happiness?  Do I have the courage to reach out to people who annoy me, anger me, or even frighten me and try to find some common ground?  Or am I content to just keep dividing the world into “them” and “us?”

Personal spring cleaning is so much harder than simply cleaning my house, but it’s also so much more necessary.  If I want to start living more fully, and if I want to realize my full potential (modest though it may be), I have to be willing to let go of the resentments, complacency, prejudice, and all those other bad habits that are cluttering up my life.  I have to make room for new relationships, healthy habits and all the beautiful things that can enrich my life if finally make them a priority.

I know that personal spring cleaning, just like conventional spring cleaning, is a process that takes both time and commitment.  But it seems to me that if I can manage to keep a clean house, I ought to at least be willing to try to live a clean life as well.

My New Normal

I think I’m finally getting the hang of being middle aged.  True, I’m 57, so that means I’ve been middle aged for quite some time now (some would say I’m too old to be called middle aged, and I treat that suggestion with the contempt it deserves), but I can be both stubborn and resistant to change.  So it has taken me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I now have what it often referred to as a “new normal.”

Gone are the days when a late night meant staying out with my friends until three in the morning.  Now a late night is eleven o’clock, midnight at the very most, and even staying up that late means I spend most of the next day puffy-eyed, sluggish, and complaining bitterly about how tired I am.  Genuine late nights, and especially the late-night snacks (often from Taco Bell or White Castle) I used to indulge in are a thing of the past. And considering the delicate state of my digestive system these days, that’s probably a good thing.  For everyone.

The slim waist I enjoyed for most of my life has been replaced with a rather soft “muffin top” that refuses to leave, despite my attempts to exercise it away.  You would think that doing ten crunches or a thirty-second plank once every week or two would do the trick, but sadly, it has not.  So I have given away all my long, slim tops that used to look so good when tucked in, and replaced them with tops that are meant to be worn over my pants and are wide enough to hide back fat.  In short, I have come to embrace middle-aged fashion.

Previously, packing for a trip meant simply making sure I had enough clothes and toiletries for however long I was going to be away.  Now I have a large list of additional “must have” items which I absolutely can’t do without: two pairs of reading glasses (I always have a back-up pair), a make up mirror so that I can make sure I’m getting my eye shadow on my actual eyelids, a custom-made mouthpiece that I have to wear every night to stop me from grinding my teeth (as a friend once commented when she saw me pop it in, “your husband is a lucky man”), my allergy medications, and most important of all, my tweezers.  Because being middle aged means having hair where hair does not belong.

I have always been a little bit compulsive, but I no longer worry about having an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Yes, I never walk out my back door without backtracking through the house to my front door to double check that I’ve locked it, but I don’t do that because I’m compulsive.  I do that because by the time I’ve reached the back door, I can no longer remember whether or not I actually locked the front door.  And after I pull out of our driveway, I circle back around the block to make sure that I’ve closed the garage door for the same reason.  My memory has never been great, but these days it’s almost non-existent.

Grandma GreenPlease don’t think I’m complaining, because I’m not.  For one thing, I understand that complaining isn’t gong to make me young again, and I also recognize that there are many advantages to being middle aged.  Honestly, I not only accept my “new normal,” I have come to appreciate it.  Because I know that it won’t be so very long before I’ll hit the age when I have yet another “new normal” to deal with, and something tells me it’s not going to be as nice as this one.

How Old Am I?

No matter how much I’d like to believe (or pretend) that I’m still young, I really do consider myself to be a middle aged woman.  I’ve thought of myself as middle aged for at least the past fifteen years or so.  And when I finally decided to start my blog, I made it all about being middle aged and coping with all the changes that middle age brings.  One way or another, being middle aged is a big part of my identity right now.

But then I started reading other people’s blogs about middle age, and realized that there are many different ways to define middle age.  I had always considered middle age to be the huge chunk of life between younger adulthood and senior citizen, and I sort of resented people who suggested that it starts and ends much earlier than that. (I even wrote a post about it called Don’t Take Away My Middle Age.)  Others believe middle age literally means the exact middle of our life, so that even if we live to be one hundred, our middle age ends when we are fifty.  Middle age is, at best, a rather fluid concept.

IMG_0393I think the problem for those of us on the upper end of middle age is that we don’t have any real term for what comes next other than “senior citizen.”  And while I have the utmost respect for senior citizens (my 85 year-old mother truly rocks the whole “cute little old lady” thing), I know that it will be many more years before I am ready to be one.  So that creates the whole question of, if I’m too old to be middle aged, but still too young to be a senior citizen, then what exactly am I?

At 57, I’m fast reaching the age when, even with the most generous definition, I can’t all myself middle aged anymore.  This will be the first time in my life when I don’t really know what age group I fall into.  So far, I’ve been a baby, child, tween, teenager, young adult, just a regular adult, and middle ager.  All that’s left, as far as I know, is senior citizen.  But it seems a bit odd to me to lump people who are in their early sixties with people who are in their late nineties.  I think that span is too long, and that the people on the opposite ends of it don’t really have that much in common.

