“Wow, Mom. You’re almost half of a hundred years old!” exclaimed Jelly Bean.
Steve and I laughed, of course, but inside I cringed. For a long while, fifty represented the beginning of the end. The downhill slide into chronic illness, the loss of lifelong friends to terrible diseases, and the realization – piece by piece – that one’s body no longer functions the way it ought to.
How can this be? Just yesterday my life could be measured by numbers ending in “teen.” Most tragedy involved not getting called by that cute boy I crushed on. Not that it mattered – my acute shyness would not fade for another decade or so, therefore I would not have answered the phone. That wasn’t the point, though.
My family drove south today to spend time with our bonus family: Jelly Bean’s birth mother (my friend of more than thirty years) and her family to cheer the Seahawks on in their playoff game. I am tending the home fires and reading and baking and generally enjoying a lovely day alone. Banana bread cools on the counter, the third load of laundry whirls sudsy in the washer and I just finished the book I started a few days ago. My kitchen is clean(ish) and the dishes are done.
And I am thinking about whether or not to be freaked out by this milestone that I reach tomorrow. Should I freak? Have I lived the life I wanted? That I expected?
So here I sit to think about what I know and what I’ve done and who I am as a fifty year old woman…
I know that things I worried about in my youth had little bearing on my life and its outcomes. Have mercy, the time wasted on such things. How many lines on my face would have been better spent on belly laughs?
My cute figure as a twenty something is long gone. That pained me years ago but now I accept my penchant for cooking and baking and eating good food. The walking and yoga and gardening keep my body pretty flexible and my bloodwork mostly good. My blood pressure and my cholesterol and triglycerides cause no concern. Spoken like an old lady, understood. But something to consider as my goal is to remain active long into the future.
Growing up in a spotless house skewed my ideal of what home should look like. I killed myself cleaning and polishing and waxing every time a guest planned to visit. Unplanned visits sent me into apoplexy. Now I clean the guest bathroom and replace the hand towel; five minutes of work. I’d rather cook something delicious. And sit with one of Steve’s fabulous hand-made cocktails, chatting with friends. No margarita mix for that guy.
I’ve discovered that I am an intense introvert, with the capacity to be very extroverted for short bursts. I like to be invited to events but don’t always want to attend them. The shyness is largely gone, though.
The shyness is gone because my need for approval evaporated, at least mostly. I will make your acquaintance with extraordinary ease but true friendship comes at a glacial pace. But, once there, will be there forever. A handful of people waited me out over the years. My gratitude for their persistence runs deep.
An overabundance of empathy and even compassion have placed me in a bad situation more than once. Not just a heavy heart but financial and social devastation as well. I’ve since learned to give only what can be afforded, keeping enough back to prevent myself from flying to bits.
My early years – starting at about ten years old – had me writing on an old Selectric in the basement. Strong emotions bubbled through my fingers, most likely tethering me to a foundation of sorts, in a time that had me experimenting with things that you would not wish for a ten year old child. I wrote prose and poems, anything that helped to exorcise my angst. And now I write for similar reasons: fear, sadness, joy, anger…and the myriad of things for which I am grateful. Words still travel down my fingers onto a keyboard from my brain. Any attempt at denial has me pacing and talking to myself. Better to just sit down and get it all out there. Writing is like eating good food – utterly necessary and deeply satisfying. Dreaded adverbs intended.
My career became a ghost when a became a stay at home mom. I worked hard, earned a couple of degrees and an enviable resume and made good money. Then I entered the world of domestic goddesstry. No money, no promotions and nearly no foreknowledge. Six months of flailing about and much research later, my head finally peeked above the waters of household husbandry. I miss working outside the home now and then, even to the point of perusing job sites and updating my resume. But I’m not quite yet ready to give up the lovely life we have because of my work at home. Not quite yet. We are not rich but we are not poor. There is great satisfaction knowing that what I do makes my husband and daughter happy every day.
Just an hour or so ago, an adult daughter of my neighbor tearfully informed me that G had terminal pancreatic cancer. G and D have been our neighbors for nearly 18 years. They are much older and we have little in common but we always exchanged pleasantries when we saw each other and G let me raid her rhubarb patch every year. And her tomatoes, when she grew them but that hasn’t been for years. Although we’ve spoken only about a thousand words between us over the years, my heart is heavy for her and for her husband. I offered to cook for the family or run errands or simply help when needed. They need only to call or knock. That probably wouldn’t have happened in my youth due to my shyness. Five decades brings me that. Gratefully.
Happiness for me comes now in a way that didn’t in my twenties. I have friends in a way I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow earlier in life. Laughter comes daily, especially in the face of life’s little failures. So much better to chuckle than to cry. I don’t need or want stuff like I used to need and want. My face is wrinkling, my skin is sagging and my hair thins more by the day. But I’ve earned them all. I don’t want to cross the finish line unscathed. Unscathed means that I didn’t live and love hard enough. Plus, my body is half a century old…I’m not supposed to look nineteen. My daughter is thriving and my marriage is still intact after 27 years together. Mostly. That’s a win in my book.
I’ve started to use the word “whippersnapper” much more. My morning bowl of oatmeal excites me more than I care to admit. A little vanilla sugar and a few sunflower seeds added delights the palate. Happiness can be as simple as a cup of hot tea, a warm fire in the stove and the day’s newspaper. Or it can be the completion of a long-intended project or a well-fed family.
I am deeply flawed person, no doubt about it. But I can accept that now. Trying in earnest to overcome my fallibilities counts, even without complete success. That one proved difficult to achieve, but here I am.
No, my life is not perfect and did not go in the direction I planned as a young person. But it traversed some beautiful ground with amazing people and landed in a largely comfortable place. My passion and compassion and fierceness remains but it no longer makes me crazy most days.
How is being 50 years old? It’s actually pretty dang great.