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.

 

When The Truth Hurts

Of course I have known for a long time that I’m no longer young.  I look in the mirror, I feel the aches and pains, and I have noticed that pretty much everything on my body that could possibly sag, does.  But like most people who are middle aged and older, I still carry around an image in my head of my much younger self and I tend to think that I have the same youthful spirit that I’ve always had.  I like to believe that my aging is limited to physical changes, and in many ways, it is.  But every once in a while, something happens to make me realize that the gap between the way I look at things and the way actual young people look at things is also widening.

I watch a lot of HGTV, and I’ve noticed that most of the young couples who are either shopping for new houses or trying to renovate a house all want one thing: an “open concept” layout with “sight lines” between the living room, kitchen, and dining rooms.  They want to be able to talk to their guests seated in the living room while they are cooking their dinner.  Not me.  I like old-fashioned houses with lots of walls and the privacy they provide, and I definitely don’t want to try to entertain my guests and cook at the same time.  I burn enough food as it is without that added distraction.  It’s not a true dinner party at my house unless the smoke alarm goes off at least once.

IMG_0524These days, I can rarely find dressy shoes I like at a regular shoe store, since they all have at least a three-inch heel.  I’ve always been a bit too klutzy to walk well in high heels, but now they really hurt my feet and I just can’t tolerate them.  I was shopping for for a pair of shoes to wear to my daughter’s wedding next month and came across a nice pair with heels that weren’t too high.  Still, I asked the salesman if they came in an slightly smaller heel.  “Yes, they do,” he answered.  “They’re called flats.”

When I was young, I never minded buying makeup, and sometimes even enjoyed trying new products in the hopes that they would make me look attractive and sophisticated.  Not any more.  It’s embarrassing when I try to buy the foundation powder I prefer and the perky young clerk tells me that I should get a liquid foundation instead, “because the powder can settle into wrinkles and make them more obvious.”  And I really hate it when they recommend products, such as pore minimizers and age-spot faders, that I didn’t even ask for.

IMG_0488A couple of weeks ago, I was flattered to be included in my daughter’s bachelorette party, and enjoyed spending an afternoon at the wineries with her friends.  They had rented a bus for everyone to ride down on, but unfortunately it came equipped with a stereo system so that we could enjoy music during the trip.  Really loud music with a driving bass beat.  The young women were having a wonderful time, often singing along, but the music was giving me a headache and making it hard to hear what anyone was saying to me.  On the trip back, I discovered I was sitting next to the volume button, and discreetly adjusted the decibel level.  And then I remembered how when I was young, my friends and I made fun of our “old” parents for complaining that our music was too loud.  And now I was the old person who was complaining….

I suppose a certain number of attitude adjustments are just a natural part of aging, but it is still a bit depressing at times.  But I guess I just have to look at it as training for what’s to come, because I can only imagine how much fun it’s going to be when I have to start shopping for Depends.

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.

When Did Everyone Become So Young?

I remember the first time I went to a new doctor’s office, and the doctor who came in to treat me looked as though he had graduated from high school last week.  I actually thought, “Who let this teenager in here?  And where’s my doctor?” before it sunk in that the young man standing in front of me was a real doctor.  But I couldn’t get past the fact that he was obviously at least a decade younger than I was at the time.  It just didn’t seem right.  Doctors had always been at least my age, and most of them much older.

That was many years ago, and since then it’s only gotten worse.  Now I deal with all sorts of professionals who are younger than me, and who rarely look old enough to be doing their job:  dentists, repairmen, pharmacists, salespeople, you name it.  The other day I saw a neighbor out watering his lawn, and thought, “Why is that kid messing with my neighbor’s sprinkler?” Then I took a closer look and realized that wasn’t some kid, that was my neighbor, who is a grown man with a wife, a baby, and a full-time job.  But he looked like a teenager to me.

I know, especially after reading so many other blogs about middle age that are written by people in their early forties, that I am, at age 57, on the “upper end” of middle age.  Which means that the kids I used to babysit are now grown up and have kids of their own…and some of those kids are also grown up.  Ditto for most of my nieces and nephews. (Thank you, Chris, for at least still being in college!  Please do me a favor, and stay there a few more years, and never mind the tuition.)

