Swiftly Fly The Years

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m sixty years old, and could easily pass for a few years older than that (sagging chins and wrinkly skin runs in my family.)  I know I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have; I never go anywhere without a pair of reading glasses, and I avoid mirrors whenever possible.  So you can see that I really do understand that I’ve become, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age.”

Which is why I can’t quite explain how shocked I was when I realized that my son, (the youngest of my two “children,”) had the audacity to turn thirty this past weekend.  I don’t remember being quite this surprised a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned thirty, although maybe that was because at that time I could take comfort in the thought that at least one of my offspring was still in his twenties.  But my son is my youngest, and now he’s thirty.  How in the world did that happen?  When did my baby boy become a thirty-year old man?

fullsizeoutput_4ee1I know it’s sounds beyond cliche, but it really does seem like just yesterday when he was just a little guy, full of energy, fun and endless curiosity.  I remember how he struggled to pronounce the letter “r” which always made him sound as if he was speaking with a southern drawl.  He could be stubborn when it suited him, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it with his whole heart.  Once when I was picking him up from preschool, the teacher handed me a large paper bag to take home, filled with that day’s art project.   Apparently, the children had been asked to paint a picture on a coffee can lid.  All the other children painted one.  My son painted nineteen of them.

But now my son and daughter are all grown up and their childhoods are mere memories.  Now we’re all adults.  Sometimes I struggle with just how much advice I’m allowed to give at this stage of our lives, and exactly where the line is between being helpful and being intrusive.  As a mother, I think I’ll always worry and want them to take good care of themselves and make wise decisions.  But our role as a parent changes and evolves as our children grow up and become independent adults.  All I can say is that I try my best to say and do the right thing.  And I’m beyond grateful that I raised two forgiving souls who are willing to overlook the times I get it just a little bit wrong.

So yes, now I am definitely an “older” woman,  but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perfectly okay.  This stage of life allows me to focus more on myself and to follow my own interests.   And when I look at the fine young man my son has become, I find that I really don’t mind so much that he just happens to be thirty years old…..

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….

Forever Friends

I have always tried very hard not to hurt people’s feelings.  There are certain things I never write about in my blog, even when I’m struggling to find a topic for this week’s post, simply because I know that the post would cause someone pain.  And even though I usually have a lot to say about any given situation, there are times when I stay silent, because I know that my words would just make things worse.  I have even been known to tell a “little while lie” on those rare occasions when telling the truth would be a very hurtful thing.

Yet despite all my efforts to the contrary, I know for an absolute fact that I have, at one time or another, hurt the feelings of every single one of my close friends and relatives.  And as long as I’m being honest, I’ll admit that every single one of them has also hurt my feelings somewhere along the line.

I believe it’s impossible to be close to someone for any length of time and not say or do something that causes them at least a little bit of pain.  Sometimes it’s because we speak or act without thinking first.  Other times, we put a lot of thought into what we said or did and honestly believed that we were being helpful.  (And yet we weren’t.)  The bottom line is that it’s impossible to always know how our words and actions are going to be received and interpreted by others.  So every once in a while, we’re going to say and do exactly the wrong thing, often without having a clue that we’ve done so.

When I think of how easily misunderstandings occur in our relationships, I’m always just a little surprised that people manage to have long-term friends and close family relationships at all.  The key, I think, is the desire to keep those people in our lives and the willingness to forgive and forget all the little ways that we sometimes bump up against each other’s feelings.  I think it takes valuing someone enough to accept them for exactly who they are, which is precisely the same way we want them to accept us.  But however we manage it, long-term and close relationships are a gift to be treasured.

Ann's photoI turned sixty last month, and a few weeks afterwards I went out with some good friends to celebrate.   I “met” one of those friends when I was just one-year old and our mothers plunked us down in the same playpen.  I would have enjoyed the trip to the art museum, the happy hour by the lake, and the dinner at my favorite restaurant no matter what.  But I have to tell you, doing those things with dear friends I have known for forty years, and one I have known for almost my entire life, made the evening so much more special.

There really is nothing quite like sharing a milestone birthday with old friends who have shared so much of my life’s journey.  Perhaps, if I am very lucky, I will be celebrating my 80th birthday with those same friends.  And maybe I’ll even write about it in a blog called “Muddling Through My Golden Years.”

Coming Home

I just returned from a wonderful family trip to Napa Valley to celebrate my daughter’s 30th birthday.  It was one of those rare trips where everything goes right:  the flights were hassle-free, our hotel rooms were clean and comfortable, and each winery we visited was nicer than the last.  More importantly, we had a terrific time hanging out with our son and daughter, as well as our son-in-law and our future daughter-in-law.  It was so nice to take a break from the hectic routine of our daily lives and to spend some quality time together.  It was even better to realize that, even though our “kids” are now adults, we are still close, and that the people they have chosen to spend their lives with not only fit in beautifully with our family unit, but they actually enrich it.

