Making an Impression

Sometimes, it’s just nice to get away, no matter where I happen to be heading, and that was part of the reason I was looking forward to driving to Kansas last weekend for my 40th high school reunion.  I was also looking forward to seeing some of my old classmates, and the chance to spend a little extra time with some good friends who live near that area and who I don’t get to see nearly as often as I would like to.  Still, it was a high school reunion, and that’s just not the same thing as heading off to a vacation on the beach.  A reunion involves making the effort to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years, and engaging in small talk with lots of people for an extended time.  For an introvert like me, that’s a little intimidating, no matter much I enjoy someone’s company.

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I also had a vivid memory of my 20th high school reunion, which was the first reunion I had attended since graduating high school.  My high school was in a small town that hosted the County Fair each year, so it was a tradition for the classes to hold their reunions on the weekend of the fair, and for each class to participate in the fair’s parade by riding on their class float.  It was hot sitting on an open float in the summer sun, which meant there was also a tradition for each class to toss water balloons at those sitting on the other class floats.   I won’t bore you with the details, but at some point near the end of the parade, I tried to grab a water balloon and promptly fell off the float, landing hard on the asphalt street.  I scraped the skin off the palms of my hands, had a bleeding head wound, and suffered some very serious damage to my pride. I know there are people who dream of making a big impression at their class reunion, and I certainly made one.  Trust me, it’s over-rated.

Luckily, this reunion was uneventful, as I shed no blood and had no need for medical care, most probably because they no longer have the classes participate in the parade.  I managed not to embarrass myself (at least as far as I know, but there might be photos that haven’t surfaced yet), and had a great time catching up with old friends and acquaintances.  Everyone talked to most everyone else, and unlike the class reunions we always see on television shows, the tone was relaxed, friendly, and casual.

I think one of the the best things about growing older is how most of us shed the need to try to impress each other, which means that when we do gather with classmates we haven’t seen in years, we don’t ask about their accomplishments, try to gauge their material wealth, or scrutinize their appearance.  We simply ask how they are doing, and genuinely hope that they are happy with their lives, no matter what their circumstances.  And if they are struggling in some way, we offer sympathy and support, rather than judgement.  Maybe that kind of honesty and acceptance only comes with age, I really don’t know.  But if so, it sure is worth the wait.

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.

Go Your Own Way

IMG_0237A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to join my neighborhood book club.  The women, who are mostly middle aged like me, are friendly and the discussion is lively and interesting.  But I have to admit that, while I enjoy being with this group, I don’t really feel as if I fit in.  We’re never going to read any of my favorite books because they aren’t popular, which means there aren’t enough available copies at the library.  (Most of my favorite books are also out of print.)  I almost always have a different opinion about the books we read than the rest of the group; I’m one of the few women who can’t easily and quickly look up potential book selections on her phone; I am often the only one in the room not wearing comfort shoes (my feet are too big), and I don’t have any grandchildren yet.  But I don’t care.  I don’t need to “fit in” to enjoy my book club; I enjoy it because it gives me the chance to read books I’ve never heard of, to get to know my neighbors a bit better and to hear new and interesting points of view.

Admittedly, I’ve spent most of my life paying very careful attention to what the other women in my age group were doing, what they were wearing, what they thought, etc.  It started in grade school, when fitting in was extremely important, and I remember the distinct and rigid groups of my high school years, and how it seemed that everyone tried to belong to at least one of them.  When I was a younger adult, I know I tried to fit in with my co-workers, with the other mothers, with my neighbors, etc.   Of course I had my own tastes and ideas, but they were always tempered with what I thought was expected of me, and what was the “right thing” to be doing and thinking.

Then I hit middle age, and gradually the old rules of conformity just slipped away, and not just for me. The issues of middle age may be universal:  the physical decline, the changing family dynamics, knowing that retirement and the “golden years” are just around the corner. But from what I’ve seen, the way we cope with those issues are as unique as they are varied. I know middle aged women who are happy to let their hair go grey, and I know others who dye their hair every three weeks just to make sure they don’t have grey roots.  (I’m in the second category.)  I know women who feel their sags and wrinkles are a sign of a life fully lived, and others who have had plastic surgery to smooth the wrinkles away.  I know people who are reveling in the freedom of the “empty nest,” and others who are spending their days helping to raise their grandchildren.  Some people are using their middle years as a time to slow down from the hectic pace of their lives, while others are busier than ever as they juggle the demands of a career, their children and caring for aging parents.

And I think that is exactly as it should be, because  there is no right or wrong way to live out our middle years.  Each of us gets to make the choices that work best for our unique situation and our unique personalities, and the pressure to conform seems to be over and done with.  Personally, I love the freedom to follow my own path, and the diversity that I see in my middle age contemporaries.  I’m just sorry that it took us so long to realize that it really is okay to be different, and wish that we had all figured this out a long time ago.  Just think how much easier high school would have been…..