The problem is that I still feel young.  Not teenage or twenty-something young, but definitely younger than I actually am.  As long as I can avoid a magnifying mirror (fading eyesight is both a curse and a blessing), I can cling to a mental self image of myself as I used to be.  So it still isn’t pleasant to have to be jolted back to reality by walking into a doctor’s office, as I did last Monday, and seeing someone who looks as if she can’t be over twenty introducing herself as my doctor.  Because then I have to admit that she probably isn’t a genius whom managed to get her medical degree at age eighteen, she is simply what a young doctor looks like these days.  And I haven’t looked like that for years.

I think being surprised that we have become old is a universal life experience.  Maybe our own aging is like the concept of our own mortality; something that we just naturally avoid thinking about.  I remember when I was young and my then middle-aged parents told me that they still felt young on the inside.  At the time, I wondered how they could be so out of touch with their reality.  But now that I’m middle age, I have discovered exactly what they were talking about.   It’s just like the sign a co-worker used to have on her office wall that said, “Inside every old person, there’s young person wondering what the hell happened.”  And that’s the truth.

I Believe That’s Meant For Someone Younger….

I was watching the Super Bowl last night with some friends, and like many people who aren’t that big on football, I was paying much more attention to the commercials that I was to the actual game.  Many of them were good, but one thing was quickly clear:  as a middle-aged woman, I was not the target audience for most of the ads.  Our society is focused on youth, and my youth left me a long time ago and has no plans to return.

Being middle aged in a youth-obsessed culture can be a bit strange at times, and sometimes it’s hard not to feel somewhat irrelevant. I don’t often see women my age in magazine ads, even the ones selling skin creams and anti-aging serums.  Middle aged women are rarely the main character in television shows or movies, since there again, the target audience is usually the twenty to thirty-year old age group.  There’s just no getting around the fact that our society focuses most of its attention on the young in body rather than those of us who are simply young at heart.

But that lack of attention can also be a good thing.  When I was younger, I knew that people tended to notice what I looked like, and more often than not, the attention made me feel self-conscious and awkward.  I pretty much assumed I would be judged harshly if I wore something that wasn’t stylish or flattering on me.  Now, I feel free to wear what I want, figuring most people aren’t going to notice much one way or the other.   If it’s cold out, you can bet I’m wearing warm socks, even with ankle pants and flats.  (Although I do try to coordinate the colors.)

Of course middle aged women don’t expect people our own age, especially our spouses, to ignore us now that we’re no longer young.  They’re in the same boat, so they know that hiding within our aging bodies is the same youthful spirit we’ve always had.  We just don’t have to worry about them judging our looks, partly because they understand, but mostly because they haven’t seen us clearly for years.  Fading eyesight can be a good thing.

If It Ain’t Broke….

I was reading an article in a travel magazine recently in which the author described some of his fellow cruise passengers as “women who had found their look thirty years ago and were sticking with it.”  I read the sentence twice, and then thought, “Is that me?”  And I had to admit:  yes, it is.

When I was in my twenties, I did try to keep up with the latest fashions and experimented with different clothing styles in an effort to find a look that worked for me.  Even then, I was blessed with a “pear body shape,” which is a quaint way of saying my hips and thighs are two sizes larger than my waist. That meant not all fashion styles suited me (leggings are not a good look for women with short, chubby legs, no matter what their age), but I still managed to come up with reasonably fashionable outfits that didn’t emphasize the wrong body parts.  My look mostly consisted of dark-colored pants and skirts, topped with bright-colored (often blue) shirts and blouses, usually tucked in to draw attention to my waist rather than my hips.

Now I’m middle-aged, and not nearly so inclined to tuck in my shirts.  But otherwise, I dress pretty much the same way I always have.  Every now and then I take a stab at dressing a bit more fashionably, but it rarely works out.  Leggings and long, flowing tops are, sadly, once again in style, and I see many women my age wearing them well.  I can’t wear leggings (see reference to chubby legs in the paragraph above), and have always thought that long, flowing tops make me look like a fireplug.  Recently, I did decide to be brave and try the new styles, so I found a long, flowing top on the clearance rack, bought it, and wore it out sightseeing during our October trip to Charleston.  And I felt just like a fireplug the whole time I had it on.  I added the top to the Goodwill donation bag as soon as we got home.

I’ve decided that there’s really nothing wrong with sticking with a look that I like and feel comfortable wearing.  One of the advantages of middle age is not feeling the need to follow every fashion trend in an effort to keep up with everyone else.  I like darks jeans and slacks, and blue is still my favorite color, so there’s a lot of it in my closet.  And probably always will be.  My look may not be trendy, but who cares?  It works for me.