IMG_1612

On a scale of one to ten, I would have to give this family vacation a solid 9.5, and that’s only because the location of this particular trip meant that we had to spend a certain amount of time driving on elevated highways and bridges, which my  husband doesn’t handle well.  I’m proud to report that he rose to the occasion and soldiered on,  just getting buggy-eyed, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white, and doing the kind of breathing I remembered all too well from when I was enduring the contractions of childbirth.  Usually, he swears fluently, closes his eyes, and threatens to kill any of us who don’t maintain absolute silence until we are safely off the bridge.

Still, even after such a lovely trip in the company of the people I love most in the world, I have to admit that I was very happy to come back home.  When I was younger, I only felt that happiness at returning to my own house when I had been on a particularly difficult or challenging trip, such as one of our ill-fated attempts at camping (don’t let anyone tell you that tents are waterproof, because they’re not) or a business trip that was especially boring.  But lately, I have noticed that I feel a quiet joy at walking in my own front door no matter what trip I have gone on, or how much fun I have had on my travels.

And I think that’s probably a good thing.  Being glad to be home means that I have, somehow, managed to create a living space that gives me a sense of security and belonging, which is what a home should be.  I like sleeping in my own bed, with a mattress that has just the right degree of softness and the knowledge that some stranger has slept in it the night before.  I like being surrounded by a decor that I have chosen, with the help of my husband, to reflect our personal taste and that comfortably holds our most prized possessions.  I like knowing my neighbors, having my dog roaming freely about, and puttering around my yard, tending to the few hardy flowers that manage to survive my gardening skills.

Being glad to come home doesn’t mean that I have lost my taste for travel or for experiencing new things.  I hope I never lose the desire to go somewhere I have never been before and to experience different cultures, different climates and different environments.  It just means that after a certain amount of time, I begin to long for my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own town.  Because no matter where I go and no matter how much I enjoy my trips, one of the best parts of traveling is always coming home when it’s over.

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…..

It’s All Relative

My husband and I were getting ready to go out to eat last weekend, and he asked what I thought of the shirt he had just put on.  I told him that it looked nice, but it might be just a little too casual for the restaurant we were going to.  We were celebrating our anniversary, so we were going to a new restaurant that had a reputation for being a bit formal.  When we were driving home after our dinner, he mentioned that he thought he could have worn the original shirt after all, since not everyone else eating there had been dressed up, and that “it was mostly the older people who were wearing suits and dresses.”  I answered, perhaps a bit too honestly, “Yes, but to all those young diners, we are the older people!”

I remember talking to a friend at her 50th birthday party, and she described how she had thrown a 50th birthday party for her father years ago, when she was still in her twenties.  She invited all of her parents’ friends to her house, and she remembered thinking how weird it was to see “all those old people partying.”  Now that she was celebrating her own 50th birthday, did that mean her kids thought she was an “old” person, partying with her “old” friends?  Sadly, I had to admit that they probably did.  I’m sure that would have been my son’s reaction, given how often he rolls his eyes and mutters “old people” whenever I ask him a particularly naive question about my computer.  (If he keeps that up, I’m going to have remind him that I may be up there in age, but I’m certainly not too old to change my will.  And unless he loses the attitude, it won’t be in his favor.)

IMG_0450The simple fact is that age is a very relative term.  I remember when I thought thirty was impossibly old, until I actually turned thirty, at which point I decided that you had to be at least forty to be well and truly old.  And now that I’m in my late fifties, I’m finding that I keep pushing back the upper age limit of what I consider to be my middle years, because the only thing that follows middle age is old age.  And I’m just not ready for old age yet, no matter what I see when I look in the mirror.

Maybe the answer is to stop letting people younger than me decide whether or not I am old.  Recently, I was at a ballgame and went to the concession stand to get an ice cream cone.  An elderly man took my order and had begun filling the cone from the soft-serve ice cream machine when he looked back at me over his shoulder, winked, and added four extra inches of ice cream to the cone before handing it to me with a flourish.  I would probably have been much more flattered if he had been under the age of eighty (he wasn’t) and still had at least half of his teeth (he didn’t.)  But realizing that it was just possible that he  saw me as young and pretty, I smiled and thanked him gratefully before heading back to my seat with my enormous ice cream cone.

Yes, age is definitely a relative term.  And I’m sure the day is coming, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, when I will define “old” as someone who is at least 95, and not a day younger.

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…