Maybe I need to just go back to just considering myself simply as an adult, the way I did in my thirties, at least until somebody comes up with a good term for this particular time in our lives.  Or maybe it’s time I just stopped thinking in terms of age categories all together, because my age is really nobody’s business but mine.  Whatever I decide, I’m going to keep the name of my blog the same. I’d like to think that by doing so I’m making some sort of bold stand against aging and age classifications, but the truth is that figuring out how to change the name is just too much work.


One Year Later….

One year ago, I finally worked up the nerve to start writing a blog about coping with middle age.  I’d been feeling a bit lost for a while, struggling to adjust to all the changes middle age brings, while at the same time trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I wasn’t especially sad (although every time I look in the mirror and see the wrinkled skin on my sagging neck, I do feel like crying, just a little bit), but I did feel as if I was drifting in a strange new world that I didn’t really understand.  So it seemed like a good time to take a risk and start the blog I’d been thinking about writing for a long time, especially since I had a good friend who kept encouraging me to give it a shot.

When I wrote that first post, And Now I Really Feel Old, I was so clueless about blogging that I wasn’t even sure if the post was going to make it to the internet, but it did.  And friends and family, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years, read it and were kind enough to tell me they enjoyed it.  That gave me the courage to keep going, even when I didn’t know how to change the format of my page, tag my posts, or any of the etiquette of interacting with other bloggers. But I kept trying, and with the help of other bloggers, I finally figured out most of what I need to know to write my blog.

My blog is not big or particularly successful.  I have only 192 followers, and the largest number of views of any of my posts is 239.  Still, I have felt rewarded for every single post I have ever written, because each one has brought a gift:  a new follower, a contact from an old friend, a reader who told me that the message in my post was exactly what they needed to hear that day, or a comment that was so funny it made me laugh out loud.  For me, that is the best kind of success.

IMG_0709Every new venture brings results we didn’t predict, and this blog is no exception.  It’s helped me reconnect with old friends and distant family.  It’s introduced me to a world of wonderful blogs written by smart, caring people who now feel like friends.  This blog has me writing regularly again, on a real schedule, which has reminded me that I truly am a writer, despite my file cabinet full of rejection letters.  Most of all, it’s taught me that, even in my late middle-age, I am not too old to try something new.  This blog has helped me find my way at a time in my life when I was just a little bit lost.

Last week I was nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award by Sandee M., who writes a great blog called the Forty-Something First Time Bride.  (Check it out, she’s a gifted writer who describes her adjustment to married life eloquently and honestly.)   As a nominee, I’m supposed to give advice to other bloggers, but I don’t think I have much to add to the advice that’s already out there, so I’ll just say this:  Do it. Take the plunge and start your blog.  Write even on the days when the words come hard, and the self-doubt creeps in.  Just keep writing, and in the end, it will absolutely be worth it.


Poker Night

IMG_0905I have to admit that when my neighbor asked me to join the new poker group she was starting, I had my doubts.  The group was going to meet one Friday night a month, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to add another standing commitment to our already too-full calendar.  Even more concerning, I was going to be the only member of the group who actually knew how to play poker, which meant it would be my job to teach everyone else how to play.

My first inclination was to say no.  My second inclination was to say yes, and then explain that poker always has to be played for money, and that it was a good idea for everyone to bring their valuable jewelry and car titles so that they would have something to bet if their money ran out.  (Did I mention I was the only one who knew how to play?)  Luckily, I went with the third option, which was to agree to join the group and teach everyone how to play, and to play only for the little plastic chips that are handed out before each session.  I do have a few finer instincts left.

My father taught me to play poker when I was five years old, and my in-laws play poker at almost every family gathering, so I am very comfortable with the game.  But I quickly found out that teaching other people how to play is not always so easy.  A typical exchange goes something like this:

Me:  “Okay, now that I’ve dealt the cards, you can either bet, fold (quit that hand) or check the bet (wait to see what the bet is without quitting the hand).  We start with the person to the left of the dealer and go around the table.”

Debby:  “I check the bet.”

Sandra:  “I bet one.”

Paula:  “I check the bet.”

Me: “You can’t check the bet, because Sandra bet one.  So now you have to either bet one, raise, or fold.”

Paula:  “But you let Debby check the bet.”

Me:  “That’s because nobody had bet yet.”

Paula:  “But I want to check the bet.”

Me:  “You can’t check the bet.”

Paula:  “Why do you hate me?”

And so it goes….  But we muddle along, with me slowly learning to be a better teacher and the others slowly mastering the game.  I suppose we might give up if the whole point of the evening was just to play poker, but of course, it isn’t. Between arguments about who is and isn’t allowed to “check the bet” we spend a lot of time talking and laughing, catching up on each other’s lives and just plain enjoying each other’s company.

With every gathering, we are getting to know each other a little better.  We feel comfortable telling the truth about our families, both the proud moments and the painful ones, knowing that we will get nothing but support in return.  We talk about the things we’re happy we’ve accomplished, and the dreams that we are still hoping will come true some day.   And in between the friendly banter, the serious talk, the eating and the drinking, and the occasional hand of poker, the evenings just fly by.

I’m so glad that my neighbor started this group and invited me to be a part of it.  I’m even happier that I didn’t decide I was too busy to join.  Sometimes being middle aged means feeling that we are already doing all that we can do, and don’t have room to add more friends, more commitments, more new anything, and that’s a shame.  Because there is always something new that is worth the time, if we are just willing to give it a chance.  I took the risk on poker night, and that’s a bet that paid off, big time.

Happy Birthday

IMG_0823Today is my husband’s sixtieth birthday.  I can remember so clearly when I first met him in college and decided that he might be someone I would like to date, even though we seemed to have almost nothing in common.  He was a gifted athlete, and an active member of a fraternity.  He liked to spend time fishing and golfing, and had a special talent for playing pool.  I was a klutz who was completely uninterested in sports, and had lasted a mere three months in the sorority I joined my sophomore year. I played only miniature golf, was terrible at pool, and thought fishing was a bit cruel, to both the fish and the worms.  But still, something clicked, and we married shortly after I graduated.

It just doesn’t seem so long ago that we moved into our first apartment together, then later bought our first house and brought our first baby home from the hospital.  How can that baby now be a twenty-nine year old woman, and how can we possibly have lived in this, our third house, for twenty-one years?  How can my husband, the young man who searched so eagerly for his first accounting job, carefully typing out his resumes and letters on my electric typewriter, be just five years away from retirement?

Dave at typewriterWhen did we make the shift from the young, clueless couple trying to find our way in the world, to a couple that is fast approaching (if we aren’t there already) the years where we can’t even call ourselves middle aged anymore, and actually qualify for those “senior citizen discounts?”  Next year will actually be the fortieth reunion of my high school graduating class.  And I still believe someone added wrong to come up with that number, but I’m not sure who to speak to about it.

I remember when we were young (a very long time ago, apparently), people kept telling us that the years would just fly by.  And like all young people, we didn’t really believe them.  We knew we were at the beginning stages of our lives, and our attention was focused on acquiring all the stuff we thought we needed, establishing our careers, and starting our family.  But now, with my husband turning sixty, there is no denying that we have many more years behind us that we do ahead of us.  And that we are no longer young anywhere except in our own minds.

Now our focus has changed.  We are certainly not wealthy, but we have most of what we want and all of what we truly need.  We treasure our time with family and friends more, because we now understand what a gift time spent with people we love really is.  We aren’t always happy with our aging bodies, but we accept them and do our best to stay healthy.  We may not have as many years left as we would like, but we do intend to spend those years wisely.

A friend once told me that the beauty of long-term marriage is that each partner knew the other one when they were still young, so that when they look at their spouse, they still see the young person they once were.  And that, I have found, is true.  My husband may be turning sixty today, but to me, he will always be that somewhat shy, sweet, college boy I thought I might like to date…..

Yoga Revisited

IMG_0699Several years ago, in an attempt to become more physically fit, I signed up for a series of yoga classes at a newly-opened yoga studio.  A friend had recommend the “hot yoga” class, on the grounds that heat makes your body more limber.  I figured I could use all the help I could get, so I started with that class.

The first thing I noticed was that it was called “hot yoga” and not “warm yoga” or “sort of hot yoga” for a reason:  at over 100 degrees, that studio was indeed hot.  But I soon got used to the temperature and did my best to attempt all the poses as the class progressed.  I thought I did pretty well for a newbie, until I got home and suddenly felt as if I had been hit by a freight train.  I’m not ashamed to say that after I showered, I crawled right back into bed and stayed there for two hours, after which I walked funny for the rest of the day.  Eventually, my body adapted to the movements and I began to enjoy the class.

The problems began when lots of other people also began to enjoy the class, and more and more people crowded into the room with each session.  Personally, I don’t sweat much anymore, but I soon discovered that lots of other people do, especially when doing an hour and a half yoga class in a hundred-degree room. And when the sweating person is just inches away from you, there is a very real possibility that you are going to put your hand down in a puddle of someone else’s sweat the next time you do a floor pose.  So that was the end of my time in the hot yoga class.

I tried another, shorter, class in a room with normal temperatures, but the teacher moved us through the poses too quickly for me, and I kept hurting my lower back as I tried to keep up.  Finally, I just quit going altogether and looked for other ways to keep fit and try to reduce the size of my chubby thighs.

Still, I missed yoga.  During the time I practiced it, I did notice that my core muscles were stronger and my balance was better than it had been in a long time, and I really missed the time at the end of the class when we just stretched out on our mats in a darkened room and relaxed.  Like most people, I spend very little time “just being” and I need that.  So I was very happy when I discovered that another friend had become a certified yoga teacher and was going to teach a beginner’s class at the local YMCA at a time that worked for my schedule.

I’ve only gone twice so far, but I already love it.  The room isn’t hot (if anything, it’s too cool, but I can live with that), and my friend takes us slowly and gently through basic yoga moves. I am a little sore, here and there, after the classes, but it’s the good kind of sore that lets me know I am using muscles in ways I don’t usually use them.  I only wish that I hadn’t waited so long to find a yoga class that fits my body (old and a bit flabby) and my physical abilities (flexible, but klutzy).  The the important thing is that I have found my way back to yoga, and this time, I’m staying.